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Singapore’s skyrise greenery |

Modern Living

Singapore’s skyrise greenery

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star

Most Asian cities are seeing rapid population growth. This translates to loss of open green spaces inside the city and to suburban sprawl that likewise eats up what used to be productive agricultural land around cities. The original greenbelts around cities like Manila used to also absorb torrential rain during typhoon season.

Progressive cities like Singapore, and to a certain extent Hong Kong, have little surrounding landscape to colonize and therefore had to look at increasing densities inside their cities, while maintaining quality of life and access to open green spaces for all. They have been successful at it in ways we could certainly learn from.

I was in Singapore recently to give a talk at this year’s edition of GreenUrbanScape Asia, on how Philippine cities were coping with these issues of greening versus development. I gladly accepted the invitation to visit the Lion City again to catch up on latest trends in urban greenery. What made the trip special was that I was with a large contingent of Filipino design professionals, members of the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects (PALA).

Singapore has offset denser development by replacing lost greenery in urban centers with what they call “skyrise greenery.” These are green roofs and vertical green walls on buildings and on their sides. The total surface area of green acts in almost the same way as landscape on the ground, but also in ways more than that. These interventions help reduce cooling requirements for buildings, they mitigate pollution, and they reduce glare and heat build up.



Since the country adopted skyrise greening as a policy, Singapore has seen over 72 hectares of green roof or rooftop gardens constructed. This area is 20 percent larger than our Rizal Park or three times larger than the Quezon Memorial Circle. This skyrise greenery is over and above the hundreds of hectares of Singapore’s 300 public parks, four nature reserves and several park connectors that crisscross the island nation. Moreover, Singapore aims to double the area of green roofs in the next decade. Amazing.

Landscape architecture and greening has always been a priority in Singapore. No private or public development project is approved without a site and landscape plan, which takes into account the surrounding context and aims to soften and enhance outdoor settings for residents, office workers, students or general users of the space and buildings being proposed.

I should know, since I practiced here as a landscape architect and urban designer for 12 years, through most of the 1990s. This trip also gave our contingent an opportunity to meet up with some of the Filipino landscape architects working in Singapore. We had a great evening barbecue with about a dozen of the more senior ones, many of whom had worked for me or for National Artist IP Santos at one time or the other. Most work for Singaporean or multi-national design firms but two have formed their own firms, following in the footsteps of my own practice. Kudos to them and their principals Neal Samac and Wakai Rodriguez.

GreenUrbanScape Asia is bundled with the Skyrise Greenery conference and exhibit and was held at the Singapore Expo complex near Changi Airport. That week also saw the World Architecture Festival held at Marina Sands, which saw four Filipinos shortlisted for awards. Congratulations to George Yulo, William Ti, Carlos Arnaiz, and Connie Roxas. Last year, Manny Minana made it to the entries selected for the competition. This augurs well for Filipino architects and allied professionals. International exposure will benefit local practices and also improve Filipino design branding worldwide.

At the opening of the event, Singapore’s Ministry of National Development, which oversees the Urban Redevelopment Authority, gave awards to 22 projects for general landscape development and Skyrise Greenery. We should emulate this in the Philippines, especially for urban projects as an incentive for green building and landscape development.

The GreenUrbanScape exhibit was chock full of displays of the latest technology in vertical greening, green roofs, drainage and irrigations systems, urban tree management, landscape maintenance, outdoor furniture and playgrounds, decking and paving. The talks offered a glimpse of best practices internationally as well as in the region.

We were surprised to note at one of the talks that the Malaysians and Indonesians have surpassed us in terms of the number of universities offering courses in landscape architecture. The Philippines pioneered this with courses at the University of the Philippines starting in the 1970s. Today landscape architecture is offered also at Bulacan State University and at San Carlos University in Cebu.

Over a dozen universities in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia now offer the course. In Singapore, two former staff of mine, Sonny Saculo and Marilyn Bergonia, both members of PALA teach at the Singapore Polytechnic. Sonny just garnered a teaching award from that institution for his exemplary service and innovative approach to teaching landscape architectural design.

We have a long way to go to catch up with Singapore in terms of greenery on the ground and up in the air. There is no lack of expertise, as many Filipinos (members of PALA) have the experience and expertise. The ball is with the government and private developers in terms of opportunities to implement a new paradigm of development. This would be one that ensures we do not lose any more open green spaces in our cities, and that we offset those lost with skyrise greenery, green roofs and green walls.

Filipino landscape architects are ready, willing and able to contribute to the greening of Philippine cities. Private developers, and even some government institutions, have seen it fit to give the few major landscape architecture projects to foreign consultants, despite restrictions set in professional practice laws. Imagine the carbon footprint of having to fly over several consultants from overseas regularly over several years, to render services that Filipino designers are capable of. Imagine greenery rising in our cities, designed by Filipinos, built by Filipino developers, for Filipinos to use and enjoy.

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