Project: Skyscraper jungle
Jodie Jones discovers the futuristic Marina One tropical landscape
The sovereign city state of Singapore sets a high bar for landscaping requirements, with a green replacement rule that new buildings incorporate 100% of the greenery displaced by their construction. “The parks department has more power in Singapore than in any city I have ever seen in my life,” says Kathryn Gustafson of Gustafson Porter + Bowman. “It is not that the city has a garden, the city is the garden itself.”
Having been built on reclaimed land, strictly speaking the striking Marina One development displaced no greenery at all, but architects Ingenhoven, working with Gustafson’s team, chose to introduce 125% of the plant life that could have previously existed on a plot of this size. Instead of wraparound landscaping, the building was constructed around a ‘Green Heart’ that inserts a reimagined tropical jungle within a towering forest of glass and steel. “We’ve tried to emulate the different vegetations in the tropics and in Singapore,” says Gustafson. “We put vegetation in various floors, from the ground floor up, and on the roof too. Our goal was for it to feel different as you moved through the building.”
Landscape architects ICN Design International oversaw the selection of some 60 species of tree and 160 varieties of ground-level plants to create the multi-layered jungle in a podium landscape with 2m of soil depth. The plant budget was S$8m (£4.56m, although this represented less than 0.5% of the total budget), and mature specimens were chosen for immediate impact.
Despite the challenging climate, the 3,700sq m of planting has established well. Gustafson was particularly pleased to find that pitcher plants have started colonising external lift shafts. The heat and humidity in Singapore make outdoor life generally uncomfortable, so the Green Heart was conceived as a modified outdoor zone that would allow visitors to enjoy a sense of interacting with nature, while being shielded from its worst excesses.
Dense vegetation goes some way towards mitigating the ‘heat island’ effect, and shallow pools and a 13m-high vertical water feature, which mimics a waterfall by flowing liquid down translucent fibres, also help moderate the temperature while gently refracting light. “It is still an artificial environment with pathways, guardrails, lighting etc and yet it brings us as much of a natural feel as possible,” says Gustafson. “That is a rich environment to bring to a building. It adds a whole different layer of experience.”
Despite her commitment to Marina One, Gustafson does not believe that adding green to a building is a good thing in every climate or every environment. “It has very much to do with where it’s built, what its use is, what the maintenance regime will be like. In Singapore, things grow very well, so it’s one of the places that is best adapted to have the integration of vegetation within the building structure.”
Even so, the original landscaping concept had to be modified as it became clear that the central planted area would receive little direct sunlight. Predicting precise light levels proved extremely complex due to the use of reflective building materials, dynamic louvres, and the probability that other buildings would soon be constructed on adjacent sites.
Gustafson emphasises the importance of architects planning from the outset for their buildings to provide the light, water, air and soil that any green element will require to thrive.