What is sustainable urban design & architecture?

When we talk about Sustainable Urban Design & Infrastructure, what exactly does that mean?

Breaking down the phrase into its separate components, let me explain what the whole concept of Sustainable Urban Design & Infrastructure, and also the overarching concept behind this website.

Sustainable – pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability byusing techniques that allow for continual reuse.

Urban – characteristic of, or accustomed to cities

Design – here there is a specific reference to eco-design where architectural elements are deliberately managed to incorporate or encourage environmentally-friendly practices.

Infrastructure – again here, with a specific reference to environmental concerns, the engineering and construction of built environments are deliberately considered and structured so as to have an environmentally-friendly purpose or use that will reduce the ecological footprint.

Greenfrastructure: Beitou Public Library (Taiwan)


Beitou Public Library Going Green

The use of wood is significant. If taken from managed forests rather than primary or rain forests, it is a far greener material than concrete. Cement takes a great deal of energy to extract, heat, mix and refine. Also, the extraction of gravel for use as a concrete aggregate has damaged many of Taiwan’s rivers and hillsides.

{Exterior of the library. © Culture Taiwan}

{Interior of the library.  © Culture Taiwan}

Ying-chao Kuo (郭英釗), one of the architects who worked on the project, explains that the timber for Beitou Library was sourced from North America. It could not be obtained from anywhere nearer because logging has been effectively banned in Taiwan, and forests in Southeast Asia are not managed in a sustainable manner.

Taiwan’s hot, humid climate and insect population can be brutal for wooden structures. But rather than treat the materials with strong chemicals that might later contaminate the environment, wood oils were used to protect the timber from rotting and infestation, says Kuo, one of the partners of the Taipei-based firm Bio Architecture Formosana (九典建築師事務所), the designers of the library.

{Its large windows reducing need for air-conditioning or light in the day. © Culture Taiwan}

The library’s large windows help cut electricity use in two ways. An abundance of natural light means less interior lighting is needed. Also, the windows can be opened to provide ventilation, so reducing the need for fans and air-conditioning.

One part of the roof is covered by photovoltaic (PV) cells that are expected to convert sunlight into at least US$1,000 worth of electricity per year. Another part is covered by a 20-centimeter-thick layer of soil that provides thermal insulation. During Taipei’s chilly winters, the soil cuts heat loss through the ceiling and thereby makes the interior cozier. In the summertime, the foliage blocks some of the warmth of the sun.

{Enjoying a leisurely read close to nature. © Katie Yang}

Some plants take root and thrive on the roof, improving air quality in the immediate area.

The library conserves water by capturing rainfall. The sloping roof gathers rainwater, which is then stored and used to flush the library’s toilets.

Source: Culture Taiwan

Greenfrastructure: (Home) Solar Bottle Bulb


As simple as it sounds, a one-liter plastic bottle filled with purified water and some bleach could serve as a light bulb for some of the millions of people who live without electricity. Originally developed by MIT students, the “solar bottle bulb” is now being distributed by the MyShelter Foundation to homes throughout the Philippines. The foundation’s goal is to use this alternative source of daylight to brighten one million homes in the country by 2012.”

{Making solar bulbs with the use of recycled materials.  © Physorg}

This shows us that sustainable urban infrastructure and design do not have to be expensive or rely completely on technological advancements. Even little inventions using everyday materials like a soda bottle can make a different to people’s lives in developing countries like the Philippines without breaking the bank or adding onto the environmental baggage.

Making use of the earth’s natural resources, rather than electricity to light up our world.

*Watch the video and be amazed.

Human-Environment Conflict (Natural Hazards: Falling Trees)


{Tree crashed into the roof of the 3rd floor. © Tok Wei Min}

{Close-up of it’s uprooted…root. © Wilson Yap}

Previously we mentioned about how falling trees and tree branches can cause deaths or traffic accidents. Here’s one example that is much much closer to (my) home.

We used to have these really pretty looking cypress trees that enhances the landscape but because of this incident, checks were conducted and the verdict that the roots and trunk of this type of trees were too weak for its height. Thus these trees were good for the “summer” periods when it’s hot and sunny, but when the monsoon season rolls about, there is a risk that these trees might be uprooted with the heavy downpours and strong winds. After this incident, all similar trees were cut down and removed. Only those which have thicker, sturdier trunks and roots were allowed to remain.

Yet another reminder of the human-environment conflict – the natural environment can be a potential hazard and pose a certain threat to the safety of human communities. Hence there is a need to strike a balance and ensure cohesion between human community and the natural environment: certain precautions and considerations e.g. type of trees you plant near buildings have to be sturdy and can withstand weather conditions in that area, rather than just blind and impulsive pro-environmental actions.

Henderson Waves (Singapore)


{Henderson Waves  © designboom}

Henderson Waves – nature walkways constructed high in the foliage of the treetops allow visitors to both indulge in the occasional experience with nature away from the traffic, without actually leaving the city altogether. Instead of going far away from the city centre, these walkways allow city dwellers to go far higher from the hustle and bustle of city life.

I’m personally a fan of Henderson waves, because it’s situated conveniently in the heart of the island, where it’s equally accessible to people from all sides of the island. it’s also especially close to the CBD area where all the most stress and workaholics reside. people like bankers and accountants and businessmen who are often on-the-go and on-the-ball practically 24/7can make use of this walkway to get away abit without actually losing (phone) connection with their urban life.

{Henderson Waves overlooking Telok Blangah Road © Eustaquio Santimano}

However i think we don’t really put our treetop walks to good use. often i ask my friends along for a walk they decline, suggesting alternative air-conditioned and more “down-to-earth” places to hang out at. it’s really a lot to do with singapore’s weather i think, it gets unbearably hot and humid up there if you happen to be there at the wrong time of the day, or the year. that’s probably what puts singaporeans off from really utilizing this urban “linear ribbon” of green escape to it’s fullest.

Urban Parks – Little Guilin


Little Guilin (“Xiao Guilin”)

{Little Guilin’s sign. © Slow Rider}

{The scenic view of guilin’s cliffs. © Slow Rider}

Area scan of Little Guilin (“Xiao Guilin”)

Constructed from a disused granite quarry, Bukit Batok Town Park is commonly known as “Little Guilin” or “Xiao Guilin”, after the scenic spot in China. Comprising 42 ha of land, it is located at Bukit Batok East Avenue 5. The name “Bukit Batok” has been suggested to be derived from the noise made by the blasting in the granite quarry that now form the natural surroundings of Little Guilin.

The Housing and Development Board had originally intended to fill the quarry up and build a road on it in 1984. It was converted to a pond instead when it was realized that the existing quarry had rugged granite outcrops and a contrasting backdrop of green hills that gave it a pleasant look. The surrounding areas were also beautified and made accessible by placing granite blocks on the retaining walls and adding footpaths, lights and seating.

{Fishing! © Serene Ng}

In 1996, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) conceptualised the Development Plan Guide for Yishun and Bukit Batok, which proposed the use of the surrounding parks to enhance the residential landscape for the area. It also proposed links between the Town Park and Nature Parks, and eventually linking them via park connectors to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Sungei Pandan.

Besides being used for exercise and walks, the town park has also been used as a stage for Chinese opera, dance and music performances.

 Source: Little Guilin (“Xiao Guilin”)

Urban Parks – Lorong Halus Wetland Park


{Some of the inhabitants you can catch at Punggol Promenade & Lor Halus Wetland Park if you’re lucky! © NParks}

Located along the eastern bank of Serangoon Reservoir, Lorong Halus Wetland was transformed from a landfill into a haven for biodiversity. Spend some time exploring this wetland that spans the area of 18 football fields! Visitors entering Lorong Halus Wetland from Punggol Promenade will be greeted by the elegantly designed Lorong Halus Bridge, which is a charming addition to the natural surroundings. It is also part of the North Eastern Riverine Loop that aims to bring the public closer to the natural environment – vegetation and water.

{Lor Halus Bridge at sunrise. © Tze Ru Pang}

“Usually pedestrian bridges in Singapore are carried out as pile and beam bridges and henceforth tend to look heavy. In this case a more filigree truss structure was chosen. Five 30m long compartments span between concrete piles with steel caps. The number of piles into the riverbed was decreased by the greater span, reducing the impact on the bridge’s natural environment to a minimum. 

The pedestrian bridge is lit up with ultra-efficient 10W LED linear lighting bars, replacing the conventional method of using fluorescent lights.” (Source: World Architecture News)

Having personally been to the Punggol Promenade, crossed the Lorong Halus Bridge, and cycling through the Lorong Halus Wetland that links you all the way to Pasir Ris, I have to say that it is a really beautiful space of greenery and artfully constructed footpaths which are made from light gravel and pebbles blends perfectly into the natural landscape, and that, makes your walk all the more enjoyable as you feel like part of the natural environment. When it first opened, there were few visitors, only a sprinkling of adventurous cyclists like myself, and landscape photographers who were there to take advantage of the abundant sunlight and vast space. Since then, on my frequent visits back, both on my bike or on foot, I’ve seen parents bringing their children for a day out exploring the biodiversity of the area, and reading from the informative signages about the Wetland and its inhabitants. I’ve also seen couples, young and old, taking strolls in the evenings.

{People coming back from the Lor Halus Wetland Park via the Bridge. ©  Slow Rider}

Converting this area into a wetland, at close range to all the HDB flats makes it a great escape for us city people. Despite being located in close proximity to the residential areas, when you’re strolling along Punggol Promenade or Lorong Halus Wetland, you practically feel as if you’ve travelled out of town to the countryside, the feeling you get is of a well-maintained Pulau Ubin, without the inconvenience of a bum-boat ride (as enjoyable old school as it may be :D). Only a stone’s throw and a short walk away from our homes, there is such an expanse of greenery and wealth of biodiversity – our dose of interaction with the natural environment made convenient. Beautiful.

If you’re interested in exploring the Lorong Halus Wetland Park, along with the rest of the equally attractive spots along the North Eastern Riverine Loop, do check this extremely comprehensive NParks guide out.