Reclaiming Backlanes



This project is a continuation and extension of previous research work as part of the Improving Backlanes project within the Rochor+ FCL synergy project. The researchers of the Urban Design Strategies and Low Exergy group are conducting a feasibility study of the heat bus system and accompanying urban upgrades for a specific site in Singapore.




Shophouses are historic buildings in Singapore that typically house small and medium enterprises and residences in prime areas of the city. Backlanes are small lanes that separate the backs of shophouses. Currently, backlanes are noisy, dirty and uncomfortable because of the many air-conditioning units and service functions that are relegated to the space. We propose a new design for backlanes that is not only up to 50% more energy efficient but also transforms the backlanes into a viable and high-quality (semi)public space. Our design improves the sustainable built environment by improving the overall pedestrian connectivity, increasing the quality and usability of the backlanes, resulting in commercially attractive and visually pleasing spaces.


We suggest a novel technical solution, the HEAT BUS SYSTEM based on the LOW EXERGY design paradigm, which not only reduces energy use but also ameliorates the thermal microclimate by introducing water-cooled condensers connected to a central cooling tower. The additional infrastructure, a water-based network, is simple and cheap because the water is pumped at temperatures close to outdoor temperatures, omitting the necessity for insulation. The suggested design variation is a prototypical example of applying the HEAT BUS SYSTEM to a horizontal setting of a backlane. Combined with vertical high-rise solutions, this system may be adapted to any kind of urban typology in the tropical climate.


Parallel to the innovative heat bus system the team proposes architectural and urban design interventions e.g. creating greater connectivity through the backlanes and planting small trees for additional shading. Planting small trees for additional shade will create better thermal outdoor comfort. These shaded areas will not only protect pedestrians from the sun but also reduce the heating up of the hard concrete surfaces, such as road and walls, preventing them from reradiating that heat to pedestrians. Together the proposed initiatives will upgrade the backlane fabric and will transform the backlane into a space that will foster PEDESTRIAN MOVEMENT, social encounters, new economic activities and playful activities in the future.


For more information, please visit the Improving Backlanes page.


Moving towards a pilot implementation


This feasibility study brings together owners, tenants, government agencies, equipment supplier and ESCOs in order to come up with design specs and costs for an actual implementation. Together with these different stakeholders, we will develop design visions for exemplary backlanes.


Contact and further information


Dr Marcel Bruelisauer

Reclaiming Backlanes project manager



Backlane façade in Boat Quay

Backlane façade in Boat Quay

Backlane entrance

Backlane entrance

Backlane heat island

Backlane conflict: pedestrian usage contrasted by uncomfortable surrounding (microclimatic effects, waste bins etc.)

Boat Quay Backlanes 03

Backlanes at Boat Quay in Singapore

Boat Quay Backlanes 02

Backlanes at Boat Quay in Singapore

Boat Quay Backlanes 01

Backlanes at Boat Quay in Singapore