DP Green’s Yvonne Tan on the future of landscape architecture

SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Unveiled in 2017, Our Tampines Hub (OTH) is Singapore’s first integrated community and lifestyle hub and features facilities such as a 30-lane bowling centre, an arts theatre, a five-storey library, a festive mall, and a community club.
Conceptualised by the People’s Association (PA), OTH represents a new model of community-focused development. But beyond this, OTH is also a symbol of the evolving scope of landscape architecture, says Yvonne Tan, director of DP Green.
DP Green was the landscape architect behind OTH. With 179,759 sq ft of landscape area, Tan and her team had to liaise with OTH’s 12 government agencies to come up with a design that was in line with the PA’s vision of creating a sense of community.
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“Landscape architects call ourselves stewards of the environment. Although we look at sustainability, biodiversity and so on, one key thing is placemaking,” she says. According to her, this entails creating spaces of varying sizes to allow activities to occur as opposed to forcing programmes to work in a specific space.
For OTH, DP Green worked in tandem with DP Architects to create multiple layers of spaces using sky terraces for the development’s different users.
“It’s not just about having an event planner come in. You need to also create that space and create that progression of experiences,” she elaborates. With this in mind, OTH’s East-West Spine incorporates a myriad of plants that can grow in the shade within the five-storey high atrium.
Our Tampines Hub (Photos: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Green features ranging from umbrella to palm trees were added to the seating and event areas. A musical fountain at the Central Plaza of the East-West spine also doubles up as an event space for adults and children.
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Personality of space

In addition to space creation and tree-planting, Tan says it is just as important to predict the user personas of the space. “Once we identify the user personas or who the target audience is, we can then tailor the landscape and design solutions towards what would fit,” she says.
Apart from aesthetics, she believes landscape architecture should also be about adding some- thing to the lives of people who inhabit a space – be it having a therapeutic or healing effect or just improving the biodiversity of flora and fauna in the area.
In what could not have been a more different project, Tan was also involved in the landscaping of the Asia flagship of ESPA at Resorts World Sentosa, a luxury spa retreat spanning 107,640 sq ft with beach villas and garden suites. “For us, it was about making sure there was privacy and that the garden and pond are full of life so you feel like you are in a luxury resort else- where,” she notes.
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One of the main challenges of the project was that the entire project was built on concrete slabs. However, given Singapore’s urban landscape, she says local architects are very good when it comes to incorporating greenery in such projects.
Tan says: “In a very urban, dense, city, we know how to bring in the urban forest and ensure that it performs a role and not just putting green walls up.” According to her, the greenery at ESPA has been successful in creating biodiversity that it even attracts monitor lizards now.
Increasingly, Tan is receiving more requests from clients to incorporate urban farms and community gardens into private sector projects and residential projects. This is driven both by building regulations as well as developers who are starting to see the benefit of these spaces.
“It is good to include community gardens or have herb and spices gardens because it increases the biodiversity and the community can bond when tending to the plants,” she says.
In practical terms, landscaping can also serve a function and help solve certain engineering problems. One example is the collection of stormwater to reduce water usage. For such projects, Tan says the Public Utilities Board’s (PUB) ABC Waters Design Guidelines serve as a good reference for developers who want to implement sustainable green features in their projects.

Future-proof design

Learning to anticipate future needs and wants is another important ability successful landscape architects must possess. “In a way, we have to predict the future because by the time a project is completed, it is a few years later and you don’t want the solutions to be dated,” she says. “For example, you need to ask how you can promote wellness because everyone is quite stressed these days.”
In the past, Tan highlights that landscape architects were typically brought in at the final phase of a project to cover up or hide any mistakes. “However, we are in a much better position now because Singapore has shifted its identity from ‘Garden in a City’ to ‘City in a Garden’ so there is an increasing recognition that land- scape artists have to be engaged at a very early stage of the project, even at the feasibility study,” she says.
Yvonne Tan, Director, DP Green
This mindset shift is also spurred by the URA which enhanced its Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (LUSH) programme to encourage developers to inject more greenery into their projects. Its third instalment announced in 2017 included a Green Plot Ratio (GnPR) standard which measures the density of greenery within a site. This standard applies to developments providing replacement landscape areas and safeguards the quality of greenery provided by developments. According to the URA, the total amount of LUSH greenery islandwide has been increasing at an annual average rate of 15%.
With the broadening scope of landscape architecture, Tan highlights that a landscape architect is required to work with other specialists including arborists, horticulturalists and irrigation specialists. “Landscape architecture also has the science and technology aspect behind it. It’s not just about adding pretty plants and pretty strokes on the drawing board,” she says. “For us, we are never working alone.”

Starting with horticulture

In her career spanning more than 20 years, Tan has undertaken landscape planning, landscape architecture and urban design projects all over the world. These span across mixed-use, residential, commercial, civic spaces, institutions, hospitality, recreational and park infrastructure as well as waterfront projects. Approximately a decade of her work experience was dedicated to projects in China and India.
In addition to her role at DP Green, Tan serves as the second vice president on the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects (SILA) council and has been Landscape Technical Committee chair since 2016 for Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC). Tan is also part of the judging panel as the landscape architect specialist for the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards for the second year running.
Starting her career as a horticulturist, Tan went on to pursue a professional degree in landscape architecture at Lincoln University in New Zealand and graduated with first- class honours.
She reveals that she has always been interested in architecture but did not pursue it as a career due to her fear of heights. “Back then, I thought landscape architecture would continue to be horizontal and underground. Little did I know that landscape would become vertical and in the air. I thought I was going to be grounded,” she quips.
Nowadays, Tan has been experimenting with attracting biodiversity into her fifth-floor apartment when she is not busy with DP Green’s projects. Her balcony has been converted into a garden with over 80 species of herbs, spices, and orchids. With an array of edible plants, she notes that birds and butterflies are a common sight in her garden.
At one point, she was also hoping to start a beehive. “Bees are one of the indicators that your environment is healthy and also you need bees to pollinate a lot of plants,” she explains. In the meantime, Tan recommends that for those who do not have access to a garden and want greenery indoors, the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) plant list is a good place to start.
“The list contains plants that have already been tested in space so they will generally do well indoors,” she adds, proving a landscape architect needs to be creative as well as analytical at the same time.
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