• Published Date: 18 Jul 2018

    Biophilic Design for Greater Sense of Place, Better Health and Well-being, and Enhanced Quality of Life


    From this month, newly launched housing projects will become even greener and more liveable, with biophilic design[1] progressively incorporated into the neighbourhood landscapes. Under the Biophilic Town Framework, HDB seeks to create a nature-centric neighbourhood in a holistic manner, so that residents can better connect with nature and enjoy its intrinsic benefits.


    2          Over the years, greenery has been an integral part of the HDB living environment, with a myriad of green spaces provided in every housing development so that residents can enjoy greenery at their doorsteps. To further these efforts, HDB developed a Biophilic Town Framework in 2013 to guide the enhancement of existing natural assets and the development of residential landscapes that promote a greater sense of place, better health and well-being, and enhanced the quality of life for residents.


    3          The framework was first applied in the Punggol Northshore District in 2015.  Since then, it has been refined and validated through a three-and-a-half year research collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and National Parks Board (NParks). The Biophilic Town Framework is now ready for implementation in new HDB projects.


    4          HDB’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Cheong Koon Hean said, “The provision of green spaces and urban greenery is essential to create a quality living environment for our residents. In our public housing projects, we have integrated lush landscapes with high-rise buildings, collectively forming a mantle of greenery across each town. We will be expanding our greening efforts by strengthening the connection between our built environment and nature. The Biophilic Town Framework, which we have developed, provides a strong foundation for holistic planning and design of neighbourhood landscapes, so that our residents can enjoy a strong sense of place and well-being. From this month, the framework will be progressively applied to new housing projects. This marks a new milestone in our journey towards well-designed, sustainable and community-centric towns under our Roadmap to Better Living in HDB Towns.”  


    Strategies of Biophilic Town Framework 


    5          The Biophilic Town Framework outlines the strategies needed to plan and design urban landscapes, to achieve the larger urban development goals of sustainability, liveability and resilience. It encapsulates a comprehensive set of considerations in five key elements of the environment landscape -- soil, flora and fauna, outdoor comfort, water, and people, together with their corresponding urban ecosystem services, i.e. benefits to humankind supplied by the natural ecosystems. Guided by the framework, the architects will be able to holistically assess how these elements can be incorporated into the neighbourhood landscape from the outset, and put forth an optimal design that harmonises both the habitat and its inhabitants. The details of the five elements are as follows:


    Key Elements of Environment Landscape 17 Ecosystem Services 
    i.e. benefits to humankind supplied by the natural ecosystems
    Description of Benefits

    1. Nutrient recycling

    Decomposition of organic matter provides nutrients that promotes the growth of greenery/vegetation, which in turn supports other organisms.

    2. Maintenance of soil quality

    Maintenance of soil supports other ecosystem processes such as plant growth and water/nutrient retention.
    3. Erosion Control Retention of soil aids erosion control through vegetation root matrix and soil biota.

    Floral & Fauna

    4. Provision of Wildlife Habitat Provision of habitats support diversity of species by providing food, water and refuge
    5. Mosquito Control Control of mosquito population is achieved through predator-prey relationships
    6. Fresh Produce Provision of space and suitable conditions help to promote urban community farming.

    Outdoor Comfort

    7. Heat Mitigation Provision of greenery/vegetation produce favourable microclimatic conditions through shading and evapotranspiration
    8. Noise abatement Use of urban soil, landform and plants help  to mitigate noise pollution


    9. Water Cycling Interception, evapotranspiration, infiltration, retention of water by the landscape would  regulate surface runoff, river discharge, and groundwater recharge
    10. Flood Hazard Mitigation Mitigation of flood hazards through detention/ retention of stormwater and floodwater.
    11. Stormwater and domestic wastewater treatment Removal of pollutants by soil and vegetation.
    12. Water for irrigation Provision of irrigation water by waterbody or by rainwater harvesting on site.


    13. Sense of place Interaction between people and place creates attachment and familiarity.
    14.Aesthetic values Visual quality of landscape stimulates senses and allows people to derive pleasure.
    15.Social relations Potential for landscape to promote neighbourly relationships with the cultivation of pro-social attitudes and behaviours. 
    16.Education values Potential for landscape to import knowledge and to increase awareness of the environment and its processes.
    17. Recreation Provision of outdoor green open spaces help to support solitary, group, active or passive recreational activities.


    First Biophilic Housing District – Punggol Northshore


    6          The Biophilic Town Framework was first adopted in Punggol Northshore District in 2015, when its first public housing project was launched for sale. To date, HDB has launched eight Build-To-Order (BTO) projects in the District, comprising about 5,700 flats. These flats will be completed progressively from 2020. 



    7          Connecting residents to nature was a key design consideration in Punggol Northshore, which is envisioned to be a smart and sustainable district.  From the outset of the development, architects considered the five key elements of neighbourhood landscape to maintain ecological balance (soil, flora and fauna), enhance outdoor comfort (outdoor comfort and people) and good air and water quality (water).  


    Maintaining Ecological Balance   


    8          Before the commencement of site works at Punggol Northshore District, site analyses and field surveys were first carried out to study the existing natural habitats.  Green corridors were then strategically planned and placed to enhance the ecological connectivity between the existing habitats in the District and beyond – covering the whole Punggol Town, surrounding islands such as Coney Island and Pulau Ubin, and extended to the Straits of Johor. This approach seeks to maintain the ecological balance at Punggol Northshore.


    Green corridors were strategically planned and placed at Punggol Northshore District to maintain the ecological balance and promote biodiversity


    9          A well-preserved ecological balance creates a conducive setting for rich biodiversity to thrive, including both existing and new. Existing biodiversity can continue to flourish in the new District as selected habitat zones are carved out and cultivated with “host plants” of the existing fauna species. For example, trees such as Salix babylonica (Weeping Willow Tree) will be planted to attract the Leopard Butterfly, a species found in the native site through field surveys.  New biodiversity could emerge as new habitats such as dragonfly ponds, bird sanctuaries and butterfly gardens are introduced along the green corridors to attract diverse species. 


    New habitats such as dragonfly ponds are introduced along the green corridors to attract diverse species and boost biodiversity in the area. 


    Enhancing Outdoor Comfort


    10        Outdoor comfort was another key consideration in the planning and design of Punggol Northshore, to encourage residents to immerse in nature and mingle with people living in their neighbourhood. Wind and sunlight simulation studies were conducted to gain an in-depth understanding of the climatic conditions in the District.  Through data gathering and analysis, community facilities and pedestrian networks were designed and sited to offer maximum outdoor comfort.  For instance, footpaths were placed along key wind channels to offer a pleasant walk, while playgrounds and garden trails where residents linger were shielded from direct sunlight and glare.


    A study of the climatic conditions in Punggol Northshore District was carried out to design and locate facilities so that they offer maximum outdoor comfort


    11        To inject more nature into the District, a hierarchy of greenery, comprising precinct gardens, landscaped decks, common greens, and sky gardens, was designed to weave through the residential developments in Punggol Northshore. Capitalising on its waterfront location, a seafront viewing deck was also added to offer scenic views of the waterfront promenade. Information panels and educational boards at selected locations, such as the dragonfly ponds and rain gardens, will help to increase residents’ environmental awareness and appreciation of nature.


    Achieving Good Air & Water Quality


    12        The creation of a quality living environment in Punggol Northshore also involved a careful selection of trees and vegetation, which could support the purification and removal of excess carbon from the air. For example, Mimusops elengi (Tanjong Tree) will be planted at the end of the wind corridors as they are effective in removing air pollutants and enhancing the overall air quality; while Filicium decipiens (Fern Tree) were specially selected for their effectiveness in sequestering excess carbon from the environment.


    13        Guided by the insights drawn from the wind simulation studies, trees will be grown along the main roads that can help to regulate air quality, wind flow and thermal comfort.  The variety of trees and vegetation interwoven in the District will contribute to an interesting streetscape with multiple benefits, from optimising thermal comfort for residents to regulating the atmospheric air that enhances environmental health.  


    14        On top of achieving good air quality, storm water management measures will also be deployed to achieve good water quality.  A district-wide network of vegetated bioswales and rain gardens were incorporated into the designs to filter out sediments and treat the rainwater runoff naturally. To tap on the potential of water to offer a multisensory experience and promote residents’ well-being, ecological ponds such as dragonfly ponds, were also introduced to encourage residents to draw closer to nature.


    Biophilic Town Book – “Nature, Place & People”


    15        The Biophilic Town Framework is documented in the book, titled “Nature, Place & People”, which is the culmination of a three-and-a-half year research project by HDB and NUS, URA and NParks. Launched at the World Cities Summit on 10 July 2018, the 215-page book outlines the principles, framework, targets and strategies for the planning and design of neighbourhood landscapes.


    16        The book crystallises the role of urban landscapes in creating a balanced socio-ecological system in towns, estates and neighbourhoods. It also sheds light on the principles and strategies in landscape planning and design that could be applied in urban environments to achieve this.  The trans-disciplinary concepts offered in the book are relevant to planners and building professionals, both local and international. The book is available online at www.worldscientific.com


    HDB’s Greening Efforts Recognised with International Awards 


    17        In recognition of HDB’s greening efforts, five HDB developments will be conferred a total of six awards by the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Africa, Asia Pacific and Middle East (AAPME). The awards recognise excellent landscape designs and strategies which contributed to building of resilience in our urban and natural systems to achieve various positive outcomes such as promoting social and community health, strengthening existing culture and traditions or good water management.  


    18        The projects that will be receiving the awards are as follows: 


    • Adventure Playground @ Canberra: Singapore’s First Themed Playground Designed and Built by the Community

      • Outstanding Award in Culture & Traditions

      • Excellence Award in Social & Community Health


    • Kampung Admiralty – Outstanding Award in Social & Community Health


    • Waterway Ridges at Punggol – Outstanding Award in Flood & Water Management


    • Yishun Nature Park – Excellence Award in Wildlife, Biodiversity, Habitat Enhancement


    • Senja Parc View – Honourable Mention in Social & Community Health


    19        Among the projects, the Adventure Playground @ Canberra clinched two awards – the Outstanding Award in Culture & Traditions, and the Excellence Award in Social & Community Health.  This was the first playground conceptualised, designed and built in partnership with residents, under HDB’s pilot Build-A-Playground (BAP) initiative. About 1,800 residents came together to transform an open plot of land adjacent to Block 334 Sembawang Close into a unique treehouse-and-kelong inspired playground. The project demonstrated how a community was drawn closer together through HDB’s landscape design efforts.  The awards ceremony will be held on 19 July 2018 at the IFLA World Congress in Singapore.



    [1] Derived from the concept of biophilia, which is defined as the innate desire for human to connect with natural world by biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984, biophilic design recognises that the design of the built environment can affect the physical and mental well-being of humans.  It aims to enhance the connection between humanity and nature, particularly in the urban setting, by infusing nature into the built environment.