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Spaces with a calming botanic feel are fast becoming the norm

Singapore's reputation "Garden City" might be more deserved than ever.

If your home has been looking a lot greener these days with plenty of newly acquired plants despite your lack of green fingers, you’re not alone. Join hands with others who’ve somehow felt the need to connect with nature, whether at home or in parks that they’re visiting a lot more often now – something they probably didn’t do much of before. Thank Covid-19 for your recent re-acquaintance with nature. With most cities having been in some form of lockdown for most of this year, and citizens being told to stay home for long hours, people appreciate fresh air and open green spaces a lot more now, after taking them for granted.

CIAP Architects’ senior director Theodore Chan says that working from home has made people think about the “liveability” of spaces. “They begin to see the importance of having a conducive working environment, especially for those who work long hours at home. Proximity to daylight, plants and water are important for wellbeing. Mr Chan was conferred a Green Architect title in 2019 by the Singapore Green Building Council and the Building and Construction Authority.

Yvonne Tan, director of DP Green, the landscape and arboricultural consultancy arm of DP Architects, believes that this innate need for a more human connection to nature points to a growing demand for biophilic design. Over the years, she has seen clients showing a greater understanding about how nature and well-designed outdoor and indoor environments can greatly elevate their projects’ branding or positioning in the market.

Besides inegrating natural elements into buildings, biophilic design incorporates sustainability in different ways such as harnessing ecosystems to help improve air quality; providing natural temperature control forms; chanelling natural lighting and creating spaces for growing food and supporting urban ecology.

Architect Richard Hassell, co-founder of WOHA Architects, sees many benefits to biophilic design, but “the most important one is the human reaction to nature and how it supports well-being emotionally and physically”.

He adds: “Biophilia basically means love of life and there are different ways to get a biophilic response. It could be through real nature and plants, but even fake plants can effect a biophilic reaction.”

The firm’s upcoming projects which showcase biophilic design include Pan Pacific Orchard, which will have massive landscaped sky-terraces integrated into the building; the Singapore Pavilion for the World Expo in Dubai, which will be a tropical oasis in the desert that is designed to be net-zero in energy and water over its operation period; and Brac University in Dhaka, where the campus feels like it is floating on a lake, with lots of greenery, natural light and comfortable naturally-ventilated spaces.

“I think the pandemic has shown how valuable a biophilic environment is, having one in your home when you’re on lockdown helps with your general well-being, your psychological and physical health,” says Mr Hassell. “So while it’s always been very important in WOHA’s work, biophilic design has probably moved up on people’s priority lists. Clients who approach WOHA with projects expect biophilic aspects to our work. That was true before the pandemic and is still the case now.”

Biophilic design isn’t limited to designing homes, it can be found in offices and commercial spaces too, as these projects show.

  • Design by nature


    2 Draycott Park

    In Singapore's urban landscape where highrise buildings are mostly constructed of glass and steel, Eden stands out for looking nothing like its counterparts.

    London-based firm Heatherwick Studio designed the single-tower condominium with 20 units to have thin windows at the side and shell-shaped balconies on each floor. But its most eye-catching feature is the lush greenery growing from these balconies and from a distance, the building appears to be covered with a green curtain.

    Studio founder Thomas Heatherwick says: "In Asia and North America, everyone is building taller and taller condos, and it's as if the residents are living in helicopters. People have to put up blinds to keep their apartments cool, and there is a total disconnection with nature."

    Eden is his first residential project in Singapore with developer Swire Properties.

    "I wondered if every apartment could have a garden, but not just with a few flower pots on the balconies," he explains of his thinking.

    His design for Eden is a radical one. He takes the conventional box-like floor plate and pulls it apart, placing the bedrooms at the sides, and creating a central living space surrounded by balconies. The balconies themselves are staggered between the floors and shaded, making them comfortable outdoor spaces regardless of the weather.

    The layout of the apartment also encourages cross ventilation, doing away with the need for air conditioning. Each apartment features a variety of plants, a mix of those with large showy leaves and others that drape over the balconies. The plants come with the apartment, and there's an auto watering system in place so homeowners only need to prune them occasionally. With communal gardens on the ground floor and on the rooftop, there are over 100 species of plants grown in Eden.

    Apart from the greenery, there are biophilic elements in the choice of materials in each apartment. This is most evident in the apartments' oak wood flooring. But instead of being sanded down to a smooth texture, the wood's imperfections and grains are celebrated. "We had feedback from the local team that such flooring would not be accepted but I insisted. Part of biophilic design is what you can feel under your bare feet."

    Mr Heatherwick says "living in Eden has the feel of a landed property with a garden but with the view of a highrise apartment".

This article was originally published in Home & Decor


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