Photo by Lee Aik Soon on Unsplash

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore — exemplar environmental engineering

Earlier this year I had the great privilege of visiting Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. Home to over 1 million plants and having reached over 30 million visitors since opening 5 years ago, it is, not surprisingly, Singapore’s top tourist attraction. The two great biomes are certainly awe-inspiring, overshadowed only by the impressive light show which captivates audiences on a daily basis. But what really blew me away was the true sustainability of the venture — not some token eco-bling or posters making semi-pathetic claims regarding the small % recycled plastic from which the toilet seats are made. No, this is ‘fully integrated, end-to-end, touches, impacts and reaches everything’ sustainability.

One of the 4 mission of the Gardens, according to their website is ‘to be a model for sustainable development and conservation’. And how this is played out is extraordinary. Here is a helpful graphic, taken from the Gardens website. And I want to use this to focus on three concepts that highlight the genius of this engineering masterpiece.

Image credit: Accessed: 05.06.2017

Integrated Sustainability

Take the green waste, for example, of which there is plenty I imagine. When the waste is burned, there are 4 by-products from the process:

  1. The ash is used for fertilizer to help cultivate seedlings, which are watered by rainfall harvesting.
  2. The flue gasses are used to drive the expulsion of heat from the biomes, via the ‘supertrees’
  3. Electricity generated by the CHP is used directly on site
  4. Heat is used in the dehumidifiers to ensure the senstive biome enviornments can be maintained.

Nothing goes to waste.

Beautiful design

So often, wholly integrated sustainability comes at the expense of beautiful design. The Gardens have won numerous design awards, including RIBA and CIBSE International Awards. Whilst beauty is, of course, subjective and the awards take into account much more than simply the aesthetic appeal of the physical structure, I challenge anyone not to be at least a little impressed by the shear scale of immagination and creative ingenuity of the designers.

Caring about the longevity of the things we create should not always be at the expense of enjoyment, today; lest we conclude that beauty is fleeting and for a moment. I hope that the Gardens suggest that beauty in design can, and perhaps should, be inherited as much as function.


Collective ownership

One of the straplines for the Gardens is — “For everyone to own, enjoy and cherish”. The idea of ownership is a common theme in the world of sustainability. What I like about the philosophy of the Gardens is that they put it right alongside enjoyment and cherishing, the latter taking ownership a step further. Our culture of disposable consumerism in the UK is not conducive to environmental sustainability; that is well established and generally well understood, but less keenly adopted than might be necessary to really begin to rehab from our addiction to stuff. And overcoming this addiction is important for a transition to ownership because ownership comes with a desire to care for, to maintain and to maximise value retention for the next user- or in this case, the next generation.

Singapore is leading the charge in terms of environmental responsibility. It is exemplar projects, such as the Gardens by the Bay which demonstrate to the rest of the world that environmental sustainability can be beautifully integrated and something we all lay claim to the benefits of.