Challenging the greenery facade __ Leonard Ng __ Henning Larsen

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Challenging the greenery facade __ Leonard Ng __ Henning Larsen
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Challenging the greenery facade __ Leonard Ng __ Henning Larsen

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Challenging the greenery facade __ Leonard Ng __ Henning Larsen
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Explore the reality of greenery in architecture — pragmatic sustainability or mere aesthetics? Leonard Ng navigates the fine line, urging honesty in distinguishing between environmental impact and visual appeal in our urban landscapes.

Leonard is an award-winning landscape architect and the Country Market Director, APAC, at Henning Larsen’s Singapore studio. He seeks to establish a harmonious balance between urban environments, people, and nature for more sustainable cities.

In this episode, he discusses various ways to integrate greenery with built form, as well as the associated benefits and pitfalls. Reflecting on his experience in Singapore, he urges us to consider what integrated greenery can and should achieve.

Episode outline

00:03:50 “We need to be honest about why we are doing green walls and vertical greenery […] It is OK to do green walls or vertical greenery for aesthetic, purely aesthetic reasons, but you must be honest with yourself.”
00:04:24 Why integrate greenery, and for when?
00:07:13 “If your start point is how do I achieve certain KPIs, be it to improve biodiversity or to reduce the temperature on the surface of the concrete slab, then the solutions become a lot more specific.”
00:17:30 “I’m not actually designing for the moment it opens. I’m designing for 10 years hence or 15 years hence when then the trees and the plants and the ecosystem have matured and found a balance.”
00:18:00 Weighing up costs and benefits
00:18:22 “If it is done in a sensitive manner and in a manner that takes into consideration the needs and the user groups, the benefits more than outweigh the cost.”
00:21:24 “I don’t believe that public money should be used to subsidise private developments. I believe private developments have their own justifications to why they should incorporate greenery.”
00:27:29 “The failures we see are a misalignment of the wishes versus the commitment to future resources.”
00:38:14 Developing a process for holistic outcomes
00:38:38 “The most successful designs are the ones that allow input from everybody on the table and involve everybody at the start.”
00:43:23 “Designing vertical greenery is really about designing life support systems for plants […] What is it that’s required to keep this thing alive?”
00:48:39 Professional journey
00:50:26 “I couldn’t afford the time to become a qualified architect, so I chose the next best thing, which was a landscape architect.”

 

Summary

Vertical green facades have become increasingly popular in urban environments over recent decades. Leonard Ng attributes their emergence to good intentions, such as counteracting the diminishing presence of nature as cities develop and expand. But do they make development more sustainable?

Leonard Ng was recognised as ‘Designer of the Year’ in Singapore’s President*s Design Award 2023 for his passion and commitment to creating harmony between the city and nature.
© Ivan Loh, Pigscanfly

The application of landscape on, in, and around buildings often prioritises aesthetic appeal over its potential to achieve more fundamental purposes. Its benefits, suggest Leonard, can go far beyond cosmetic enhancement.

Leonard practises in tropical Singapore where the profusion of greenery on buildings is not only supported by the climate, but also by regulations. He delineates two primary methods for integrating greenery with buildings: applying vegetation to walls and roofs; and modulating built forms with spaces in which plants can be experienced as gardens.

Oasia Hotel Downtown in Singapore was designed by WOHA with green walls wrapping the facade, as well as sky gardens in large atria. The greenery amounts to a 1,110% green replacement of the site area. WOHA collaborated with landscape consultant Sitetectonix on the project, which was completed in 2016.
© Darren Soh / WOHA

The question is: What do we need such greenery to achieve? Beyond appearances, Leonard suggests we consider the potential performance of integrated vegetation and its capacity to contribute to sustainability goals.

At Oasia Hotel Downtown, WOHA used greenery as an architectural surface treatment, which reaches from ground level to the apex of the mesh-clad tower. By touching the ground, the green facades (consisting of 21 species of creepers) welcome land-based fauna into the vertical landscape.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall / WOHA

He identifies various key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help with evaluating decisions at the drawing board.

The mitigating effect of greenery upon heat gain in buildings is a clear and easily measurable example of its performative potential. Other KPIs include greenery’s potential to attract biodiversity, enhance the wellness of people, provide a means for managing water, and improve the recreational appeal of spaces.

Jewel Changi Airport (completed in 2019) is a commercial building at Singapore’s Changi Airport known for its internal garden and waterfall. It was designed by Safdie Architects, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, PWP Landscape Architecture, ICN Design, and other collaborators.
© Supanut Arunoprayote, used under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License via Wikimedia Commons

Leonard cites Kampung Admiralty, a prototypical public housing project for seniors in Singapore, as an example of the seamless integration of landscape, water, and architecture within a high-rise structure.

Kampung Admiralty is a public housing complex in Singapore designed by WOHA and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl (now Henning Larsen) and completed in 2017. Its roofscape of terraces and local plants functions as a community park and farm.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall / WOHA

Leonard led the landscape design for this project. The roofscape has been transformed into a community recreation space and farm with staggered terraces covered in local plants.

A stormwater management system collects, cleans, and reuses water for irrigation, contributing to water conservation efforts. Furthermore, the therapeutic benefits of proximity to nature and an environment for exercise enhance the overall quality of life for occupants.

At Kampung Admiralty, greenery covers 53% of the area of the site (which was previously an unused field), but over 100% green area replacement was achieved.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall / WOHA

Clearly, there are many possible benefits to bringing plants and buildings together. Leonard also acknowledges the challenges, including the cost of installation and the potentially unforeseen costs of ongoing maintenance.

Another flip side is the increased infiltration of so-called pests into our spaces. He suggests a shift in mindset towards cohabitation rather than eradication.

Cultural centre CaixaForum Madrid in Spain (completed in 2008) was designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Mateu i Bausells Arquitectura. It features a vertical garden developed in collaboration with artist-botanist Patrick Blanc and Benavides & Lapèrche.
© Zurateman, used under Creative Commons CC0 License via Wikimedia Commons

Similarly, he advocates consciousness of the naturally evolving character of natural systems. Landscape, as he explains, is a dynamic entity that ebbs and flows as the seasons change. A green wall will never be an unchanging backdrop, and expectations about appearance should be managed accordingly.

RMA Architects designed the KMC Corporate Office in Hyderabad, India (completed in 2012) with a double-skin facade. The outer layer is a trellis for plants that help to cool the building and prevent the build-up of dust on windows. The vertical greenery created a new avenue for the employment of gardeners.
© Carlos Chen

Integrated greenery can achieve impressive outcomes, but it’s crucial to think beyond the cosmetic and set realistic goals about what is feasible in your context. Leonard encourages interdisciplinary collaboration within the project team from inception as a key ingredient of holistic, sustainable outcomes.

By striking a balance between the buildings and natural ecosystems, designers can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change while benefiting both people and planet.

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:05:29 “…Green replacement is a big topic…”
Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (LUSH)” [Video]  |  Urban Redevelopment Authority
00:06:20 “…some of these awards like Green Mark awards try to…”
Green Mark Certification Scheme”  |  Building and Construction Authority
00:09:02 “…the biophilic aspect of what greenery does…”
Biophilic design: What is it? Why it matters? And how do we use it?”  |  Building Design+Construction
00:09:29 “…why not have beautiful green terrace skyrise greenery…”
What is Skyrise Greenery?”  |  Skyrise Greenery
00:39:57 “…I was recently just part of a jury for The Oberlander Prize…”
The Oberlander Prize”  |  The Cultural Landscape Foundation
00:51:07 “…I was at two President*s Design Awards and in countless other…”
President*s Design Award
00:25:28 “…When Patrick Blanc first came out…”
VERTICAL GARDEN PATRICK BLANC
00:35:37 “…I am reminded of a project by Rahul Mehrotra, who we…”
Rahul Mehrotra, Harvard University Graduate School of Design: The kinetic city”  |  Ecogradia
00:08:06 “…in our project in Kampung Admiralty, we had…”
Kampung Admiralty”  |  Henning Larsen
00:12:05 “…to do in Singapore because we are tropical…”
Singapore”  |  Britannica
00:14:49 “…this project called Paradise Park Children Centre in Islington, London…”
The Paradise Park fallout: Are living walls worth it?”  |  Architect’s Journal
00:14:49 “…this project called Paradise Park Children Centre in Islington, London…”
Islington” (London, United Kingdom)  |  Britannica
00:14:49 “…this project called Paradise Park Children Centre in Islington, London…”
London” (United Kingdom)  |  Britannica
00:19:34 “…that is close to us is Bishan Park, something we have…”
Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park & Kallang River”  |  Henning Larsen
00:24:09 “…translates to other parts of Asia or other parts…”
Asia”  |  Britannica
00:31:01 “…creepers very much like Oasia…”
Oasia Hotel Downtown”  |  WOHA
00:32:47 “…to say social housing or a place like India…”
India”  |  Britannica
00:35:46 “…an office building in Hyderabad in India…”
Hyderabad” (Telangana, India)  |  Britannica
00:35:49 “…It’s called the KMC Corporate Office…”
KMC Corporate Office”  |  RMA Architects
00:03:52 “…about why we are doing green walls and…”
An Architect’s Guide To: Green Walls”  |  Architizer

There are no products and technologies mentioned in this episode.

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editor-at-large
Narelle Yabuka

Managing editor
Kruti Choksi Kothari

Senior communications executive
Sana Gupta

Senior editor
Tyler Yeo

Art director (video)
Alexander Melck  |  Phlogiston

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

Video editors
Guellor Muguruka  |  Phlogiston
Madelein Myburgh  |  Phlogiston

Graphic designer
Stian van Wyk  |  Phlogiston

 

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Traditional architecture is a melting pot of history, culture and knowledge-systems spanning centuries. Its continued decline globally begs the question: what can the past offer to the present and the future?
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