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Singapore Design Awards: 19-year-old urban farmer Dylan Soh sets a high bar for being the youngest winner

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 6 min read
Singapore Design Awards: 19-year-old urban farmer Dylan Soh sets a high bar for being the youngest winner
Meet 19-year-old urban farmer Dylan Soh - the youngest recipient of the Design For Good competition
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A leading design award that serves as a springboard for creators to take on increasingly complex problems in today’s world, the Singapore Design Awards 2021 (SDA), by Design Business Chamber Singapore (DBCS), is currently open for submissions with a slightly different format this year.

Firstly, it has done away with specific entry categories which once separated students, professionals and corporates, and instead is accepting submissions from any creative person who uses design as their primary problem-solving tool. SDA is also dropping entry fees for all participants to promote better inclusivity and encourage submissions from designers of all backgrounds.

This year, DBCS and SDA are also partnering the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, to reinforce their mission to ideate ways to tackle current societal issues.

This year’s top six winners, to be announced in March 2022, will be supported with a total cash pool of $80,000 to develop their concepts; four winners will be awarded $10,000 seed funding each, while two top award winners will receive an additional $20,000 each.

To give you an idea of what the judges are looking for, we look back at last year’s winners under DBCS’ Design For Good competition, which called for ideas on how to improve lives during and after the pandemic. Of the 120 entries received, six were shortlisted for their impactful designs, and these contestants each won $6,000 of seed money to actualise their projects. The success of the Design for Good competition in solving real-life community issues inspired the challenge statements for SDA 2021.

While a majority of the winning solutions were digital- or app-based offering various forms of social assistance, two were physical innovations: a convertible desk or storage box made of lightweight reusable cardboard distributed to low-income households, and a Lego-like hydroponic modular system designed to encourage urban farming in small spaces.

This hydroponic modular planter system can turn any window, balcony corridor and wall into a farmable space

The latter, called One Kind Block, is the brainchild of 19-year-old Dylan Soh, the youngest-ever Design for Good winner. The enterprising young man is no stranger to innovation and public speaking. At only 11, he presented his first TEDx Talk in Singapore on the future of urban farming and sustainable cities. At 13, he raised $25,000 on Kickstarter for his first invention, the GIY Stick, which reuses bottles and fabric to make any pot self-watering. He has even co-authored a book called The Big Red Dot with his father, former ad man Calvin Soh, on growing up in Singapore.

Soh credits his green fingers to his grandmother 78-year-old Ng Swee Hiah, aka Mummy Soh, who hosts dinners and conducts cooking classes at One Kind House, their multi-generational family terrace house-cum-bed and breakfast.

Just who is this impressive young man who’s influencing politicians on social media to go green? In this email interview with Options, Soh candidly shares a little more about himself and his clever system to promote a greener and self-sustaining society.

What does the name ‘One Kind Block’ mean?

One Kind Block (OKB) stands for growing cities green- er and kinder, one block at a time. We represent a new way of living sustainably, creating ecosystems of kindness from the ground-up. Apartments aren’t designed for urban farming. So, we had to create a Lego-like system that could adapt to any home, and turn any window, balcony corridor and wall into a farmable space. Farming has therapeutic benefits too. It helps reduce the effects of de- pression and dementia in seniors, improve overall mindful- ness, and reconnects us to nature. We’re working with various communities in Singapore and nursing homes to bring these benefits to the elderly.

What was your motivation to enter the awards?

This was a continuation of our previous Kickstarter project called the GIY (Grow-It-Yourself) Stick in 2016, which was a self-watering stick for pots with the similar goal of making cities fertile. I think we came across the DBCS from a friend who had participated in a previous year. After some reading, we believed that the One Kind Block aligned with [DBCS’ competition], in that it was “designed for good”. We believed we could help champion what that phrase meant even in our product development stage in early 2020.

Who is the creative team behind the innovation?

The OKB team consists of me and my father. After 10 years at Anglo Chinese School, I did two years of high school in Etela Tapiolan lukio (South Tapiola High School) in Finland before dropping out due to Covid in 2020. We are both high- school dropouts.

At 19, how do you have so much entrepreneurial spirit?

I suppose it’s the values I was raised with, which is to solve problems, to be resilient, adaptable, creative and all those cliche phrases. But they’re true, and I like to think I’ve pulled them off quite well. I’ve always been taught to solve problems, and I think the OKB is the solution to one of them.

What did you do with your cash prize?

Because we entered [the contest] during our prototyping stage, we used the funds to manufacture the OKB corner block. Since OKB is like Lego, we will create more shapes and sizes of blocks in the future so people can grow more things. The system is expandable and modular, and we used the funding to make sure that aspect of the OKB was viable.

What is the ultimate goal for you?

The ultimate goal is for cities to be more sustainable and self- aware about their food. Due to travel restrictions and reduced quantities of imported produce, Covid has shown that we need to be self-sufficient to a degree. It’s fantastic that we have 30 by 30 (where Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030), the Green Plan, and these big industrial farms coming along. That’s a great top-down approach, but it can’t create community and make people more mindful of their food in the way we believe the OKB will. There’s an opportunity to give back and be kinder to ourselves that we think we can make use of, and hopefully after reading this, you do, too.

Where can we buy One Kind Block?

A set of three blocks costs $39, which includes the blocks, sponge, cups, zip-ties and Peranakan tile stickers. However, don’t be fooled by its simplistic looks, the concept took four years to come up with and two years to finalise and proto- type before coming onto Kickstarter. Currently, we’re finishing the manufacturing process, and provided that Covid lockdowns and restrictions don’t get in the way, we’ll have the OKB ready by mid-September. It is available to pre-order on

Photos courtesy of Design Business Chamber Singapore

Have a great design idea? Submit your entry to Singapore Design Awards 2021 at
Deadline: Oct 16, 2021.

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