Utilising unwanted properties for community benefit
Social sustainability through refurbished property
Whether to raise its value or make use of an unwanted piece of land, refurbishment is a welcome alternative to leaving under-utilised properties the way they are. While refurbishment is not an uncommon solution for these buildings, transforming them into community-focused projects remains an issue.
Unlike the economic motive inherent in the construction of residential, commercial and industrial units, focusing on non-profit projects allows the opportunity for greater social cohesion, inclusion and resilience necessary to advance social sustainability in Malaysia.
According to the World Bank, these are components critical to the goal of social sustainability, facilitating the ability of societies to adapt and flourish.
A portion of the National Budget 2023 is dedicated to corporate social responsibility, with RM250mil pledged to corporate social contribution for the hardcore poor, as well as a part of RM30mil to increase the habitability of public housing in Kuala Lumpur.
While progress remains slow, several developers have already begun to take steps to alleviate the needs of the community. MyTOWN Shopping Centre’s recently commissioned international educational centre, targeted to open in 2024, used to be its old project office.
The centre is to be operated by Ideas Academy, which works closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) to make learning more accessible to less privileged and refugee children in Malaysia, alongside general pupils.
To achieve its goal, Boustead Ikano Sdn Bhd (BISB) and Ikano Centres have pledged to invest approximately RM5mil to refurbish the building into a holistic learning environment with all necessary modern equipment.
“We felt that MyTOWN’s former office is the ideal grounds for a learning destination with surrounding land creating ample space for skate ramps, multipurpose courts, and green spaces to create an environment for students to learn, grow and thrive,” Ikano Centres commercial director Arnoud Bakker said.
According to Bakker, the initiative is part of their sustainability strategy, which championed initiatives that help support the goal of becoming more circular and climate positive. With community-centred refurbishment, projects are not just part of the social sustainability effort, but environmental sustainability as well.
“Demolishing the existing building creates additional construction waste that ends up being disposed of at landfills. Refurbishing the former building minimises waste of existing components and decreases energy consumption to reduce the overall impact on the environment,” Bakker said.
“Our teams are also extensively looking at how we can re-use existing construction materials to ensure we minimise these ending up in landfills,” he added.
There were several considerations regarding the processes and regulations of converting an interim structure into a permanent one. The team performed extensive evaluations of existing MEP infrastructure and worked closely with the authorities to ensure they met all the necessary safety requirements.
“In everything that we do, our focus is to create a positive impact in the communities that we are a part of,” Ideas Academy head of operations Stephanie van Aken said.
“We will be working closely with IKEA to provide furnishing for Ideas Academy. Ideas Academy has also received a great response from the business community including Clarion Newlife Capital Pte Ltd (CNC),” she added.
A lack of capital can be a challenge when it comes to community-centred spaces, but it is not insurmountable. The benefits of these spaces are often worth the effort.
“Balancing a limited budget while creating a thoughtful and sustainable design requires careful planning, strategic decision-making, and maximising the value of available resources,” Veritas Design Group associate Choong Wei Li noted.
In the case of the WAO Shelter Home, a Corporate Social Responsibility project to rebuild a dilapidated 1960s house, the design team employed several cost-effective strategies, such as reusing materials and incorporating donated or sponsored items.
“The use of repurposed tiles, burnt roof tile screen wall, and other recycled elements helped minimise costs while adding aesthetic value. Additionally, incorporating passive design strategies like natural lighting and ventilation reduced the reliance on energy-consuming systems. By leveraging partnerships, fundraising, and pro bono contributions, the project was able to achieve a sustainable design within the budgetary constraints,” Choong said.
He noted that projects serving the community often undergo refurbishment when there is a need to address changing requirements, upgrade facilities, or improve functionality. Factors such as wear and tear, safety concerns, technological advancements, and evolving community needs can drive the decision to refurbish.
“Community-serving projects typically require ongoing maintenance and periodic refurbishment to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the users and maintain a safe and comfortable environment,” he added.
Several criteria are necessary for refurbishing projects serving the community. First, a thorough assessment of the existing infrastructure and facilities is essential to identify areas requiring refurbishment.
Choong emphasised that understanding the specific needs of the community and ensuring compliance with building codes, safety regulations, and accessibility standards is crucial. The refurbishment should align with the objectives and mission of the organisation or institution and prioritise sustainability, inclusivity, and user comfort.
“Additionally, consideration should be given to budgetary constraints, resource availability, and potential community disruptions during the refurbishment process,” Choong said.
To ensure the effectiveness of the project, Choong highlighted the need to engage with the community during the refurbishment process. Gathering feedback and input from the community helps ensure that the refurbishment meets their needs and aspirations.
“Feedback from the community provides valuable insights into the effectiveness and success of the refurbishment. While specific feedback for the WAO Shelter Home is not provided, community involvement is crucial in fostering a sense of ownership, building trust, and creating a facility that truly serves their needs,” he added.
Repairing individual homes
The refurbishment of individual homes differs from creating community spaces, however many within the B40 community are not able to afford to refurbish their old, run-down properties.
An example of an initiative which targets such issues is Tenaga Nasional Bhd’s (TNB) People Friendly Project (PMR) and the Baiti Jannani Project (PBJ). These are ongoing programs to help the B40 group, Asnaf and the poor to either repair, buy or build homes.
TNB noted in a statement that these programs are in line with TNB’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) philosophy to improve lives and contribute towards the benefit of society. Up until 2022, the organisation had allocated more than RM31.11mil to repair, buy or build 1,287 homes.
While these are critical steps to alleviate the burden of Malaysia’s lower-income population, home refurbishment programs are absent on a federal level. Refurbishment requires the input and support of all stakeholders
It is only through sustainable, resilient communities that Malaysia will gain the much-coveted title of a developed nation.