‘A City in a Garden’: Singapore’s Vision of a Green City

With a simple goal to make life more pleasant for its people, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wanted to transform Singapore into a ‘garden city’. From polluted canals, mucky rivers, and a city choked with congestion at the start of its independence in 1965, Singapore is now a global green powerhouse just 55 years later. 

This city-state’s steady environmental momentum started with efforts to promote lush greenery and green spaces through intensive tree planting. Several green initiatives with government agencies and private developers started to increase greenery, parks and recreational spaces – acting as ‘green lungs’. There is even a Tree Planting Day to encourage participation from civilians. 

Singapore’s journey was not easy nor automatic. Like any developing country, Singapore faced challenges in sanitation, pollution and unemployment; made more acute because it’s a small island with limited resources. 

Therefore, from its centralized government, a mindset shift occurred.

Spearheaded by the ‘Chief Gardener’, former PM Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore focused on long-term environmental sustainability where every citizen contributes to building the country from the ground up. After decades of clean-up and green projects, today, Singapore is a series of parks and green spaces that are seen on the walls to the very top of its buildings. 

Consequently, Singapore’s meteoric economic rise followed shortly after.

Photo source: Pexels | Alleksana

How does Singapore maintain this ‘Green City’ movement?

With the influx of people and investments, the solution to maintain and create green living spaces turned to combining architecture, lush environment and sustainable energy. 

For the continuation of this ‘green’ status, Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) put in place the Green Mark Scheme initiative – a rating system to evaluate buildings based on their environmental impact and performance. There are four award levels – Certified, Gold, GoldPLUS and Platinum.

Since 2008, green building has been mandatory in Singapore. Building owners must submit performance and energy consumption data to show they meet the minimum Green Mark standard. 

Working together with the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC), the BCA created a masterplan with the aim of ‘greening’ 80% of its buildings by 2030. This included greenery and energy-saving initiatives made possible with technology and ingenious designs. Naturally, this is also part of the city-state’s involvement and drive to mitigate climate change

So, vertical or cascading gardens and green open spaces are a common sight. 

Let us show you some amazing architectural showstoppers in the country and how they embody sustainability. Two of the finest and most popular examples showing the union between architecture and nature can be said to be Jewel Changi Airport and Gardens by the Bay, let’s start with those.

Photo Source: Flickr | Derrick Brutel

Jewel Changi Airport

The stunning design of this latest airport extension, created by architect Moshe Safdie, has wowed all of its visitors. Housing the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the structure is a perfect example of biophilic architecture. It fluidly combines natural light, water and green spaces amidst a modern interior that fully delights the senses and enhances overall experience. 

Moshe Safdie shared: Jewel is a bespoke design, crafted in response to the design brief and its particular location and setting. Local culture, heritage, and climate inform the design. To create Jewel is to conceive of a design in which architecture and landscape are totally integrated. Landscape is not an add-on feature, or an optional embellishment, but rather a fundamental component of space. Its deployment creates the opportunity for a new kind of spatial experience, one that specifically echoes and celebrates Singapore’s reputation as the Garden City—but, at its heart, is a humanistic response that is not bound to a particular locale.

According to the Safdie architects, Jewel aims to combine two types of environment – an intense marketplace and a paradise garden. This latest airport terminal houses several diverse activities and facilities under its unique glass and steel dome-shaped facade. At the heart of this dome is the centerpiece – the Rain Vortex – that showers through seven storeys below. 

Photo source: Pexels | Palu Malerba

Surrounding the rain vortex is the surreal Forest Valley. Going beyond a typical indoor garden, this terraced greenery has over 2,000 trees and plants and over 100,000 shrubs selected to capture a mountain forest landscape. The waterfall, circulating over 10,000 gallons per minute, cools the landscape environment and collects the water to be re-used around the building. 

“Jewel weaves together an experience of nature and the marketplace, dramatically asserting the idea of the airport as an uplifting and vibrant urban center, engaging travelers, visitors and residents, and echoing Singapore’s reputation as ‘The City in the Garden’.”Moshe Safdie

Photo Source: Unsplash | Hu Chen

Gardens by the Bay

Now, Gardens by the Bay – state-of-the-art engineering and true architectural feat – is one of the largest garden projects in the world. As the recipient of the coveted WAF Building of the Year in 2012, this megaproject was spearheaded by the government as part of former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew’s vision for Singapore as a ‘city in a garden’.

The iconic architectural structure and form has garnered worldwide recognition and accolades and left its visitors feeling awestruck and inspired by the ingenuity of its design and purpose. Eighteen ‘supertrees’ measuring over 50 meters in height along with the conservatories – Flower Dome and Cloud Forest – are home to over 200,000 species of plants.

Photo Source: Flickr | Wililam

Photo Source: Global Geography

These conservatories are among the largest climate-controlled, column-less, energy efficient glasshouses in the world. Showcasing horticultural and garden artistry, each dome displays flora most likely to be affected by climate change in these environments: cool-dry in the Flower Dome and cool-moist in the Cloud Forest.

In order to keep these greeneries lush, the Cloud Forest mimics the cool, moist climate of a rainforest in tropical mountain regions. The 7-storey garden encased inside shows the unique biodiversity and geology of cloud forests. A cool blast of air at the entrance, then welcomed by one of the world’s tallest indoor waterfalls, plus walkways from top to bottom envelopes the visitor in a cool, cloudy, misty environment similar to that of the mountaintop.

Photo Source: Mitsueki

Beside it, the Forest Dome showcases flowers and plants usually found in the Mediterranean region. With its high performance glass panels, the dome maintains an indoor temperature of 23-25°C with electrically controlled vents and rolled fabric sails with light sensitive sensors specifically used when sunlight is particularly strong. Every year, visitors are treated to a myriad of temperate blooms and extraordinary flowers not seen outside. 

Through and through, this Singaporean icon is a perfect fusion of nature, architecture and technology. 

Photo Source: Architect Magazine

CapitaGreen

Another one of these examples is CapitaGreen’s red flower-like structure perched atop its office buildings and standing out in the skyline. 

That rooftop bloom is called the ‘wind scoop’. Its petals draw in cooler, cleaner air, which is funneled through the building’s air conditioning system, thereby, helping save energy on cooling. With this feature, CapitaGreen has monthly savings of around 580,000kwh – equivalent to energy needed to power 1,500 four-room housing flats in a month. 

Not stopping there, CapitaGreen also features other sustainable designs. It has a double-skin facade to reduce heat gain and raised ceiling heights to allow more natural light. To make it more ‘green’, sky terraces are present for air flow and walls filled with perimeter planters.

Living plants surround more than half of its walls giving the impression that the building rises like a plant to the sky. 

Photo source: Unsplash | Nazarizal Mohammad

PARKROYAL on Pickering

Situated in the middle of the ever busy Central Business District, residents of this hotel still feel relaxed and at home.

Designed by WOHA, the structure is an attention-grabber with its street-facing balconies covered in lush greenery and tropical plants. Another interesting and show-stopping element on the structure’s exteriors are contoured shapes and surfaces that take inspiration from natural rock formations.

Combining all the hotel’s greenery and laying it on flat ground would cover around 15,000 square meters of green space – double the site’s footprint.

Parkroyal on Pickering | View looking down towards 5th level pool/spa  terrace | Archnet

Photo source: Archnet

Photo source: Flickr | Paolo Rosa

PARKROYAL gives its guests and visitors a multi-sensory experience of nature.

  • Every guest will have a generous amount of garden view from their window
  • Apart from trees and shrubs, there are also hanging vines like green draperies
  • Random pools of water give a soft, melodious aquatic feel that can also cool the spaces
  • Raw stone is used on interiors and exteriors to fully embrace the natural theme
  • On the terraces, there are pavilions complete with view points shaped like bird cages

Other areas where this architectural feat exercises sustainability are solar-powered irrigation, rainwater retention, sun-shades and naturally ventilated corridors. All of the abovementioned design strategies earned this hotel Singapore’s Green Mark Platinum rating – the highest environmental certificate.

This striking architecture mirrors the possibilities of conserving, creating and multiplying greenery in the middle of an urban jungle.

Photo Source: HPB Magazine

Zero-Energy BCA Academy

Another is the Zero-Energy Building at the BCA Academy, built in 1984, but retrofitted in 2009 by local firm, DP Architects, to be net-zero energy. It serves as resource centers, labs, classrooms and offices for exploring and learning green technologies. 

All around, it incorporates design strategies like living walls, shading devices, displacement cooling, natural light, ventilation, and rooftop PV (solar photovoltaic) to manage energy consumption.

Photo source: Flickr | Shaun Wong

National Gallery of Singapore

The National Gallery of Singapore combines two historical buildings – the former Supreme Court (1939) and the City Hall (1929) – to house the largest public modern art collection in Southeast Asia. 

In this structure revamp, French firm, Studio Milou, showcases a myriad of stunning design strategies and architectural techniques all while keeping ‘environmentally-friendly’ in mind. 

Photo source: Unsplash | Matt Briney

Not only did the design fully conserve the beauty of the structures of old but made them a prominent part of the displayed ‘art’. Visitors travel through grand stairways and glass doorways that envelope the original structures, keeping true to its architectural authenticity. 

Natural light is a major feature as the courtyards of the former City Hall are encased in glass atriums, with a few inches of water from a reflective pool above that help keep the temperatures down. In other areas, glass is layered with an aluminum screen-like cover emulating woven rattan which filters through porous light making it seem like ripples. 

The two buildings are connected by bridges at different levels. It also houses a solar PV system that generates 43 megawatt-hours annually, drip irrigation to keep the rooftop’s lush greenery alive and a chiller system to cool the building. 

Apart from these handful examples, Singapore has many more green and sustainable architectures and designs that feed your eyes and curiosity.

Behind many of Singapore’s sustainability and livability projects is Cheong Koon Hean, veteran architect and the first woman to lead Singapore’s urban development agency. While being truly cosmopolitan and green, Singapore also manages to preserve cultural and architectural legacies and breakthroughs making it a truly rich, diverse city. 

Part of the secret to Singapore’s success is increasing environmental awareness, encouraging involvement from its citizens and educating young people of the power of these initiatives through groundbreaking, stimulating and simply beautiful architectural feats and designs.

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