If your home has been looking a lot greener these days with plenty of newly acquired plants despite your lack of green fingers, you’re not alone. Join hands with others who’ve somehow felt the need to connect with nature, whether at home or in parks that they’re visiting a lot more often now – something they probably didn’t do much of before.

Thank Covid-19 for your recent re-acquaintance with nature. With most cities having been in some form of lockdown for most of this year, and citizens being told to stay home for long hours, people appreciate fresh air and open green spaces a lot more now, after taking them for granted.

CIAP Architects’ senior director Theodore Chan says that working from home has made people think about the “liveability” of spaces. “They begin to see the importance of having a conducive working environment, especially for those who work long hours at home. Proximity to daylight, plants and water are important for wellbeing. Theodore was conferred a Green Architect title in 2019 by the Singapore Green Building Council and the Building and Construction Authority.

“Biophilia basically means love of life and there are different ways to get a biophilic response. It could be through real nature and plants, but even fake plants can effect a biophilic reaction.”

Richard hassell – WOHA

Yvonne Tan, director of DP Green, the landscape and arboricultural consultancy arm of DP Architects, believes that this innate need for a more human connection to nature points to a growing demand for biophilic design. Over the years, she has seen clients showing a greater understanding about how nature and well-designed outdoor and indoor environments can greatly elevate their projects’ branding or positioning in the market.

Besides inegrating natural elements into buildings, biophilic design incorporates sustainability in different ways such as harnessing ecosystems to help improve air quality; providing natural temperature control forms; chanelling natural lighting and creating spaces for growing food and supporting urban ecology.

Architect Richard Hassell, co-founder of WOHA Architects, sees many benefits to biophilic design, but “the most important one is the human reaction to nature and how it supports well-being emotionally and physically”.

He adds: “Biophilia basically means love of life and there are different ways to get a biophilic response. It could be through real nature and plants, but even fake plants can effect a biophilic reaction.”

The firm’s upcoming projects which showcase biophilic design include Pan Pacific Orchard, which will have massive landscaped sky-terraces integrated into the building; the Singapore Pavilion for the World Expo in Dubai, which will be a tropical oasis in the desert that is designed to be net-zero in energy and water over its operation period; and Brac University in Dhaka, where the campus feels like it is floating on a lake, with lots of greenery, natural light and comfortable naturally-ventilated spaces.

the design of Singapore Pavilion for Dubai Expo 2020

“I think the pandemic has shown how valuable a biophilic environment is, having one in your home when you’re on lockdown helps with your general well-being, your psychological and physical health,” says Richard. “So while it’s always been very important in WOHA’s work, biophilic design has probably moved up on people’s priority lists. Clients who approach WOHA with projects expect biophilic aspects to our work. That was true before the pandemic and is still the case now.”

Biophilic design isn’t limited to designing homes, it can be found in offices and commercial spaces too, as these four projects show.

Eden

2 Draycott Park

In Singapore’s urban landscape where highrise buildings are mostly constructed of glass and steel, Eden stands out for looking nothing like its counterparts.

London-based firm Heatherwick Studio designed the single-tower condominium with 20 units to have thin windows at the side and shell-shaped balconies on each floor. But its most eye-catching feature is the lush greenery growing from these balconies and from a distance, the building appears to be covered with a green curtain.

Photo by Hufton + Crow, Courtesy of Heatherwick Studio

Studio founder Thomas Heatherwick says: “In Asia and North America, everyone is building taller and taller condos, and it’s as if the residents are living in helicopters. People have to put up blinds to keep their apartments cool, and there is a total disconnection with nature.”

Eden is his first residential project in Singapore with developer Swire Properties.

“I wondered if every apartment could have a garden, but not just with a few flower pots on the balconies,” he explains of his thinking.

His design for Eden is a radical one. He takes the conventional box-like floor plate and pulls it apart, placing the bedrooms at the sides, and creating a central living space surrounded by balconies. The balconies themselves are staggered between the floors and shaded, making them comfortable outdoor spaces regardless of the weather.

“Part of biophilic design is what you can feel under your bare feet.”

thomas heatherwick

The layout of the apartment also encourages cross ventilation, doing away with the need for air conditioning. Each apartment features a variety of plants, a mix of those with large showy leaves and others that drape over the balconies.

The plants come with the apartment, and there’s an auto watering system in place so homeowners only need to prune them occasionally. With communal gardens on the ground floor and on the rooftop, there are over 100 species of plants grown in Eden.

Apart from the greenery, there are biophilic elements in the choice of materials in each apartment. This is most evident in the apartments’ oak wood flooring. But instead of being sanded down to a smooth texture, the wood’s imperfections and grains are celebrated.

Photo by Hufton + Crow, Courtesy of Heatherwick Studio

“We had feedback from the local team that such flooring would not be accepted but I insisted. Part of biophilic design is what you can feel under your bare feet,” says Thomas.

He adds: “Living in Eden has the feel of a landed property with a garden but with the view of a highrise apartment”.

Ginger

PARKROYAL on Beach Road,
7500 Beach Road

Australian interior designer Emma Maxwell didn’t have to look too far for inspiration in her redesign of Ginger, the hotel’s buffet restaurant. “The name itself was a starting point,” says Emma, who has been living in Singapore for over a decade and runs her own eponymous firm. “This was an opportunity for me to celebrate Singapore with its abundant greenery.”

Stepping into Ginger is much like taking a stroll through the Singapore Botanic Gardens but without the humidity.

The greenery starts from the entrance, where specially commissioned wallpaper by Australian fabric designer Kerrie Brown – featuring tropical plants including the ginger flower – takes centrestage behind the reception table.

Photo courtesy Emma Maxwell Design

In the main dining room, diners see more wallpaper with local flowers and plants on some walls. The colourful wallpaper provides contrast to the other pale green walls, which have been painted with a nontoxic water-based paint.

Guests can take their pick from a variety of seating, such as the semi-circular booths seats next to the windows, the long table in the centre of the dining room, or at the far right of the restaurant where they dine while seated on cushions with tropical flora prints, again designed by Kerrie.

“With Ginger, I wanted guests to feel like they have entered a fantastical ‘other’ world that is new yet recognisable through the use of local flowers, welcoming light, and joy.”

emma maxwell

There’s more of that floral wallpaper in a private dining room. Emma explains that wallpaper creates the effect of being in a tropical garden without too much fuss. She says that had she created a live green wall, that would require high maintenance and regularly replacing the plants. But of course there are pots of live floral arrangements to jazz up the space.

She didn’t just rely on wallpaper and cushions to create that garden effect. The furniture and lighting were designed with nature in mind. For example, the hanging lights in the private dining room with their round bulbs were inspired by seed pods from the orchid tree.

And, on some of the dining chairs, the wooden backs have been inspired by tree branches and round hanging fruits.

Photo courtesy Emma Maxwell Design

Emma selected rattan for the ceiling fans, again for the tropical garden feel. “The fans help circulate the air, and the way they move mimics nature where things are never still,” she says.

Since its opening in October, Ginger is already been unofficially one of the most Instagrammable restaurants on social media.

“It is heartening to see that people like interacting with the space,” she says. “With Ginger, I wanted guests to feel like they have entered a fantastical ‘other’ world that is new yet recognisable through the use of local flowers, welcoming light, and joy.”

Okamura Showroom and Office

137 Cecil Street,
#01-01/04, Hengda Building

They say first impressions count and this cannot be more true for the showroom and office of Japanese office furniture brand Okamura.

Its Singapore office recently moved into a new space at Cecil Street, a far cry from its previous location in a nondescript building. “When we brought clients to the old office, they were surprised to find how small and run down it was, especially since the brand is well known in Japan,” says Shawn Eng, Okamura’s regional business development director APAC. The new showroom is in a two-storey space with a glass frontage facing the main road. But, more importantly, it allows lots of natural light to filter in.

For visitors, the main attraction is a 7m tall giant vending machine that houses Okamura’s award-winning chairs. A touch of a button brings down the desired chair from the individual compartments.

Photo SPH

But, for the employees, it is the openness of the office that they appreciate. On the first floor, there is a lounge area in front of the vending machine with low seats, that are suited for working and for client discussions. Further in, there is another open plan work space and a small meeting room.

While most of the team works from an office space on the second floor, Mr Eng notes that, over the course of the day, his colleagues often go down to the showroom on the first floor to work. “No one has worked in the lounge area yet but they do like being in the communal work space,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Okamura

Shawn has also made it a point to incorporate greenery into the office. There is a large ficus plant near the entrance, and on the second floor, rows of desks are partitioned using potted plants. He points out that while artificial plants would require less maintenance, he’s decided on real ones because they are more beneficial to well-being. “Everyone takes turns watering the plants too,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Okamura

He also envisions the showroom to be used as a presentation space for design students to showcase their works. With that in mind, there is a raised platform on the first floor that doubles as a stage and seating space. The platform is made out of cork, which he says not only helps with the acoustics but is also a sustainable material.

Happy colleagues come up to tell him personally how much they love the new office. “The usage of biophilic elements triggers positive energy, creativity, and joy in the workspace,” he says.

Ki Residences at Brookvale Show Gallery

Vanda Link

Show galleries for new residential projects are a dime a dozen, and when there are numerous launches happening at the same time, developers spare no expense in decking them out to impress visitors, often with multi-media walls, fancy lighting, and plush carpeting.

But step into the show gallery for Ki Residences at Brookvale with its pared down aesthetics and you might wonder if you have entered a Japanese art museum by mistake.

Unlike most show galleries which tend to be box-like structures, this one designed by ADDP Architects stands out for being circular-shaped with glass all around, smack in the middle of an open field. Inside the showflat is a circular courtyard with a handful of trees in the centre, exuding a sense of calmness. While there is no access to the courtyard, the space is largely bathed in natural light.

The Ki Residences at Brookvale Show Gallery showroom designed by ADDP Architects.
Photo courtesy of Hoi Hup Sunway

Ki Residences is a mid-rise 660-unit condominium located in the quiet surroundings of the Sunset Way estate, and is jointly developed by Hoi Hup Realty and Sunway Development. The project is also designed by ADDP Architects with landscaping by STX Landscape Architects.

Koon Wai Leong, Hoi Hup’s general manager, says since the coronavirus pandemic began, people have become more aware about wellness a nd the importance of mental health. “Even though this is a temporary structure for about three years, we want to put in elements of wellness into its design,” he says.

He declined to reveal the construction cost but says it is one of the priciest for the company. “Most show galleries tend to be very inward looking but here, we want buyers to be able to look out onto the greenery and be able to get close to nature when they are here,” he says. Wai Leong adds that the gallery was also designed to show potential buyers the openness of their future homes in Brookvale.

Photo courtesy of Hoi Hup Sunway

Interior design firm 2nd Edition used a neutral palette for the gallery which adds to the tranquil feel of the space. The vertical panels and flooring are made from light coloured woods. And while other developers may rely on technology for the location map, the one in this gallery goes for a minimalist style. The handmade piece is constructed from natural-toned plywood, and key amenities in the area are highlighted using coloured panels.

The Zen-like feel of the show gallery may just be what is needed to entice visitors to put the down payment for a home. And the best seats in the house are the low chairs that surround the courtyard.

This article is first published by The Business Times.