Readdressing urban sustainability with Hybrid Buildings | Pomeroy Studio | Jason Pomeroy

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Singapore, among many other tropical countries, is facing the current phenomenon of which urbanisation along with rapid technology advancement drive the population increase in the cities, turning it into a high rise urban metropolis. Along with rampant construction and infrastructure growth, city development raises some environmental concerns, as these changes contribute to consequent rise in temperatures and decrease of urban greenery.

Professor Jason Pomeroy – the Principal and Eco Architect at Pomeroy Studio, talks exclusively with AsiaGreenBuildings on the need to readdress the balance of open space to high density development. The continued depletion of public areas through urbanisation has necessitated the birth of alternative social spaces that seek to replace those green, open environments that have been lost. The creation of more Hybrid Building forms that balance open space within buildings in the interests of sustaining life and providing a forum for social interaction is increasingly necessitated, with sky courts and sky gardens being incorporated into tall buildings and the urban habitat to reduce perceived densities and provide more habitable environments that promote a greener urban habitat.

The developing cities of Queensland, Australia – the host stage of the upcoming G20 Summit in November and a related Tropical Economies Forum in September – have taken on this trend and succeeded in driving development of more engaging public spaces, and Jason further explains on how Singapore can take inspiration on this trend as the city-state moves forward.

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How do you re-introduce green spaces in Singapore? What are the main changes being taken into account in terms of the components?

In an ideal World we would have an abundance of forests that will help balance our ecosystems and cool the environment, but the reality is that we are increasing the concrete and glass jungle in lieu of the natural counterpart. Singapore has tried to buck this trend, and I’m delighted to see my design and research works involving sky courts and sky gardens come to fruition in this tropical city – state. Sky courts and sky gardens are open spaces in the sky that help replenish the loss of urban greenery. Examples completed more recently show the promise of more ‘public’ orientated environments, and their greater usage as an environment for transition as well as social interaction. Unlike their mono-functional predecessors that were less integrated with people movement patterns, newer sky courts and sky gardens are more integrated into the cores of tall buildings – spatially linking vertical methods of circulation and facilitating people movement. They also socially link occupants through the heightened probability of chance meetings.

What is Hybrid Building and how different is it from conventional ones?

Hybrid buildings incorporate space (sky courts, gardens, terraces) within the object (buildings). Spatially, sky courts and sky gardens replenish the loss of open space one would normally use for social interaction through urbanisation. They provide the social function of bringing people together, and create a forum for communal activity. When planted, they can further assist in reducing ambient temperatures, reduce rainwater run – off, reduce noise, and enhance the bio-diversity of a place. They can also be income generating if the rooftop garden is used as an observation deck. Just as we design the infrastructure for our cities (i.e streets, squares and boulevards to facilitate people movement and meeting) we similarly need to design into our buildings a ‘vertical urbanism’ that sees the sky courts and sky gardens function as quasi ‘squares’ – the vertical transportation (stairs, elevators, ramps) acting as the streets and passageways. Sky courts and sky gardens should not be designed as superfluous additions to a building, but a fundamental part of the hybrid building’s socio – environmental infrastructure.

From a socio-physiological point of view, how would Hybrid Buildings affect the urban society?

Landscaped sky courts and sky gardens within hybrid buildings can encourage people to spend more time undertaking social and recreational activities and thus heighten the likelihood of social interaction through chance meeting. This is particularly the case where trees have been found to act as a catalyst for congregation amongst a mix of ages and social groups, and can positively affect people’s attitude to safety and adjustment in fostering a sense of community. This can result in more heightened neighbourhood satisfaction and stronger social ties that can help protect the public welfare of the community. When incorporated into the workplace, sky courts and sky gardens provide alternative informal working environments for meeting that can enhance productivity through the propagation of regular breaks outside of the formal office setting. They can also help foster inter-departmental social activity by acting as ‘neutral’ places to meet that need and not bear any particular departmental territoriality, and in doing so foster a greater sense of workplace.

How would going vertical help improve the sustainability and livability of a city, especially Singapore? Which segment is going to benefit the most?

I actually think Singapore is really living up to its vision of being a city within a garden. It has 2800 hectares of parks and open spaces, and 3300 hectares of nature reserves. That’s 8 per cent of the City State’s land area! So it comes as little surprise that it should have a natural penchant for greenery to expand vertically given its high density / high rise nature. Much credit for this has to be given to the forward looking legislation in place that also offers economic incentives to developers to go green, and we as a green design studio are similarly strong advocates for such practices. In my architecture TV series City Time Traveler, I visited Treelodge at Pungol and the Pinnacle in Duxton. These are both Housing Development Board projects that constitute the living environment for 84% of Singapore’s population. I was delighted to see steps being taken to green rooftops. This offers many benefits to the community; not least the ability to have recreational space for the inhabitants and potentially reduced running costs given the ability of greenery to reduce temperatures and thus the reliance on artificial cooling methods.

What would be the future innovative practices in green building?

A marriage of old, contemporary and futuristic will form the basis of innovative practices within the ‘hybrid city’. By the end of the 21st century, layering will come as a result of climate change, inner city migration / population increase and further technological advancement. Buildings may not need unsustainable demolishing  – they will parasitically extend above the rooftops and will be interlinked to other structures via sky bridges. Sky gardens will be in abundance given the need for alternative social spaces for people to interact with such increasing inner city densities. They would also provide an opportunity for roof top urban farming, which will become a necessity given that there will be no land area the size of Brazil to feed the additional 3 billion people walking the Earth in 2050. Such roof top garden spaces will reduce the noxious pollutants in the atmosphere and the searing heat of the city that will have increased. Renewable energy sources, be they wind, sun or water related would be integrated into buildings as standard –a necessity given the depletion of natural resources.

Can you provide examples from the state of Queensland that Singapore can learn from? Why?

Queensland has seen an array of environmentally-friendly designs and innovations, with many of the state’s institutions taking a national lead. Queensland is home to the first Green Star residential project in Australia, in Caloundra South on the Sunshine Coast, which was developed by the property developer Stockland. Additionally, the University of Queensland currently has the largest rooftop solar array in the country with a 1.2 MW installation on its campus buildings’ roofs. This ‘test bed’ approach is something that Singapore can certainly look to emulate in helping its own engineers and architects lead the world.

Additionally, the city of Brisbane is slowly beginning to establish itself as a leading Asia-Pacific hub in this area thanks to a range of factors including supportive government policy, location and natural resources. The city possesses some of the most inspired architecture in the region with sleek, ‘citizen-friendly’ designs that blend in with both urban surroundings and the 1,820 parks and gardens within it. City planners, developers and architects have done a fantastic job integrating high-rise residential and commercial properties into the city’s natural features, such as the Brisbane River. One building I would highlight is 180 Brisbane – Queensland’s first 6-Star Green Star office design v3 building. Due to open in 2015, this building fully utilises natural light, fresh air and city views to create an environmentally-friendly addition to the city. It is projects such as these that any city planner can study and learn from.

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About Pomeroy Studio :

Pomeroy Studio is an international team of designers and thought leaders of sustainable built environments. The studio comprises of master planners, landscape architects, architects and interior designers, as well as environmental consultants and academics. A rigourous academic approach to the quantitative and qualitative research compliments an interdisciplinary design process that lies at the foundation of their creative design and decision-making. This has allowed the studio to generate award-winning, people-centered places that push the envelope of design and research by balancing a ‘creative vigour with an academic rigour’; and deliver innovative sustainable solutions from the microscale of dwellings to the macro scale of cities.

Website : www.pomeroystudio.sg

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