Singapore does green buildings. Really. Actually green!
Posted by admin on July 18, 2016 at 10:47 pm
Envirotecture directors Dick Clarke and Andy Marlow recently went on an intensive study tour to Singapore, to look at the latest green buildings.
These are certainly green in technical performance, but what was of special interest was how they are increasingly green in plain fact: covered with plant life, inside and out. In four big days, they walked an average of 16km/day looking at a dozen of Singapore’s finest new buildings.
Dick Clarke writes…
90% of us Aussies now live in towns and cities. It may come as a surprise to know that, as it flies in the face of some of our outback and frontier narratives – loving a sunburnt country, once a jolly swagman, and all that. But it means that in urban planning and all that flows from it, we have more in common with city-states like Singapore than with our heritage. That comes as a shock to many, still pursuing the sprawling suburban dream.
There is a lot we can learn from Singapore, and in truth that learning is a two-way street – so it’s really a journey together, along with all other mega-cities around the world. A couple of weeks ago we visited many of the wonderful new generation of green buildings there, and here is some of what we learned.
Singapore is a 100% urbanised society, in a hot humid climate zone. Most people think of only two things: endless high-rise, and stifling humidity. Neither is true. Well – the humidity can be sometimes, but there is more to that than meets the eye.
The Singaporean government has set a target of 50% tree cover. Here’s an excerpt from their 2003 master plan “A City in a Garden”, which set the framework:
“The challenge of greening a small city-state with a land area of only 700 square kilometres and a population of 4.6 million (and still growing) is space. However, green space need not necessarily suffer at the expense of economic and population growth. While land is scarce, with careful planning, Singapore has been able to commit 9% of the total land area to parks and nature reserves. Between 1986 and 2007, despite the population growing by 68% from 2.7 million to 4.6 million, the green cover in Singapore grew from 35.7% to 46.5%.”
But for me, as a designer of buildings more than public spaces, the buildings themselves are intensely interesting. Of course there is an inseparable relationship between an building and the public space around it and within it. But let me focus mainly on the buildings themselves for a while.
What really took Andy’s and my interest was the ways the current crop of buildings have engaged with plant life – both on and within. This has several really important functions, both at a technical level, at a psychological and emotional level, and importantly – at a societal and political level. I’m not sure if the Singaporeans have deliberately embraced that last feature, but let’s explore them…
Green cladding helps to cool a building, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer to wrap as much of the exterior as you can in suitable plant life. It does this by reducing the direct solar gain, and at the same time cooling the air that passes through towards the inner skin. There are some lovely examples of this being done to various extents. The new Parkroyal on Pickering has elevated gardens floating up from street level, juxtaposed with delightful biophylic layered soffits. The Oasia Hotel takes it to the max with a whole multi-storey facade that will be 80% green when mature – we saw it when a few months old and already it was covering over 10% of the facade. The new School of the Arts has a similarly dense facade. CapitaGreen is a new Platinum Green Mark (equivalent of Greenstar) building in Downtown. It has many notable features, but one that really made us smile was the workers who go to the 40 storey high Rooftop Forest (yes, and it is!) for their break, and rest in the shade because it is so comfortable.
That particular building also has the most amazing sculptural walls in its foyer, crafted by hand. The other key design-for-climate feature is the air intake ‘trumpet’ on the roof, which funnels the cooler air from 40 stories up deep down into the core, thus reducing the energy demand of the cooling system. You can see more about CapitaGreen here: http://capitagreensingapore.com/green-features/.
We also ventured up Skyville@Dawson – a 47 storey residential complex with really good but economical passive cooling features – simply by breaking down up the floor plates into a series of interconnected micro-towers. This allows any breeze to become a cross-draught in every singe unit. the interconnecting bridges are well provisioned with plant-life, and the gardens at the base have communal entertaining spaces, and complete set of shops and eateries. People we spoke to their were very happy living there. It was developed by the Government agency Housing and Development Board, who offer a version of rent-to-own, including pathways for low income earners to get in on the benefit of both property ownership AND good design, all leading to good social outcomes. This is from a government not widely recognised for its socialist policies!
Psychological and emotional
Nature defect disorder (NDD) is a real psychological phenomenon, it’s obvious when we stop and think about it. Living and working in entirely man-made environments disconnects us from that all important relationship with the ecology that actually supports us, and does harm to our sense of well-being. Introducing greenery into our lives has a hugely beneficial counter-effect, improving mental and physical health, raising workplace productivity, and leading to a better understanding of our place in the web of life. These things have been well researched and are widely accepted in the medical and psychiatric world. Thankfully planners, architects and developers are getting in on it too. CapitaLand have recently refurbished Six Battery Road, a 1980s vintage office buildings, also to Platinum Green Mark, which has a remarkable green wall in the foyer, opposite another lovely example of biophilia, a complete backlit wall of repurposed onyx.
Societal and political
This effect is the least well researched to date, and the one where I will go out on a bit of a limb. But I think it’s a sound limb, and bears the weight of the argument! If people are disconnected from nature, there will be a generally less harmonious society – all other things being equal. That is, there will be higher crime rates, and other deleterious outcomes. There is a certain amount of data and research to support this view. But I go further: I reckon that if a society is well connected to nature it will TEND to make social decisions that favour both nature and a humane society, and that will be reflected in its political decision making (assuming it is a democracy of course!). I do not naively suppose that some kind of nirvana will automatically follow, and such an outcome also depends on a bunch of other factors, like world view and so on. But I do observe that people with NDD have no understanding of the importance of things like groundwater, species extinction, etc.
I have mentioned just a few of the buildings we looked over in the week we were in Singapore. If you have the least interest in such things, it is so worth a visit. The photos show many of the features discussed here, and a lot more besides. If you have the least interest in such things, it is so worth a visit.
I was also in Europe recently (not bragging, but I admit it sounds like it! See earlier blog on HUF-Haus, Germany) and saw some interesting buildings in Italy – and no I’m certainly not talking about San Gimignano or even Venice* – these were in Milan, in the recently revitalised Porta Nuova Project precinct. I’ll not discuss the UniCredit Tower designed by Ceasar Pelli, which is a dead ringer for Renzo Piano’s Aurarora Place in Macquarie St, Sydney (who copied whom? – just sayin’). What was outstanding was the residential towers designed by Milan lad Stefani Boeri, which he calls a ‘vertical forest’ – and fair enough too: the two towers contain as many trees a one hectare forest!
“A mixture of large and small trees have been planted on balconies on all four sides of the towers, accompanied by 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 floral plants. The design team claim these will absorb dust in the air, helping to depollute the city. “This is a kind of biological architecture that refuses to adopt a strictly technological and mechanical approach to environmental sustainability,” said Boeri Studio in a statement.”
Can’t disagree with that!
That’s where we are going folks, so get ready for ‘green’ in all senses of the word, and don’t let the developers, or the planners, or the governments of any type convince you it should be any other way. Please scroll through the rest of the photos, below, and enjoy the green.
 Envirotecture would like to thank HO Mei Peng, Head of Investor Relations and Communications at of CapitaLand, who took time out of her busy schedules to show us around CapitaGreen and Six Battery Road. We also thank Shona Sherlin HO, Tenant Relations Specialist at Six Battery Road, and her colleague, for the time they took out of their day to play host to us. Their contributions to our experience of these buildings was invaluable.
 Must be something in the onyx – see also Dr Dominique Hes’s chapter in How to Rethink Building Materials – Biophilic Design, which features a powerful story about an onyx walled library.
*I could write at length about what’s wrong with tourist traps like these. It’s quite sad, and every Venetian I spoke to had a similar view – including the one whose frustration was expressed by punching me in the back. It’s ok – I get where he was coming from.