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Grey over Green, Green over Grey

Mariam originally wrote this pictorial essay for the class “History and Theory of Landscape Architecture” as a student at the National University of Singapore. At the start of the class, students each shared a piece of landscape that they liked; they then reflected on this after a semester of learning. Working within a multidisciplinary consultant team, the landscape architects of Oasis Hotel Downtown was STX Landscape.

 

Over the last 50 years, Singapore has seen innovative and distinctive infrastructure that blends artificial and natural greenery (Figure 1) which also extends beyond the ground plane, to vertical and skyrise greenery (Figure 2).

(Left) Figure 1: Artificial & Natural, Green & Blue. (InDesignLive, 2017) (Right) Figure 2: Replicating the tropical rainforest structure in our urban landscape. (Kenneth Er, 2018)

Singapore has continuously engaged with infrastructural projects such as water reservoirs, rooftops, parks, streets, and sidewalks that combine natural systems, technological systems, and their aesthetic appreciation which has calculatingly led to a nation-building aspiration of becoming a “City in a Garden” (Figure 3).


(Left) Figure 3: City in a Garden, Establishing the Urban Ecosystem. (Kenneth Er, 2018) (Centre) Figure 4: A verdant tower of green, Oasia Hotel Downtown. (Right) Figure 5: Oasia Hotel Downtown in the heart of Singapore’s CBD. (ArchDaily, 2016)

Within the dense urban setting of Singapore’s Central Business District area, sits a radical ‘green skin’ façade infrastructure called Oasia Hotel Downtown, a creation by architects from WOHA (Figure 4). The cylindrical form contains offices, hotel rooms, open decks, and sky terraces. The warm tones of the aluminium mesh represent a living form that is engulfed with greenery, in contrast with the surrounding skyscrapers made of concrete and glass (Figure 5).


Initially, my capacity to appreciate Oasia Hotel Downtown was only at a surface level of seeing it as ‘Singapore’s Little Red Rocket,’ eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing, and instagramable (Figure 6).


Figure 6: Public Instagram posts with the hashtag #oasiahoteldowntown from different angles. (@bacas_in_sg, 2021; @cezar_suisse, 2021; @ashley_teh, 2020)

Through my observation on-site, one in every two persons exiting Tanjong Pagar MRT was attracted to this “functional art” that embraces nature with its earthy and organic elements that entice passersby to snap pictures from different angles (Figure 6).


However, this module has helped me understand and appreciate how Oasia Hotel Downtown not only embodies Anne Whiston Spirns’ (1984) logic of landscape urbanism explained in the book The Granite Garden but also Susan Herrington’s (2016) “Systems Logic,” in Landscape Theory in Design. Both explain how building blocks of cities can be reinterpreted and recognised as infrastructural systems that are interconnected or have interdependent elements that can be combined to create a complex whole. These systems should be considered as a close collaboration between architecture and landscape architecture that overlaps with vegetation and wildlife, geological and hydrological systems, and a network of ecosystems that can help positively elevate the overall dull urban environment (Figure 7). For example, Ian McHarg believed that by analysing nature and understanding how natural systems function, landscape architects could design with nature, leading to the most appropriate shapes and forms.


Figure 7: Oasia Hotel Downtown striking red during the day and night. (InHabitat, 2016)

In Oasia Hotel Downtown’s case, the 25,000 square meters of warm-tone expanded aluminium mesh living screens were not chosen based on a whim. Instead, by analysing and observing nature, Figure 8 shows the mesh is given a five-colour palette – red, dark red, pale pink, fuchsia, and orange – to represent and mimic the natural colour range seen in plants as they grow, mature and eventually die (Wong et al., 2018). Moreover, by understanding how natural systems function, Figure 9 shows the 21 species of creepers are strategically positioned by taking into account the amount of sunlight, shade, and wind required for them to be durable throughout the year, along the different altitudes they are planted. (Wong et al., 2018; Singh, n.d.) Additionally, by understanding how the materiality of a natural system, such as vertical greenery works, the screen will fade behind the vegetation with time, revealing a background with different colour highlights, similar to flowers among the vertical foliage that would attract birds, insects, and small wildlife. (Wong et al., 2018)


(Left) Figure 8: Before & After of Oasia Hotel Downtown. (Right) Figure 9: Technical drawing of the creepers planting scheme and positions. (Holmes, 2018)

In my opinion, Oasia Hotel Downtown is one of the rare, few projects that can be categorised under successful landscape urbanism projects. Not only does the infrastructure offer shade, reduce heat, decrease noise, reduce glare and dust, and reduce air pollution (which I am aware is debatable because of the lack of scientific results and supposed dubious philosophy) but, the fact that it acknowledges landscapes as processes that will change over time, rather than static forms, is commendable. It was created with the purpose of establishing an ecology of numerous systems and elements on top of the façade that would set in motion a complex network of interactions between living things including humans at multiple scales.


Most importantly, unlike other projects such as Bosco Verticale in Milan (Figure 10) and Chengdu’s Qiyi City housing project (Figure 11) where maintenance is a nightmare, Oasia Hotel Downtown did one thing right: cat ladders and catwalks have been included in the design alongside planters to ensure the practicality and convenience of maintenance (Figure 12). This eliminates the need for ropes and gondolas to be hanging around the façade.


(Left) Figure 10: Bosco Verticale, Milan. (ArchDaily, 2015) (Right) Figure 11: Chengdu’s Qiyi City Housing Project. (AFP, 2020)
Figure 12: Ease of maintenance through the catwalks and ladders. ()

However, having learned to appreciate the good in projects and find correlations with theories, I have also picked up the valuable skill of constructive critiquing and trying to see the flip side of the coin. While going through the module during the semester, this voice in my head argued, is Singapore relentlessly using green infrastructure to minimize the faults of excessive building and rapid urbanisation?


In his book Gray World, Green Heart, Robert Thayer (1994) debated that “The guilt people feel over the predominance of technology in their lives is most easily revealed by the concealment of technological features by trees, fences, walls, earth form.” Is Singapore doing the same thing by masking its infrastructure with greenery and creating a ‘sustainable’ brand narrative.


Is this Singapore’s solution to moderate our concrete jungle, which came at the cost of ninety percent of tropical forests and almost half of its diverse wildlife due to rapid urbanisation? Can rooftop gardens genuinely offset the massive carbon emissions of constructing a new concrete and steel tower?


Designs and decisions from the past can’t be changed but the thinking processes can be changed. The trend of greening has become increasingly popular over the past few years, however it only makes sense if it is done with good intentions. For example for reasons such as increasing biodiversity, mitigating climate change, reducing heat effects, and supporting mental and physical well-being of users. A checkbox list of architecturally-centred pursuits will never be able to replicate or imitate tropical forests: a lost treasure.

 

Mariam Yusuf Rajkotwala is a passionate individual who believes that landscape architecture confronts different world challenges head-on and provokes meaningful social and environmental changes. She is driven and determined to be a part of that change no matter how big or small it may be and knows it will be the most fulfilling thing she will accomplish.


Edited by Dr. Ervine Lin and Ruen Qing Wong

 
References

Anne Whiston Spirn. (1984). The granite garden : urban nature and human design. Basic Books.

Herrington, S. (2017). Landscape theory in design. New York, Ny Routledge.

Singh, T. (n.d.). The Tower Of Green: Oasia Hotel Downtown.

Thayer, R. L. (1994). Gray world, green heart : technology, nature, and sustainable landscape.

Wiley. Wong, S., Hassell, R., Wei, H., & Org/Papers, P. (2018). Title: Oasia Hotel Downtown,

Singapore: A Tall Prototype for the Tropics.

https://global.ctbuh.org/resources/papers/download/3790-oasia-hotel-downtown-singapore-a-tall-prototype-for-the-tropics.pdf


Image References

(Fig.1) Dense, Green and Blue. Is Singapore Ready to be a “City in Nature”? (2017, September 20). INDESIGNLIVE SINGAPORE | Daily Connection to Architecture and Design. https://www.indesignlive.sg/insight/dense-green-blue-singapore-ready-city-nature

(Fig.2), (Fig.3) Growing a Biophilic City in a Garden. (n.d.). CSC. https://www.csc.gov.sg/articles/growing-a-biophilic-city-in-a-garden

(Fig.4), (Fig.5) Oasia Hotel Downtown / WOHA. (2016, December 7). ArchDaily. https://www.archdaily.com/800878/oasia-hotel-downtown-woha?ad_medium=gallery

(Fig.6), (Fig.7) [@bacus_in_sg]. (2021, 24 July) https://www.instagram.com/p/CRtc4b0g-6b/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

(Fig.8) Oasia Hotel Downtown Skyscraper. (2016, December 7). Inhabitat - Green Design, Innovation, Architecture, Green Building | Green Design & Innovation for a Better World.

https://inhabitat.com/this-plant-covered-singapore-skyscraper-could-be-the-tropical-building-of-the-future/ oasia-hotel-downtown-skyscraper/

(Fig.9), (Fig.10), (Fig.13) Holmes, D. (2018, November 26). Oasia Downtown Hotel wrapped in a “living cloak.” World Landscape Architecture.

https://worldlandscapearchitect.com/oasia-downtown-hotel-a-singapore-building-wrapped-in-a-living-cloak/#.

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(Fig.11) Bosco Verticale / Boeri Studio. (2015, November 23). ArchDaily. https://www.archdaily.com/777498/bosco-verticale-stefano-boeri-architetti

(Fig.12) Limited, B. P. P. C. (n.d.). Welcome to the jungle: plants overrun Chinese apartment blocks.

Bangkok Post. Retrieved July 1, 2021, from

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