[UPDATE] Landscape design goes beyond lush greenery

/ EdgeProp Singapore
October 16, 2020 6:01 AM SGT
One of the positive behavioural changes of Covid-19 is Singaporeans’ new-found appreciation for nature and being outdoors, notes Yvonne Tan, director of DP Green, the landscape and arboriculture consultancy arm of homegrown architectural practice, DP Group. Covid-19 has proven that open spaces have become increasingly important. “I thought it was most interesting hearing Singaporeans getting very excited and going ‘Oh I saw a butterfly’ or ‘Oh I saw a bird’ when walking along the side of the road,” she adds.
View of nature is becoming more important (Photo: Yvonne Tan/DP Green)
Covid-19 has also made Tan view projects through different lenses. “In the past, you could go anywhere you wanted,” she observes. “Since Covid, even with some relaxation of safe-distancing measures, there is still reduced socialisation compared with the past.”
What has become important now is “how you connect with nature and your environment”, says Tan. “You realise that the view from your window has become very valuable — whether it’s a view of the sky, some greenery or water.”
Tan: What has become important now is how you connect with nature and your environment. You realise that the view from your window has become very valuable — whether it’s a view of the sky, some greenery or water (Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

From aesthetics to therapeutic

Landscape design has moved beyond mere aesthetics of lush greenery. It’s now about biophilic design, and the importance of therapeutic landscapes, which include clinical and non-clinical aspects, says Tan. For people recuperating from a stroke, a long period of illness or an accident and who need rehabilitation, instead of exercising in an enclosed gym, they actually do their exercises outdoors amid nature, she explains. “That helps a lot. And research has shown that even patients in ICU [intensive care unit] recover faster when they have a view of greenery or some visual or picture of nature.”
Therapeutic landscape design has also been introduced in the healthcare facilities in Singapore. It started with Khoo Teck Puat General Hospital in Yishun, where almost every bed has a view of greenery, says Tan. DP Green was involved in the master plan of transforming Alexandra Hospital into the Alexandra healthcare campus; and in the design of Sengkang General Hospital and Sengkang Community Hospital (collectively known as SKH Campus), which was completed in 2018. It incorporated green spaces such as a roof garden and landscaping on the first floor.
“In the newer, healthcare projects that we’re involved in, it’s more community-centric,” says Tan. “It’s about breaking down the mental barriers of our hospitals as places that you visit only when you’re sick.”
Sengkang General Hospital and Sengkang Community Hospital (collectively known as SKH Campus), incorporated green spaces such as a roof garden and landscaping on the first floor (Photo: DP Green)
At Alexandra, it wasn’t just making sure that every bed had a view of nature, but that every floor had an outdoor space with greenery. “It’s not just for the hospital patients, but the care-givers too, because they need that respite as well,” says Tan. “So we provided them with greater accessibility to the outdoors.”
Tan was also involved in the landscape design for Our Tampines Hub, where DP Architects was the design architect. Completed in 2018, Our Tampines Hub is considered Singapore’s first integrated community and lifestyle hub. Within the development are sky terraces, the East-West Spine — the main pedestrian thoroughfare connecting Tampines Street 82 and Tampines Avenue 5, with shade-tolerant plants and “umbrella trees” within a five-storey high atrium. The central feature of the East-West Spine is the musical fountain at the Central Plaza.
“Our Tampines Hub is a great example of a very successful community space as it’s well used,” says Tan. “The only thing is, if I’d known that the fountain was going to be such a hit, I would have placed it in a slightly different location.”
The musical fountain at the Central Plaza of Our Tampines Hub, completed in 2018, for which DP Architects was the design architect and DP Green was the landscape architect (Photo: Our Tampines Hub)

Triggered by different parameters amid Covid-19

As one of the judges on the panel of EdgeProp Excellence Awards 2020, Tan acknowledges that Covid-19 made judging landscape design “a little difficult” this year. This is her third year as a judge for the awards. “Because of the Covid-19 safe-distancing measures, we couldn’t go down to view the projects,” says Tan. “We are therefore not triggered by the usual parameters.”
Priorities of home buyers and occupiers have changed too, and developers are adapting to that. “It’s about the ability to be immersed in nature,” says Tan. “Instead of one big plaza, the emphasis is now on having more choices in terms of intimate oases — little green nooks and crannies — that people can retreat to, even in the event of another circuit breaker.”
Flexibility is key too — especially for event spaces, where there’s capacity for large events, but with breakout areas for smaller gatherings, continues Tan. Likewise, clubhouses need to have spaces that are open to natural ventilation too, with flexibility in terms of configuration for different uses, she adds.
Landscape design has moved beyond mere aesthetics of lush greenery to biophilic design, and therapeutic landscapes
hoto: DP Green)
“It’s the same thing for your home,” she says. “If you have a bit of flexibility, it helps. Previously, you had the luxury of changing your scenery at a whim. Now, on a daily basis, you need to find little sparks of joy and stimulus.”
Not everyone has the flexibility of a separate study or home office to work from either. Tan, for one, is working from her kitchen table at home. However, she has turned her table around to face the window. “It makes such a difference — facing the window,” says Tan. “When you’re working in an office, you get to see the changes in scenery and feel the passing of the day. But if you are cooped up at home with the same scenery for 24 hours, it doesn’t matter how pretty your room is; you want the luxury of looking out of the window and having some respite.”
Tan, a hobbyist beekeeper, is in the midst of making a beehive. “Right now, bees are visiting daily,” she says. She has chosen plants for her balcony and window that attract birds and butterflies too.
She has chosen plants for her balcony and window that attract birds and butterflies too (Photo: Yvonne Tan/DP Green)

‘Game changer’ projects

Making a variety of open spaces and greenery more accessible to people is important, she adds. “In Singapore, we do not have big nature reserves like the Borneo rainforests," says Tan. “So we have to find a way of creating our own niche, green spaces. And I think it’s a good direction that we are heading in.”
Singapore’s Master Plan 2019 includes NPark’s new 36km coast-to-coast trail; the 24Rail Corridor; and the 150km Round Island Route, which will be progressively completed by 2035. The Great Rustic Coast will be a 50km stretch that will boast nature attractions from Lim Chu Kang to Changi. There are also plans to add 1,000ha more parks and park connectors to the 7,800ha existing ones, according to the Master Plan 2019.
Impending projects include the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat, which will be enhanced into a nature park. DP Green’s Tan is involved in one of these nature-themed attractions in Mandai. “It looks at the creation of habitats,” says Tan. “It also focuses on providing a 5D experience - and that makes a lot of difference.”
Making a variety of open spaces and greenery more accessible to people is important, according to Tan (Photo: DP Green)
From a Garden City to a City in a Garden, Singapore now wants to be a City in Nature. More people have started walking, cycling and trekking since the Covid-19 circuit breaker, as can be seen from the number of visitors to East Coast Park, Coney Island, Botanic Gardens, and the Central Catchment Reserve including Bukit Timah Hill. “It’s not just cycling or walking for the sake of getting from point A to point B,” says Tan. “It is an experience, a healthy activity, and supports local tourism.”
Singapore has also set 2030 as the target to reduce carbon emission levels by 36% of 2005 levels. And it intends to do so by vertical greening of high-rise towers. Besides sustainability, Singapore is also pushing towards self-sufficiency, setting a goal to produce 30% of its food needs locally by 2030. “It’s going beyond community farming, to commercial urban farms and hydroponic farms on rooftops,” says Tan. “It’s certainly more pleasant to look at vegetables than hot, concrete roofs.”

Greater recognition for landscape architects needed

Tan hopes that landscape architects would receive greater recognition for their design contributions in projects. “Most of the time, people talk about the developer, the marketing agency, the architect, but they forget that actually, the project is very much driven by the landscape architect too,” she says.
Views of nature and greenery from Tan’s apartment offer her ‘the luxury of looking out of the window and having some respite’ (Photo: Yvonne Tan/DP Green)
When it comes to residential projects, landscape design has become very important. “Where they place the landscaping, and whether they have thoughtfully come up with new solutions within a site, that makes a lot of difference,” says Tan.
Most people appreciate having a balcony now, especially since the circuit breaker. “I personally wish I had a balcony where I could sit outside,” says Tan. “For most people, if you can’t leave the house, especially during the circuit breaker, the balcony was your outdoor space.”
Perception of distance has also changed because of Covid, notes Tan. “I live no more than 15 minutes from the office, but with working from home, you could be anywhere. And now I think, maybe living in a suburban area further from the city might be a good idea.” Working from home has sparked a trend in cities from New York to Tokyo, where more people have chosen to leave the city centre, opting for places that have more space, are close to nature and where real estate prices are not as high.
Most people appreciate having a balcony now, especially since the circuit breaker (Photo: Yvonne Tan/DP Green)
Some of DP Green’s projects are quirky. For instance, the landscape architect is working on a project for a junior college in Singapore, where the principal wants to create an urban farm with real live chickens. “We are still in the early stages of the project, but the principal wanted his students to be more in touch with nature, to learn about food sustainability, ecology and biodiversity,” relates Tan. “I thought that was very good because junior college students are probably more interested in TikTok and Instagram posts.”

Blurring of indoor-outdoor spaces

One of the interesting overseas projects that DP Architects and DP Green is involved in is Halic Tersane in Istanbul, Turkey. One of the biggest shipyards in the Mediterranean Sea, it was relocated in 2001 to new industrial sites in the periphery of Istanbul. DP Architects was appointed the design architect to execute the master plan and design of Tersane, in order to rejuvenate the former shipyard. DP Architects is designing three out of seven zones within the larger master plan, which will involve a mix of retail, hospitality, residential, office and cultural spaces. DP Green is involved in the concept for the landscape design.
DP is involved in a wide range of community, institutional and large-scale, mixed-use developments as well as retail and hospitality projects. For instance, DP Green is the local landscape architect for the Raffles Sentosa Resort & Spa, which is designed by Yabu Pushelberg and DP, as a low-rise villa property.
DP Green was the landscape architect for the 8ha Central Park at Aspen Vision City, a large-scale mixed- use development in Penang (Photo: DP Green)
Throughout this past year, what Covid-19 has shown is the importance of having spaces that are open and have natural ventilation, as well as being close to nature, adds Tan.
The winners of the Landscape Excellence Award will be announced during the virtual ceremony of EdgeProp Excellence Awards on Oct 29, 2pm. Awards will also be given to developers who excel in marketing, innovation and sustainability.