Asia, a region of rich geography, cultural and historical diversity, has one major thing in common – rapid urbanization. In the United Nations’ 2018 study, the global proportion of people living in urban cities is projected to increase from 55 per cent in 2018 to 68 per cent by 2050. By then, an additional 2.5 billion people will have been added to the world’s urban population, with 90 per cent of this growth set to happen in Asia and Africa.
Urbanization presents both challenges and opportunities at the same time. The challenges are complex and dynamic by nature, because cities and urban districts are indeed a macrocosm made up of various interacting systems, with many forces exerting, influencing, and shaping each other at the same time, including political, economic, governance, social issues, infrastructure, real estate, environmental sustainability, digital disruption and transformation, and more. Building and structures, and the architectural thinking behind them, often reflects the forces at play at a particular point in time.
How about the present time? Faced with mounting evidence of climate change and the pressing need for environmental sustainability on one hand, and the continuous need for more buildings and urban spaces to address rapid urbanisation on the other hand, one of the growing architectural thinking asserts that architecture has to integrate, replace, replenish or regenerate nature while meeting diverse human needs. Such efforts are clearly visible in Singapore, driven by policies and guidelines that promote vertical greenery integrated with buildings, as well as integration of water environment and hydrology with buildings through the Active, Beautiful, Clean programmes. The interplay of such environmental policy drive, real estate demand, and architectural creativity has produced many interesting architecture projects. These forces has transformed Singapore as a tropical city and will continue to do so.
This general school of architectural thinking regarding the co-development of both nature and man-made environment has given rise to the popularity of biophilic design. It is based on the theory of ‘biophilia’, which means ‘love of life or living systems’. The theory asserts that human innately seek to connect with nature and living systems, backed by studies from a scientific perspective, validating psychological, physiological and sociological benefits of nature and living systems to people and the community. Biophilic design may be applied at different scale. Buildings and structures that embrace nature are known as biophilic architecture, while cities that embrace nature are termed biophilic cities. Biophilic design is also applicable across many different building types. There are many examples in Singapore, and a number of them were designed and developed by CPG Consultants.
For instance, Gardens by the Bay is a park and vast greenscape that celebrates and embraces nature. However, biophilic design could also be applied to seemingly unlikely building typologies, such as hospitals and utility buildings. Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, by now well publicised and has won many awards, has brought huge endorsement of biophilic design to healthcare architecture, and is often cited as a landmark example in the global architectural scene. Prior to that, hospitals were usually expected to be clinical and stark. Today, functional facilities housing carpark, district cooling, and storage facilities could even be designed to ‘disappear’ beneath a park and open space that support social events, plant life and biodiversity. Next time, when you visit the Mediapolis, check out the parking space fronting MediaCorp Campus.
Biophilic design is beneficial to office buildings and interiors, since natural light, greenery, and visual connectivity to nature uplift the mood, activate the mind and foster social interaction.
In Solaris, an office and research building for infocomms, media, science, engineering research and clean-tech development, and an experimented design collaboration between CPG and TR Hamzah & Yeang, had resulted in a biophilic workplace architecture where the greenery after completion was three times more intensive as compared with before its development.
In Asia, where we enjoy a rich diversity of landscape, terrain, climate and culture, there is certainly a huge potential to apply biophilic design to integrate nature with the local community and culture - celebrating the characteristics and uniqueness of each place, and allowing nature to provide the environmental services such as health and wellness to the people. On the other hand, the love of nature from the people in return can also result in continual regeneration of nature.
Another mega-force impacting the world, and no less to architecture in Asia is digital technology. Societies and economies the world over are all figuring out the road map towards the notion of Industry 4.0, where the efficiency of digital information, enabled by cyber-physical integration and Internet-of-Things (IoT), will bring about the next wave of industrial revolution through automation, robotics, distributed manufacturing and advanced logistics.
Over the next decades, we expect to see wide ranging impact to how we consume, learn and live, and how industries will be disrupted and reinvented. The built environment to support all that, i.e. architecture as a discipline and practice, has to similarly transform.
We are already seeing some of the transformation. For example, Singapore is championing Design for Manufacturing and Construction (DfMA) and Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) under the Construction Transformation Road Map. In some of CPG projects, we have seen the demand for built environment design that is integrated with IoT to support efficient and seamless workflows, allowing customer orders to be automatically compiled, sorted and transmitted down the line to the most appropriate manufacturers for production, before finally mechanically assembling and delivering the finished product to end consumers. Such work flows not only greatly increase the entire supply chain’s speed through automation and cyber analytics, the overall production cost will also decrease due to savings from more efficient deployment of human resources.
For instance, one of our clients needed an industrial factory designed for rapid automation, importing, sorting, storing and delivering of ordered goods to end consumers around Asia, without the need for human hands throughout the process. In such cases, our design studios have the required capabilities beyond conventional architectural skillsets to support our clients. They embark on close consultation and collaboration to map out the cyber-physical processes, provide various spatial configurations that best support clients’ digitally integrated work processes, as well as incorporate digital elements such as smart sensors for greater detection, automation and integration into a seamless digital workflow.
The digital technology mega-force not only impacts industries and built environment, but also drives the notion of smart cities.
Cities today recognise the benefits of utilising big data, sensors and artificial intelligences through IoT to drive greater efficiencies and unlock possibilities not possible in the past. This is particularly relevant to Asia where cities are dense and highly populated. Prototypes of smart city systems are constantly being introduced: large-scale traffic sensing and monitoring devices that gather traffic data to help motorists plan their travelling periods, hence reducing road congestion; smart energy systems - from home electricity monitors to dynamic street lamps - leverage renewable energy and more efficient usage through analysing demand patterns.
However, even as we gear up to a future of technologically advanced smart cities, we should always remember to keep the emphasis of smart cities on the ‘cities’ themselves. For while technology enables smart cities, it is the better functioning of places, people and their interactions that is the main objective of smart cities in the first place. If we approach designing ‘smart cities’ in this manner – ‘city’ first, then ‘smart’ – we will ultimately realise that it is more about applying the appropriate technologies at the right time. In other words, what is currently accessible, affordable, scalable and capable of future expansion.
With Asian cities embarking on their transformation journey towards a highly urbanised, technologically integrated future, I foresee that the innate human needs to be connected to nature will be even more resonant. Therefore, the architectural discipline, especially in densely populated Asia, must be focused on biophilia and digital integration in order to meet future demands.
At CPG Consultants, we have been investing in and preparing our people and processes for years; building up our core competencies and redeveloping collaborative office and knowledge spaces, both physical and virtual. The future of architecture in Asia is an exciting one, and we are ready for it.