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Rubanisation – Rethinking of how we live, work, learn, play and farm

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Mu Aye Pu will be designed by visionary architect Kheng Soon Tay based on his innovative rubanization concept.

Rubanisation is a re-conceptualization of human settlements in which the city and the countryside are considered as one space, not two as it is now – city and countryside are regarded as separate realms. Rubanisation stems from the belief that the continued consideration of the rural and the urban as two distinct realms is unsustainable in terms of social justice, cultural justice and environmental justice. This mode of thinking calls for a new spatial geometry of integrated development that offers real viable choices for living, one that is supported by environmentally sustainable technology and ethical lifestyle.

In Rubanisation, a reverse migration back to the village is encouraged and made possible through the availability of viable choice, prior to returning to repair the city devastated by unjust accumulation. Focusing on the problems of existing mega-cities is only a stop-gap solution. The argument is that in the present mode of development, the countryside has been largely neglected as cities become ‘the exclusive focus of development,’ compelling those in the rural areas to migrate to the city in search of better opportunities. This has resulted in a massive population explosion in most cities in the developing world, which manifests itself in the growing presence of slums. In the case of developed societies, small towns and villages have been losing population to the lure of the big cities for the excitement that they offer. Rubanisation postulates that unless the problem of rural poverty, which ‘still remains the main cause for mass rural-urban migration,’ is solved, and people given a real choice in deciding between rural and urban living, the problems of urbanisation remain intractable.

Spatial geometry

Ruban settlements can be conceived as ‘infrastructurally autonomous cells existing within a web of nature, farms, transport, communication and informational interconnectivity.’ Each of these cells should not have a radius larger than 500 meters – taken to be the optimal walking distance – with its density and use-mix determined by its location, environment and economic requirements.

Energy-wise, each cell is encouraged to be as autonomous as possible, by generating its own power, collecting and processing its own water supply and treating its own organic and inorganic waste.

Socially every cell is provided with its own schools, health facilities, shops, workplaces, and basic services, all of which fall within walking distance. In this way Rubanisation ensures that every person or family is able to enjoy a high quality of life, with a choice of lifestyle, livelihood and location. Not everybody wants to live in the city, or necessarily in the countryside. At every stage of life, there should be viable choice; a no-choice situation is a crime against humanity.

These autonomous cells are then scattered in the landscape, accommodating geographical and environmental specificities. The boundaries of the cells are more or less circular to allow for the spaces between them to be farms, and this spacing would vary according to settlement densities and open land requirements. In every case, however, provisions are made for green spaces, farms, water bodies, etc. between the cells even when they are closely packed in dense urbanised settings, to allow fresh farm produce to be locally available. While specific modifications and adaptations will be made according to density requirements, ‘the cellular nature of the settlement pattern remains the primary system of spatial organisation ensuring both efficiency and liveability,’ and ‘the old contestation between green and brown sites in urban planning dictated by economic imperatives is thus finally eliminated by this geometry.’ Human settlements would then be interspersed between an interconnected green web of farms and natural areas throughout the world.

Existing cities

Rubanisation does not seek to eliminate the need for cities. Rather, it merely presents people with a viable alternative to the city as it presently is. Existing cities should be retained for five overarching functions:
1 the highest level of medical research and treatment
2 the highest level of academic research and teaching
3 the highest level of finance and administration
4 the highest level of entertainment and the arts
5 the highest level of manufacturing

Modifications to existing cities can and will occur over time as the concept of distributed Rubanised settlements develops. Through the selective insertion of green spaces and water bodies into the existing dense urban fabric, over time, the green web will be established throughout.


New transport systems using robotic electric buses serve as the transport backbone, to be supplemented by small private electric vehicles belonging to the family or the individual. To maximise road space efficiency, all robotic vehicles are linked together magnetically to form a train whereby each vehicle is able to connect to or disconnect from the train automatically. This provides the sort of flexibility required that fixed rail systems do not. Roads are divided into four categories depending on their width, the traffic density and types of vehicles they are meant to take, in order to eliminate road congestion. This system builds upon the existing roadway systems.

A new eco-regional economy

Presently, economic patterns of production and consumption are environmentally destructive, and so new non-material satisfactions have to be found in life to wean people off the present satisfactions based on material consumption. In a Ruban setting, these new satisfactions take the form of better education, a high quality of environment and improved family and community life. The individualistic and materialistic values perpetrated by the current developmental model ought to incorporate traditional values of compassion, humility, care for others and the environment, as the basis for a new eco-regional economy.

Work, live, learn, play, farm

The impact of Rubanisation goes beyond poverty eradication, by bringing greater balance to working, living, learning, playing and farming within walkable distances. ‘Children walk to school. Parents work nearby. Children know what their parents do. Parents are involved in their children’s learning situations. Communities interact to imagine new ways to make life better and more secure. Everyone enjoys good clean organic food, know the farmers by name, know how the food is grown and adjust their diet according to seasonable crops.’ The good life will be restored through real creative community action, fulfilling work, and stronger family ties.

The architecture
In the Rubanisation model, local initiative and incremental action are encouraged. Therefore, totalistic designs are abhorrent. Within the overall Ruban pattern which governs the infrastructure and land-use planning, the implementation of building projects are governed by local environmental concerns and individual creativity within the shared values of the settlement. Local materials and techniques should characterize the design style. This would tend towards a natural localism, avoiding the tendency to copy the industrial aesthetics of the ‘defunct age.

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