Urban cities, in our minds decades ago, look a little like this: Massive skyscrapers, state-of-the-art transportation systems, quality healthcare, and more.
And, with no doubt, such cities do currently exist in some of the world’s leading cities. However, the effects of urbanisation is clear.
For example, the existence of traffic congestion, environmental pollution, poor living conditions, and overpopulation in cities.
Yet, these cities excel in providing their citizens with a good quality of life. Now think about the rest of the world, particularly in Asia where five of the eight billion global population resides.
As with any other country, the population in Asia are drawn to big cities that can provide better opportunities compared to the rural areas — and this promise eventually led to the migration boom.
To cater to their rapidly growing needs, the real estate industry had to develop quickly and build more without thinking about the people that will inhabit or use these spaces, as well as the consequences to the environment.
According to the United Nations, 60% of the global population, or around 4.9 billion people will be residing in cities by 2030.
The worst part about this figure is that 95% of this urban growth will occur in less developed countries.
With these projections, the prominent figures of the real estate industry must do their part to address the challenges of living in an urban setting.
Exploring efficient design
Recognising this, the team at PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards has invited leading architecture and design firms from around the globe at the ‘Exploring Efficient Design’ webinar to discuss how the property industry can help make a change for the better – through the development of efficiently designed buildings and infrastructure.
In this article, the team spoke to Wenhui Lim, partner at SPARK Architects, to get her viewpoint on this issue.
SPARK Architects has been focusing on the use of resources, particularly finite ones, when developing projects.
Wenhui shared that SPARK Architects has been supporting the RetroFirst campaign by Architects Journal, where they aim to prioritise the process of retrofitting instead of demolishing and rebuilding.
“Rebuilding consumes more energy. So renovation, you could argue, is more efficient in terms of the use of resources. We have been working on a number of projects that transform buildings into a viable economic community,” explained Wenhui.
Minimising outdoor energy consumption
For one of their projects in Singapore, she shared that the client originally requested for an enclosed, air-conditioned street.
But since the use of cooling systems can be detrimental to the environment, they came up with a solution that has transformed Clarke Quay into one of the most successful landmark destinations in the world.
Photo Credit: SPARK Architects
“The SPARK solution was to place a big canopy over the streets, adopting ideas like the Venturi effect, solar shading and physiological cooling to promote outdoor comfort. And of course, this reduces outdoor energy consumption.”
Retrofitting rather than demolishing and rebuilding
The architectural firm has also transformed a typical outdated mall in Singapore into a youth-centric, education, sports and retail campus.
Photo Credit: SPARK Architects
As was one of their first RetroFirst projects under construction, they wanted to increase the footfall and value, as well as enhance its appearance to match the new programs and target audience.
“In this case, we moved the leasable area from the back of the building to the front to create a flagship corner. This transforms the building’s image and creates a vibrant and youthful street presence.”
Treating the pandemic of plastic
Sharing a recently published article from The Economist, Wenhui revealed that the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in an increase in plastic waste.
She said that huge quantities of PPE masks, visors, gloves, and takeaway food containers are making their way into the ocean.
A few years back, she shared that her firm published research on how to recycle ocean plastic. “We use the plastic to form cladding shingles for beach huts, with the idea of animating the coast of Singapore and telling a story about upcycling plastic.”
Photo Credit: SPARK Architects
To encourage disruptors and innovative thinkers, SPARK has been funding projects that provide pertinent solutions for social or environmental issues.
“We’re a member of the Architect’s Climate Action Network and we believe in the spirit of the circular economy that is to reuse rather than discard.”
Reusing unused/vacated infrastructure
Another research that they have been focusing on is the reuse of abandoned petrol stations, which has a similar concept to the floating cities.
The growing number of electric car users have put several petrol stations out of work. In fact, they forecasted that unused petrol stations will leave around 240,000 square metres of vacant land by 2030.
“Rather than tearing down the building, we have developed a number of short-term transitional uses that supports the circular economy and the local community,” said Wenhui.
Utilising non-traditional building materials
For a revolutionary project in India that will be used to re-accommodate the massive slum population in a series of hybrid towers, SPARK decided to take advantage of their established network of collection and recycling companies to collect Tetra Pak cartons.
These packet drink containers, which are extremely difficult to recycle, will be fashioned into apartment pods and then hoisted onto the towers’ hybrid skeleton.
“The structure uses less concrete and steel - both unsustainable materials, partially replacing them with engineered timber.”
She also noted that engineered timber is the way of the future, highlighting that France’s President Macron even decreed all state-funded buildings to be made of at least 50% timber.
With so many leaders like Wenhui and team who are passionate about efficient design, we just have to keep on pushing the green agenda further so the industry can work together to build a sustainable urban future.