Scholarly article on topic 'Self-Sufficient Community through the Concepts of Collective Living and Universal Housing'

Self-Sufficient Community through the Concepts of Collective Living and Universal Housing Academic research paper on "Social and economic geography"

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Abstract of research paper on Social and economic geography, author of scientific article — Harlina Mohamad Ali, Mazuiyah Mohd Dom, Muhamad Shamin Sahrum

Abstract The idea of self-sufficient community is noble as the awareness for the protection of environment grows. There is tendency for a community to become less cohesive due to different socio-cultural backgrounds. Thus communal– based activities (including green initiatives) which promote collective living can be implemented to inculcate community spirit. Housing development is a community and should have collective spaces for defined communal activities. For the internal layout, Universal Housing Design is ideal as the needs of diverse people and abilities over time are addressed. The paper advocates collective living strategies and Universal Housing Design principles towards achieving a self-sufficient community.

Academic research paper on topic "Self-Sufficient Community through the Concepts of Collective Living and Universal Housing"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 68 (2012) 615 - 627

AicE-Bs 2012 Cairo ASIA Pacific International Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies Mercure Le Sphinx Cairo Hotel, Giza, Egypt, 31 October - 2 November 2012

"Future Communities: Socio-Cultural & Environmental Challenges "

Self-Sufficient Community through the Concepts of Collective Living and Universal Housing

Harlina Mohamad Ali, Mazuiyah Mohd Dom, Muhamad Shamin Sahrum

Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi, MARA, 40450 Shah Alam, Malaysia _E-mail address:,, muhdshamin@gmail.com_


The idea of self-sufficient community is noble as the awareness for the protection of environment grows. There is tendency for a community to become less cohesive due to different socio-cultural backgrounds. Thus communal-based activities (including green initiatives) which promote collective living can be implemented to inculcate community spirit. Housing development is a community and should have collective spaces for defined communal activities. For the internal layout, Universal Housing Design is ideal as the needs of diverse people and abilities over time are addressed. The paper advocates collective living strategies and Universal Housing Design principles towards achieving a self-sufficient community.

© 2012 TheAuthors.Published byElsevierLtd.

Selection andpeer-reviewunderresponsibilityoftheCentrefor Environment-BehaviourStudies (cE-Bs), Facultyof Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia.

Keywords : self-sufficient community; collective living; green initiatives; universal housing features.

1. Introduction

For the future, the notion of self-sufficient community is the answer for the protection of the environment and ecological systems. The increase in human population is inevitable and thus the consumption of natural resources increases too. Social and cultural issues go in tandem with the growth of population. Society tends to become less cohesive due to clash of backgrounds, unfamiliar traits and different customs. In order to achieve a self-sufficient community, the community must also be cohesive. The community's well-being is important to be addressed and can be achieved through a more conducive living environment. The identification of practical green initiatives that promote collective living can be implemented in a community as ritual every day activities. This will inculcate community spirit while advocating the notion of saving the planet as a common cause. Housing development is the most recognised representation of a community as it generates the population. Housing development should be

1877-0428 © 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.12.253

lavished with quality open spaces for defined community activities as it encourages socio-cultural integration. Universal housing design would be an ideal concept for the internal layout as it refers to homes that are flexible and meet the needs of people of different ages and abilities over a period of time. The design incorporates key living features that aim to make homes accessible and enhance the quality of life for all. The research is focused on recommendations in achieving a self-sufficient community through collective living strategies and generating design proposals using universal housing features. A community which has all the elements that fulfill the needs and requirement of diverse levels of people will transform Malaysians into a more nurturing society.

2. Past, Present and Future Issues

In the past, our forefathers lived sustainably by being self-sufficient in their daily lives. The culture had always been to maintain a return-to-the-ground ethos where daily living required one to "reap what you sow" from the earth. The land was used as needed by cultivation with respect to the environment. Through this way of living, the importance of living collectively as a community comes into being. The model of the kampung or village was the initial phase of the society's political structure. The people planted their own crops collectively, reared their own livestock and invented their own food stock through simple but effective techniques as well as being hands-on in their daily activities. Consequently, this proactive approach to life created master craftsmen among the older generation. Malaysia used to be an agriculture-based society and blessed with an abundance of natural resources and good weather all year round. Rooted in strong cultural backgrounds, the lives of Malaysian society back then evolved around tight and close-knit communities. Activities were done collectively, and almost everything from social to cultural events was done at community level and shared basis. For instance, Yahya (2003) noted that the concepts of sharing and cooperation were fundamental to the Malay culture and to the traditional Malay lifestyle, as well as the general preference for community intimacy over personal privacy.

As Malaysia becomes more developed the population grew inevitably. The socio-cultural dynamics shifted as Malaysians becomes more affluent and moved towards technology-based society. Currently however, there is mounting evidence that human settlements have a detrimental impact on the environment and ecological systems. Globally, there is awareness towards self-sufficient living and it is growing particularly in the West. Earth-friendly practices are heavily-advocated to further reduce carbon footprint and help Mother Earth in every possible way. These earth-friendly practices should start first from home and then the community. Children should be taught from a young age to respect the environment. They should be mindful that even the smallest effort makes a difference. Svensson (2012) argued that socio-cultural dispositions, material culture and collective action need to be included in future strategies for creating more sustainable lifestyles.

The hypothesis is that unavoidable conditions and circumstances in the future might set Malaysians towards the direction of self-sufficient living once again. Are Malaysians ready for extreme scenarios like major climate change and thus shortage of food and resources? This country has always been on the kinder receiving end of Mother Nature, has not been tested with devastating catastrophe as in other countries and Malaysians tend to take things for granted. There is a growing need to rethink how people live and sustain themselves within the urban environment of the future. Rapid urbanisation brings more and more people from the rural areas to large cities. World population is expected to grow from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion between 2007 and 2050; virtually all of the 2.5 billion increases will occur in the developing world's urban areas (UNDESA, 2008). With these alarming data, it is increasingly worrying that quality homes in urban areas of Malaysia will become scarce due to the large scale migration. Quality homes might only be available and made exclusive to those who can afford them. This massive migration to urban areas could also lead to the issue of insufficient food supply in the future. The supply of food

sources continues to be unstable due external factors such as climatic conditions, natural disasters and hostilities. The increase in food prices is unavoidable. An alternative living scheme need to be materialised in order to live more self-sufficiently.

Future communities should be self-sufficient, and this can be achieved through collective living as our forefathers did before. If people live collectively, the community becomes more cohesive through community-based projects and from environmental approach, activities based on green initiatives. From the design perspective, collective living can be achieved through spatial approach by creating "space collective." "Space collective" refers to common spaces within housing complex that aims at giving the neighbourhood a new spring through both strong and suitable contemporary architectural and urban intervention that benefits the community (MDW Architecture, 2010). Communal spaces are created within the community for a variety of activities. From socio-cultural perspective, the community spirit could be inculcated once again through human-centric activities as a way to strengthen the society. It is through the aspects of collective community living should one embrace the future.

3. The Definitions of Self-Sufficient Community and Collective Living

The definition of being self-sufficient is being able to fulfill one's own needs without help from others while the term community means people living in one place, like district or city and considered as a whole (Oxford Advanced Dictionary, 2001). Being totally self-sufficient is not easy to achieve especially in the urban areas as compared to the rural areas because of the constraints of space for farming and rearing live stocks. However, it is a step in the right direction if like-minded people who are concerned about the environment and wish to share their skills and know-how through networking to initiate self-sufficient living collectively. A self-sufficient community can begin at a smaller scale for instance, a self-sufficient urban housing. Today, we face the challenge of constructing a sustainable or even self-sufficient dwelling, which is a living organism that interacts with its environment, exchanges resources and functions as an entirely self-sufficient entity, like a tree in a field (Guallart, 2006). A self-sufficient dwelling project should be connected to nearby structure in order to balance the excess and lack of interaction (Fraga & Burg, 2006). Fraga and Burg elaborated that an area of the city is self-sufficient when it has a variety of activities and design should make emphasis on dense, collective and complexity of activities. This paper looks into the characters of self-sufficient housing as an independent entity that advocates collective living but at the same time relates back to the neighbouring context and the city as a whole. A self-sufficient dwelling is one that is connected to the local system and knows how to respond to the social, cultural, technical and economics of its surroundings (Guallart, 2006). Collective living refers to a group or society as a whole that share responsibility, action and effort in their daily lives (Oxford Advanced Dictionary, 2001).

4. Methodology

This paper investigates the notion that collective living promotes solidarity and cohesiveness among the residents in a community. Qualitative method is applied in this research using unobtrusive method of content analysis on existing theory, national housing policy, standard guidelines as well as obtrusive method of visual perception study on human behavioural pattern and case studies. The first case study is on a permaculture community which practise green strategies in their daily lives. In-depth interview is being conducted with the residents to understand the process and its implementation. Field work will be conducted by participating in workshops within the community. This paper viewed collective living from three (3) separate but interconnected strategies i.e. from environmental approach, socio-cultural approach and spatial approach. The elaboration is as follows:

4.1. Environmental Approach

Environmental approach is seen as activity-based community projects based on green strategies. Among the activities that can be done collectively include edible garden and organic farming through permaculture techniques, seeds and organic fertilizers produced through cooperatives, rainwater harvesting, composting and mulching, recycling, community parks, etc. For instance, Cultivating Community is a Melbourne-based organization that promotes community gardens in public housing estates. The CEO of Cultivating Community, Ben Neil said major factors for community gardens include the need to be connected to the community, the importance of organic produce and food politics, the desire for immigrants to grow food from their countries that are not available in Australia and social interaction for people living alone (Millen, 2006). Neil elaborated the benefits of belonging to a community garden, in addition to the social aspect, include improved mental health, improved physical health through exercise, improved diet through an increase in fresh vegetables and fruits intake as well as appreciation of other cultures and their cuisines. In Malaysia, organic farming through permaculture design principles is taking shape nicely in rural settings such as in Embun Pagi, Batu Arang, Selangor pioneered by Sabina Arokiam and Permaculture Perak in Lenggong, Perak headed by Ladia Kuta. Permaculture is a system to design human settlements and agriculture systems to mimic those in natural ecologies and it includes "earthcare", "peoplecare" and "fairshare" (Bell, 2004). Urban permaculture can be practised and is essentially common sense living, which means using the resources available to the fullest. This include worm bins, garbage enzymes, fermented food, intensive small scale gardening, recycling, container planting and making cordages out of used bags (Millen, 2006). The principles of permaculture should be practised to instill awareness and sensitivity towards the environment among adults and children alike.

In 2008, the Federal Government of Malaysia proposed to reinitiate the Green Planet Programme (Dasar Bumi Hijau). The effort was to identify and locate vacant and unused land to be used for edible gardens with the condition of getting approval from the land owners and related authorities. It also involved the Housing and Local Government Ministry as well as corporate bodies. Edible gardens are cultivated on patches of land offering freshly grown produce either for consumption or sold by the cooperative of farmers and gardeners in housing development. Self cultivation and the idea of collective living are inseparable. Growing one's own food ensures food security and that domestic demand is met, even if the market's food supply is unsteady. According to Van Rooyen, et al (1995), the economic rationale for urban farming is that it is often seen as a temporary survival strategy. It allows a fallback position if sufficient urban income is not generated. This means that effort is put where effort is needed, and this advantage increases the practice of urban farming. On transportation aspect, proximity to the infrastucture system and public transportation nodes are important for any housing development in the urban areas. It helps to reduce carbon footprint, both individually and as a city, while keeping a healthier lifestyle for the urban residents.

4.2. Socio-cultural Approach

Collective living can also be done through activities which are humanistic oriented. This includes community policing or Rukun Tetangga in the Malaysian context which promotes crime prevention, security for the community and solidarity among the residents. A community childcare centre which is run by the local residents encourages the culture of looking out for each there. Religious oriented activities strengthened one's beliefs and brotherhood and centred on places of worship. In Islam, the mosque or surau is a community centre where one goes to pray, learn, socialise, seek advice, taking care of the dead and at times used as a pre-school or orphanage. Community kitchen is also part of collective living strategy where social and religious events can be organised. The idea of community kitchen can be

done weekly or even on a daily basis where a group of residents in the community takes turn to cook for the community. This will encourage social interaction, better communication and friendlier environment among the residents. It is also a concept practiced widely in co-housing development in the West. Any residential development should include recreational facilities such as a community park that include children playing area, playing field, sports courts, exercise apparatus, reflexology area, etc. The playing area for children should allow easy surveillance form the parents through "eyes on the street" concept. This is to ensure safety of the children and to prevent any untoward incidents. A common hall is a bonus as it promotes community activities to be held and can double up as a playing area for indoor sports. Another collective living strategy is community participation during the preliminary design process of future housing development. This allows residents to give their opinion and recommendations on how they wish their housing community should be designed. It also encourages better understanding of endusers needs for architects and other consultants involved in the housing project. This interactivity between residents will foster good relationship and trust. Eventually, trust translates to a safer neighbourhood.

4.3. Spatial Approach

Collective living in terms of spatial approach means investigating how communal spaces or "space collective" can be shared by the dwellers in a community but at the same time their private domain or personal sphere are protected. The collective residential project is always a testing ground, and in recent years European cities have been investigating new relationship between the concepts of private and collective space as a means to develop new approaches to the idea of a city (Cocco & Pibiri, 2006). Cocco and Pibiri argued that these are hybrid spaces for socialization, and new residential projects face the city as an infrastructure which breaks down independent and isolated blocks into functional social spaces. The degrees of territoriality are assimilated and defensible space becomes a reality within the community. Defensible space theory is about spaces that are intentionally designed to be supervised, either directly or indirectly in order to maintain safety and security (Newman, 1973). People will only defend the spaces if they take pride in the spaces and claim territoriality over it. Once the "sense of belonging" is attached to the place, they will automatically defend the space from being intruded by strangers (Abbas, 2000). Shumaker and Taylor (1983) defined "attachment to place" as a positive effective association between individuals and their residential development. The new dwelling culture that is emerging sees the residence widening towards shared, semiprivate and public spaces that hosts activities directed to the neighbourhood; and these inter-residential quality spaces help strengthen neighbourly relations, social as well as cultural bonds (Cocco and Pibiri, 2006).

5. The Concept of Universal Housing Design

According to Universal Housing Development Guidelines (Australian Standard, 2008), Universal Housing Design refers to homes that are practical and flexible which meets the needs of people of different ages and abilities over time. This type of design incorporates key easy living features that aim to make homes accessible and adaptable. It enhances the quality of life for all levels of occupants including single person, people with disability, old age pensioners, people with temporary injuries and family with young children. Conceptually, universally designed housing is an approach to building homes which is well integrated within the community with living spaces that meet the current and future needs of home occupants. It is an inclusive design philosophy which enhance the design of products, services and environments.

The concept of Universal Design was developed in the United States in the 20th century which brought about major social changes with respect to civil and human rights. Driven by factors of disabled and

injured soldiers from the wars, the rights and needs of older people and people with disabilities, the government responded with the introduction of equal rights and antidiscrimination legislation. According to Follete (1998), it first entered into usage in the mid 1980's by architect Ronald L. Mace, FAIA. The United State's approach principally focussed on accessibilities where regulations, codes, standards, policies and procedures were developed to provide societal inclusion to people with disabilities. Over the years, Universal Design extends beyond the confines of accessibilities to include all persons. It creates inclusion by promoting integrated mainstream products, environmental features and services. The development of ergonomics and human factors and their application in industrial design and engineering greatly influenced the focus of the Universal Design principles (Follete, 1998).

This design approach is gaining acceptance worldwide including countries like Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom which have acted to introduce a Universal Design Standard into their planning and building codes. This term is also known as Design For All, Life Span Design and Inclusive Design. The United Kingdom 'Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods Strategy' announced in 2008 includes the Lifetime Homes Standard (a Universal Housing standard) in its Codes for Sustainable Homes. The strategy includes a plan for all public and private housing to be built according to that Standard by 2013. The Australian Standard for Affordable Housing (AS2499) has been developed using Universal Housing Design Guidelines. It includes Key Design Features and Good Practices towards adaptable and accessible dwelling design (Newman, 2011). Victoria Council of Social Services (2008) stated that Universal Housing Design offers universal benefits that not only strengthening social inclusion and improving recognition of human rights, but also highlighting significant social and economic benefits.

5.1. Universal Housing Design Principles

According to a study by The Centre for Universal Design at North Carolina State University (1998), among the principles of Universal Housing Design are as follows :

• Equitable to use :Housing design should be useful, appealing and marketable to all potential home occupants with diverse ability.

• Flexible in use :Housing design and products selection should accommodate a wide range of individual preference and abilities.

• Simple and intuitive to use :Housing design and layout should accommodate all home occupants regardless of their past experiences, familiarity or cognitive ability.

• Easy to interpret :Housing design should communicate environmental information to the home occupant, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

• Safe and sensible to use :Housing design minimises hazards and adverse consequences of unintended actions.

• Requires low physical effort :Housing design and product should be easy, comfortable and efficient to use to accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

• Promotes ease on approach to housing features and elements :Living spaces are designed to ensure sufficient area is provided for the house occupants to easily approach, reach and manipulate the elements within their home environment.

In a nutshell, this paper recommends using the principles of Universal Housing Design in the internal layout of self-sufficient housing. The design principles respond to changing social, technological and economic condition. The design principles can be applied to the housing development through specific design features. It is a sustainable approach and is ideal for self-sufficient housing. Building houses with Universal Housing Design features will improve access in and around the homes making them easier and

safer to live in for all people regardless of age and ability. Housing that is adequate for health and wellbeing is an essential element of sustainable, socially inclusive and liveable communities.

6. Analysis and Findings through Design Proposal

The notion of home no longer involves a monotonous and singular event dwelling. In this ever mobile society, home is made up of collective memories and series of events that one associates oneself with and sum up what home is. Home is not merely limited to within the four walls of the house. The sound of children laughing in the neighborhood, a frequent meeting point, a congregation at a small mosque or familiar faces at the night market are elements that create the condition of home. The collective memories and series of events reinforce the understanding of what home is. As Duncan (1985) said, for all people home is the centre of the world and a place of order that contrasts with the chaos elsewhere.

Fig.1.Concept of collective homes; Source: Muhamad Shamin (2012)

Fig. 2.Development of design ideas; Source: Muhamad Shamin (2012)

The collective living strategies through environmental, socio-cultural and spatial approaches discussed earlier in the Methodology section are applied in this design proposal. The public spaces within the housing block are every bit as important as the habitable spaces. The public spaces are the communal spaces or "space collective" which is designed to be at every floor and is intended for community cohesion. The floors are connected vertically and horizontally as well. On various levels there are programmatic spaces intended to provide residents with the necessary facilities for eventful collective living such as religious centres, eateries, nursery and gymnasium which are all connected by "vertical gardens" accessible via staircases and lifts. While the upper floors are catered for the residents, the ground floor focuses on landscaped gardens which are open to all.

Fig. 4. Proposed sectional perspective; Source: Muhamad Shamin (2012)

In this design proposal, vertical voids are placed at every four floors. In vertical dwellings, circulation is the main pulse running throughout the building. Thus, it seems only logical for the public spaces to be positioned where interaction between residents would occur most. A large central void acts as a main node located at various points in the building and accommodates a "vertical garden" in the multi-storey housing. Corridors of different floors will run adjacent to this void, providing visual retreat away from the monotonous rows of doors into one of green sceneries. Each of these voids could have a different programme. On one void, an edible community garden could be established, while on another a children's playground.

The cultivation of the edible community garden using permaculture technique promotes healthy lifestyle among the residents while reaping the benefits of the crops. The concept of the edible community garden extends to the common corridors. This is one of the collective living strategies that enhance solidarity among the residents. Using Universal Housing Design principles, each house unit is connected by ramp at the main entrance for easy access. The internal layout of the house unit is comfortable, accessible and accommodates people of diverse abilities over a period of time. Each unit is equipped with a vestibule, yard and verandah for edible gardening activities.

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Fig. 5. Axonometric view and section of typical house unit; Source: Muhamad Shamin (2012)

Fig. 6. Perspective view of design proposal; Source: Muhamad Shamin (2012)

7. Conclusion

The idea of a community relates to the notion of feeling belonged. The sense of belonging to a place is important. Feeling belonged means to have a personal relationship with the place of being and to feel like a part of the neighbourhood. Chuan, et al (2010) reported that among the decision people make when purchasing a house in the Klang Valley is that neighbourhood living and community environment quality are both the influencing elements to house purchasing decision. This is because Malaysian households prefer to stay longer in the neighbourhood. Chuan, et al added that residents are psychologically secured when trustworthy neighbours are around. Thus, collective living strategies and Universal Housing Design principles are ideal to be introduced in achieving a self-sufficient community. The potentials of the new ideas put forward in this paper for the betterment of future communities from socio-cultural and environmental perspectives is promising and exciting.

This paper is part of an ongoing research which is still in its infancy. The recommendations may not be immediately viable in the current scenario as the awareness for the protection of the environment particularly among Malaysians is still low. However, we must be prepared for the future and create innovative solutions in the present. The idea of self-sufficient community through the concepts of collective living and universal housing may not be familiar now. However, as envisioned by Guallart

(2006), the city proves to be a fertile ground for experimentation of new forms of living and capable of responding to the changing needs of the inhabitants.


The authors of this paper would like to thank the Secretariat of AicE-Bs 2012 Cairo for being understanding and accommodating during the preparation of this paper.


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