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Sustainability in a garden city - it's all about clever space utilisation

In urban centres, growth in population can only be met by more high-rise buildings.

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In Marina One, a cluster or conglomerate of buildings are naturally related to one another both architecturally and materially. The buildings form a very strong figure around a common centre, which is known as the Green Heart. The aim is to incorporate as much greenery to the structure as possible.

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For Marina One, Mr Ingenhoven recommended a very strong green centre that can still be a living, breathing centre in 20 years.

POPULATION growth forecasts indicate that by 2050, the world's population will increase to 10 billion - Singapore's population is already six million and will continue to grow. Another aspect of this tremendous population growth is the fact that more than 50 per cent of the world's population today live in cities, and this number will continue to increase to 70 per cent in the next three decades.

In urban situations, this growth in population can only be accommodated by more high-rise buildings. In other words, by increasing urban density skyward. This is particularly true in Singapore, a country with limited land area but is nevertheless determined to preserve green spaces and open areas for its citizens. The answer to these seemingly conflicting objectives lies in high-density developments.

Unlike cities such as Houston, Los Angeles and even Sydney which are examples of major cities that have a dense and small city centre but a sprawling outer city, Singapore does not have the luxury of space to follow suit. In those cities, high-density developments maximise the use of existing infrastructure within the city, thus allowing more spacious developments in areas beyond the core centre.

Still, keeping Singapore green has been a prerogative since the small city-state became independent. In 1967, when Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister, the vision of Singapore as a garden city was established. This truly forward-looking vision has now come to fruition with the building of the award-winning Gardens by the Bay as well as Singapore's Botanic Gardens, which has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. These are just two examples of Singapore's truly outstanding efforts in establishing green spaces throughout the country.

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When I was given the opportunity to design Marina One, a building that symbolises the collaboration between Malaysia and Singapore, I realised that with this project, I could illustrate my idea of what a mixed-use building can do for densely populated cities. We recommended a project with a very strong green centre that can still be a living, breathing centre in 20 years when everywhere around Marina One and beyond is built up. That is how we came up with the idea of building a sort of conglomerate of buildings. They are still recognisable as four buildings but are naturally related to one another both architecturally and materially. The buildings form a very strong figure around a common centre, which we fondly call the Green Heart. Singapore has a mission to transform 80 per cent of its buildings into green buildings by 2030 , and I wanted to create a development that could push the envelope of green architecture.

When designing buildings, I always ask myself: How do people feel in spaces? How do I make them feel good and safe there? What if I could use architecture to improve people's lives? In Marina One, we exceeded building standards and tried to use the psychology of architecture to create intimate spaces that can promote the well-being and health of people.

At Ingenhoven Architects, we call this "supergreen® Architecture" - architecture that goes beyond just being green by focusing on the symbiotic relationship between people and spaces. supergreen® Architecture involves being mindful of a development's resource and energy usage, from its primary and secondary building materials to the various systems in a building that can aid in energy conservation. We respond to global problems - such as resource depletion and climate change - by adopting a responsible approach to architecture.

Taking Singapore's unique characteristics into consideration - such as a high precipitation rate, high population density, an extreme tropical climate and its desire to be the best Garden City in the world - we explored unique solutions for Marina One. Here are some of the design features we employed at Marina One that we believe can be adopted across other buildings in Singapore:

  • Adapting to Singapore's tropical environment

To deal with the tropical heat all year round, the development is oriented such that there is no direct west-facing facade. Also, its facade system, comprising glass and bronze-hued metal, contains an outer louvre system with primarily horizontal louvres that provide shading. The organic shape of the building complex with these iconic louvres, together with the Green Heart as its core and the natural vegetation throughout varying levels of the development including the rooftop, facilitates natural ventilation and improves the microclimate. This so-called "green valley" feels up to 20 per cent cooler!

The compact and efficient layout design of Marina One is also complemented by energy-saving ventilation systems, highly effective external solar screening devices, and glazing that reduces solar radiation into the building.

  • Maximising the utilisation of infrastructure through building density

It is important to understand that Marina One is embedded in a dense infrastructural network. It has direct connections to four of Singapore's six mass rapid transport lines, bus stops, bicycle parking facilities, and electro-mobile charging stations ensure that exhaust emissions from private transport are significantly reduced.

A total of 3,000 people will eventually live and even 20,000 will work in Marina One. Those are impressive numbers. As mentioned above, density is extremely important for reducing energy consumption and creating efficiency gains. Marina One was built with a very high floor area ratio of 16, thereby reducing the energy consumption of the development. This is what we mean when we speak of social sustainability - we have created community spaces for people that equal 165 per cent of the original site area. Creating places for social interaction is one of my key motivations when designing a successful high-density building.

  • Creating large biodiversity spaces within the development

Singapore would be a heavily forested area if it were not for the city, and I wanted to restore some of the country's inherent greenery at Marina One. The Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) mandate was for 40 per cent of Marina One's site area to be planted. I wondered how we could go beyond that and align to Singapore's "City in a Garden" vision. We worked closely with the developer M+S Pte Ltd and managed to replace 125 per cent of the site area with green spaces, which is more than three times the requirement.

Furthermore, we pursued the idea of the Green Heart - the largest biodiversity garden housed within a development in Singapore's CBD. This 65,000 square feet garden is a lush ecosystem in its own right, comprising a huge space for the public to enjoy and for vegetation to grow naturally. The verdant garden is home to over 350 different types of trees and plants, and features an open green core with multiple stepped gardens, designed with lower- and mid-level "sky terraces" and waterfalls. When the vegetation has further grown, it will be possible to see even more lush greenery.

  • Harvesting rainwater

Being in the tropics has its benefits. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that Singapore has the highest annual rainfall rate in the world. Marina One was therefore equipped with an advanced rainwater harvesting irrigation system for the wide range of plants in the development. This was supplemented by a drip irrigation system for the plants.

supergreen® Architecture is only possible with the collaboration of the government, developers and architects. The government must establish the right policies and set standards, developers must take a long-term view of their developments and create ecosystems where communities thrive, and lastly, architects must be willing to push the boundaries and motivate developers to do more by creating spaces that inhabitants can identify with and enjoy living in. This tripartite relationship can be a powerful driver for ensuring that we continue to build buildings that reach higher standards in terms of sustainability and user quality.

Through working on Marina One, I have seen that simplified procedures and guidelines, as well as a clear vision set by the URA, have enabled developers and architects to powerfully drive the green building agenda and sustainability forward. The shareholders of M+S set out with a clear vision of a park-like environment for Marina One and rallied all stakeholders to pursue that vision single-mindedly. This allowed us to focus wholly on bringing our ideas for Marina One to life.

If the government, developers and architects in Singapore continue to work collaboratively, the future of green and even supergreen® architecture in Singapore is very hopeful indeed.

  • The writer is principal and founder of Ingenhoven Architects, the architect of Marina One. Marina One is a mixed­use development in Marina Bay, Singapore's new Central Business District, and comprises residential units, offices and retail areas. It has been rated under the Green Mark Platinum and LEED Platinum schemes, and has received the MIPIM award for the best innovative green building.