Architecture in the Ecological Age - a reflection on 1989

          The 1989 essay that follows this reflection predates the Earth Summit (Rio Summit) by 3 years. The sentiment in the essay on ecological breakdown and notes on possible solution was typical of those sensing disaster. The tone mirrors the scolding, pleading, didactic that is of the same vein of ‘Vers une Architecture’. On reflection the essay is, if not anything heraldic.

          Since 1992, with UN sponsored worldwide conferences on the environment (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), global awareness on the critical nature of the situation have arrived. However, when one dwells on the 22 years that had passed with a total of 15 COPs (Conferences of the parties) hope is transformed into deep scepticism. The most recent failure in 2009 of the Copenhagen Conference (COP 15) where the key polluting nations staged a de facto ‘pull out’, any sensible discussion to reach substantive implementation of the terms in the Kyoto Protocol 1997 seems at risk. The USA to date had yet to ratify the protocol after 14 years.

          The emphasis of the conferences on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is also a source of concern. It reflects as lack of appreciation of a greater ecological balance. The concerns of in 1989 with regards to a limited interpretation of the environment seem to persist. Continuing globalisation of the world economy creates a situation where capital and price mechanisms conspire to create patently absurd situations. Chickens bred in Brazil are flown into Singapore at prices that are still ‘affordable’. Can the ecology ‘afford’ this?

          In many ways the COP effort had also created a new kind of ‘green’ business; trading ‘green’ goods. This new business is in fact burgeoning and much money is being made from green certification to green substitution of products. Consumption is not targeted as an ill. In fact it seems ‘green’ consumption becomes an acceptable consumption. This strategy is purely palliative. The very high human population and consumption which is the underlying source of all ecological imbalances is not addressed. The use of price mechanisms like ‘carbon tax’ only propels more money to pay for consumption. It feeds into the necessity of the growth driven world economy.

          In architecture and planning, green and sustainability become a rising mantra and had driven the agenda to an unexpected direction. Instead of a planned decentralisation and de-intensification of human activity or the search for a truly Architecture of the Ecological age, the last 2 decades sees the arrival of the Mega Global City. Capital rich cities of 10 million and beyond in population vie with one another for position. There is even an acceptance that this form of human settlement as inevitably and dominant. In a twisted way it is argued that it is ecological as it avoids the settlement of rural space. What is forgotten is that it is precisely the disengagement of human populations from nature into cities that causes us to have a truncated sense of the ecology. The ecology does not stop at the city borders but extend to the next megalopolis and so one until it girdles the globe. That the politics of the Global Mega Cities promotes global growth based on consumption and the large scale transport of goods, humans and services worldwide seem to be conveniently overlooked. No city will consider it a triumph when they actually grow negatively. Extensive effort in sustainable research today is centred on shoring up the arguments for the Global Mega City. The ingenuity of design and research is now slaved to the promotion of the Sustainable Global Mega City.

The issues of 1989 seem mild on reflection.




"Earth's wrath at our assaults is slow to come"
Howard Nemerov (1)

          We live in comfort and security. The day paces in and out with food, tea and cakes. The sun rises and sets regularly. But, have you really looked at the sun rise lately? Do you see a certain reddening of hue or splashes of colour that is seldom seen? Perhaps on some mornings a blue haze hangs in the air, dispersing latter than normal. Some days the noon day sun feels more searing then you could remember.

          For more than a hundred years of industrialisation and exponential technological expansion, the idea that our actions can actually wreck the very fibre and face of the Earth had been contemplated only in jest. However, as we almost instinctively sense change and disruption, "we perceive a chain of events… which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage" (2) the first signs of nature's breakdown becomes clear.

          Monthly we note that the world climate is deviating, "We are talking about rates of climatic change perhaps one hundred times faster than at any time in human history" (3). This destabilisation is causing, a shift in rainfall patterns that results in established food producing areas receiving lower and lower rainfall. Famine in many areas of the African continent, crop failure due to drought in the American prairie bears testament to the fact. The exact cause of these climatic changes may be disputed, but the clear and irrefutable denigration of Nature due to pollution is not a point of argument.

          The agreed fact is that man is now burdening the earth with his emissions and pollution on a globally significant scale. Prior to the rise of man, Nature had been able to rely on herself regulating mechanisms to reinstate equilibrium and balance. If any species over produce disease kills it off, or it is made extinct by changing geological forces. No single living species could hold the biosphere to ransom. Mankind has now achieved this dubious honour. Durant said that "civilisation exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice" The irony is that civilisation can now create global changes that it cannot survive. We have thus inevitably and finally entered the ecological epoch.

"Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style
"Our eyes, unhappily, are unable yet to discern it.
Le Corbusier (4)

          In the early decades of this century, Le Corbusier complained that architecture was "in an unhappy state of retrogression" (5) He was referring to the inability of the architects to see the technological advances of mankind and their failure to bring architecture in line with the then developing technological epoch. In a similar vein we find that architecture remains almost silent today on the ecological revolution amidst us.

          The words of Corbusier, is true today if we look at the lack of architectural thought or initiative towards a new architecture for the ecological age. Today, Architecture searches for an essentially environmental problem without the necessary tools. We communicate and learn in a symbolic language. Buildings are seen as cultural expressions. It is rare to find architects discussing environmental concerns, much less the ecology, with more than a cavalier attitude. Volumes however, are written on the tussle of 'isms' and practitioners and academics alike pore over the appropriate expression. We are in desperate need of a new vision.


          In our attempts at searching for a new perspective, we must be careful of the wily persuasions of the traditionalists. There will be claims that the ecology can be absorbed into the existing planning philosophies. To them there is need for only minor adjustments. For those who hold dear their planning ideologies, they remind me of the Chinese adage of 'Frogs in Wells'.

          The adage speaks of how frogs trapped in wells would describe the notion of "sky". It says that to these frogs, the sky is a blue disk with white patches appearing suddenly and also disappearing suddenly.

          It is an apt perspective when applied to those with outlooks narrowed by conventional practices. Hanging prominently on the walls of the Housing and Development Board building is a diagram that depicts in Mondrian fashion a supposedly ideal disposition between greens (gardens) and other hues (buildings and roads)(6). It is another expression of a planning philosophy stretching back to Ebenezer Howard and the "Garden City" movements (8). To these planners, creating a harmonious and balanced environment implies land use zoning. Bits of land are designated as "green lungs" and others as city centres and residential zones . The criteria for these zones are largely economic or political. There is little consideration for the potential destruction of indigenous environments. In fact, misplaced desire to build on the most beautiful sites invariably means the destruction of the very qualities that make those sites beautiful. The zones are also invariably single use in nature, creating urban but monotonous town centres that are most hostile to Nature from the point of view of pollution as well as from the view point of providing for natural fauna and flora. Transportation in and around these urban areas are usually facilitated by vast six to eight lane highways that stamps out considerable percentages of area of the earth with black asphalt.

          Planners must climb out of the well to see the whole picture. Planning would only be effective when it can encompass other aspects of habitat, fauna, flora and the biosphere in general.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; 
every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main." 
John Doone(7)

          The food we eat, the air we breathe, the medicines that cures us, our well being is inevitably weaved into Nature. When we leave out the ecological balance from our planning, we are actually leaving out all these factors.

          As early as 1969, proposals of a new way of planning the use of the land and selecting sites for development was made by Ian McHarg in "Designing with Nature"(9). He showed how social, economic and ecological costs can be placed into a matrix to identify naturally occurring areas that would allow for fairly intensive, development without disrupting vast areas of the valuable natural heritage.

          McHarg had seen the problem from a macro perspective. It is an apt direction to begin a discussion on ecological design. Having an ecological perspective is to have a wide and panoramic one. However, it seem that for now even if we become sensitive of the ecological balance on a regional scale and manage to reduce or minimise damage in terms of land area, we stop at the point where town planning ends and the urban and architectural fabric begins. This shuts away our urban and architectural culture from influence by natural or ecological forces.

          Thus, to translate the ecological perspective into use, the architectural vocabulary of site, structures, building construction and services that we handle today should be charged with new definitions and meanings.


          Architectural vocabulary need not be only a lifeless physical gathering of materials or a symbolic expression of cultural trends. It can be alive in the true meaning of the word if only we can see it and design it as a living system.


          When we look at a piece of land, no longer should we be content with just the physical and psychological tools of viewing it as presented variously by many able writers like Kevin Lynch, Gorden Cullen, Christopher Alexander and others.

          In order to see the landscape, the site and the context afresh, we must focus our attention on living things. In site and contextual studies we must extend data gathering to include aspects like, the type of species in the area studied, the species number and the habitat variety etc. The interacting links between the various living and non-living groups should be carefully mapped. Energy cycles between the living and non-living should also be studied. The subtle connections between plants, animals, the built environment and the unbuilt environment cannot be overlooked.

          This means that as part and parcel of the physical survey, an ecological survey would be necessary. In doing so the breadth of our perception as to the range of forces our design need to react to would widen considerably.

          An analogy would be as though architects can now see in the ultra-violet and infra-red zones. His vision would not be restricted to that shown by the usual senses. Imagine the materials, the forms, the lighting and surfaces that would be used to bring about harmony with this wider spectrum. To see ecological forces would be to perceive new and fascinating relationships that design can draw upon as sources of inspiration.

          An ecological survey of this kind would allow the fundamental facts about the nature of the site to be revealed. Questions like; how many species was there historically? How is the equilibrium structured? What quantities of water and energy can the land generate? These questions must be asked to know the level of flora and fauna that the site can support.

          Only with the answers would we know the limits and parameters of the designs of the other architectural components like structure, material used, building mass and the energy consumption of the building etc.


          A major component of architecture is structure. The traditional ways of looking at structure as physical props or tectonic elements should have a geological dimension as well.

          For instance, the inorganic materials that form the building structure, the building form, the materials used on the fabric and the external detailing, can all have an equivalent to geology in Nature. Large masses of concrete are for all intents and purposes akin to mountains, streets are like ravines and valleys and smaller buildings and houses like stones or rocks.

          At the moment, we structure our cities, roads and buildings to be hard, dry and windblown. Our 'urban geology' compares favourably with lava formations on volcanoes. It is not surprising that the only life possible in cities now are akin to species on lava slopes; hardy tough grasses like lalang, small hardy herbs like the white daisies.

          An excellent example is the Willis Dumas, and Faber office block in Ipswich by Norman Forster. The skin is totally glass and thus totally dry and totally incapable of supporting any life. Although there is vegetation on the roof, it is the purist's favourite, lawn. It is kept neat, clean and sanitised. Few designs can be less ecologically sensitive.

          A walk on any street, shaded or not in the day testifies to this harshness. Temperatures on sides of buildings soar to over fifty degrees centigrade. Where there is exposed glass walls, temperatures can even reach the high seventies. This is the 'urban geology' we design. We can change this by simply considering the amount of shading and planting on every side of our building. The potential then of creating habitats for plants and small animals would be endless. Sunny sides would have a micro climate of the top layers of the forest and sheltered zones become ideal places for ferns and other indigenous shade plants.

          In old dilapidated buildings, we see that parasitic plant growths like ficus roots and rakis ferns have on their own accord found niches in plaster cracks and undersides of gutter pipes. At the moment, they are structurally dangerous additions to a building. But if we can study their characteristics as Louis I Kahn had studied building services and structure, we can create a new structural strategy that can coexist as well as support the growth of fauna in buildings. Kahn speaks of placing structure and services in the right places to prevent conflict(10), the challenge now is can we do the same for organic material.

          This new way of weaving plant growth with buildings would be possible if we preserve that valuable layer of topsoil (the biologically active layer of the soil) which we strip away during ground works and transpose it onto the building fabric. It would be the perfect roothold from which a larger variety of plants can grow. Variety in this case is not the limited horticultural range that traditional landscapist use. In an ecological sense, variety involves plants that maybe dull, but fruit bearing and shade giving.

          They would form the food source and shaded habitats for more insects and thus more animals. Seed producing grasses like "buffalo grass" and others of the genus paspalum and genus pinicum would form direct food sources for seed eating birds like sparrows. Grasshoppers, scale insects, ants and burrowing beetles can also be supported by the shaded and fallen plant matter from larger shrubs and berry producing creepers. The larger insect population may also allow small insectivorous reptiles like the wild gecko and draco lizards to survive. Imagine special structural outcrops on sides of buildings that become the favourite sun warming spot for the draco lizard every morning. Nature's drama of a lizard picking off grasshoppers from twigs may even be common window sill sights. structural studies then would be weaved with habitat and food web studies.

          In today's design environment the ideas of the preceding paragraphs would feel repugnant. Our master craftsmen do not dabble in planting. Leading architects like Norman Foster and Nicholas Grimshaw adopts the 'Machine Aesthetic' from the external fabric to the structural core. Human activities in their buildings are performed in a clinical and mechanistic backdrop. There is no room for Nature.

          In a more ecological light, every building can even be designed to have wild garden levels. Some of which may even be used to grow edible plants and herbs for human consumption. ‘A fantasy’, some may scoff, but the sceptics of hydroponics and urban food factories have already been silenced. If we are brave enough, to borrow from engineering and technology in our designs, surely we cannot shy away from biology.


          In the same way, we can treat the mechanical and electrical components of architecture as part of the natural energy cycle. Architecture today is consuming via its mechanical and electrical components a staggering percentage of energy used. Some fifty four percent of an office building's electrical bill is consumed by air-conditioning alone (11). This situation is not only expensive; it puts a great burden on every country to produce more electrical power. This in turn, invariably means the burning of fuel that pollutes the environment with heat and gases. We must lighten the energy burden with far more energy efficient appliances and designs. Passive cooling for low and medium rise buildings, localised as opposed to general air-conditioning systems are just some of the strategies that can be used.

          The idea of passive cooling is not new. In Nature, trees manufacture food from sunlight without waste while simultaneously keeping cool in the hottest of days. As early as 1959, the work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in the hot dry and hot humid tropics proved exceedingly instructive as to how to design cool spaces. Devices like ventilating walls, ventilating windows and deep verandahs were used very effectively (12). These passive methods can be coupled with the latest solar electricity generating methods (13) to power fans and evaporators to keep spaces even cooler. This is particularly easy in buildings up to four storeys in height.

          The 1973 oil-crisis helped us in bringing about a higher awareness in energy conservation and clean energy. For a brief while there was intense interest in new designs of fenestrations, atria, etc for the new epoch. However, selective amnesia and a lack of strict institutionalisation of the problem allowed short term interest and cultural trends to lull us back into a stupor of poor energy sense.

          The lighting load which constitute some thirty percent of a buildings energy consumption can be reduce if only we introduce a higher degree of natural lighting. All the strategies of a sensible climatic response should be treated as importantly as the building structure. A design failure in terms of energy would represent an ecological structure collapse. If we cannot afford a building structure collapse, why do we wantonly think we can afford the other?


          Similarly, the hydraulic system in architecture had been vastly under-rated. From an ecological viewpoint plays a key role. It moves water, the universal liquid as well as soil and waste, the source of organic nutrients.

          Almost pure water falls from the sky free of charge and yet we do not channel it for our use. Far too much is allowed to run off, to drain into the sea. Our consumption of water is high. We still need to import millions of gallons weekly. In this instance, it is not just the potable water that we need (that is a comparatively small fraction of our consumption; about two litre a day per person) there are also the tens of litres per person used in flushing waste, washing cleaning, bathing etc.

          When rain water is allowed to drain away, we are indirectly lowering the water table under covered areas like roads and buildings. Plant growth around roads in particular tends to be retarded or lob-sided due to this reason. (the need for watering by Parks and Recreation department in some areas even on normal days is due to this reason). If we are to implement an ecological design that supports plant growth, we would also need to reverse our treatment of building drainage and water handling. Rain water collection stores in each building would be needed to help to reduce the general water consumption. Special channels can bring rain water to our plantings and into the soil negating the lowering of the water table and the use portable water for watering plants. By increasing the available water, we can increase the plant and animal life in the area.

          The impact of an ecological cycling of water in this way on design would be great. Water collectors, water channels and stores, would be whole new elements to be accommodated. The building apron and service roads must also be as permeable as possible (for speedy ground absorption) unlike the existing hard and dry concrete or asphalt (14). Practical ideas have been tried out in Bedok new town but due to cost reasons, they have been shelved (15).

          In an unpublished thesis by Mr Kevin Lim of the School of Architecture he proposed a 'rain city' with funnels and tanks that would collect and cool the buildings (16). The building fabric can be a sponge, which slowly releases moisture to allow for general evaporative cooling. The potentials in this line of research are only just being realised.


          Architecture, urban and landscape design can be ecological if we can only see its potential. But does it mean that we would be seeing a gardener gone wild? With vines and trees growing and creeping all over our buildings. Are we going to see hordes and swarms of insects? This would be the sceptics picture of despair to put us off from changing the status quo.

          Their utopia is one where architecture is an inorganic sculpture sitting in a horticulturally and aesthetically pleasing park. The image is alluring because we are brought up to believe that Eden is also a garden with manicured landscape.

          Landscaping as commonly known today is infact not natural. Nature does not create vast lawns, single or even dual species of trees planted three to four metres apart. Neither does Nature import ten to fifteen varieties of multicoloured flowering plants to be planted in homogeneous beds. The species variety in horticultural landscaping is very limited and the idea of designing with a self balancing ecology is not even considered.

          A natural landscape can have upwards of some sixty species occupying three dimensional spaces (17). Trees become habitats themselves, which vines, ferns, epiphytes cling to. The ground is covered with dark leafed creepers like morning glory and short green herbs like wild ginger. One plant supports another, one plant releases compounds that another uses as nutrients. The whole ecosystem is finely balanced. Just stepping outside to the nearest rain-tree in the School of Architecture, we can see a multi layered "hanging garden" that is there naturally and in spite of overzealous pruning by the Estates department for the sake of tidiness. Modest local examples of natural landscaping are the long grass areas in the East Coast and the patch of virgin forest left undisturbed in the heart of the Botanic gardens. Overseas attempts at an ecological landscape are typified by work done by Chris Baines of The Urban Wildlife Group (18) and David Goode in the United Kingdom (19). What they proposed is a careful and balanced selection of indigenous plant types that are ecologically crucial (i.e. they produce pollen and fruits that support other wildlife) but done in a way that is also not inconvenient to pedestrian traffic and safety.


          As we examine these selected components of architecture in the light of an ecological perspective, we find two consistently prominent operating rules, that is Equilibrium and Variety. These two rules are the operating premise of natural ecology. In an architecture of the ecological age, they would be the most important principles of architectural design.

          Equilibrium, in Nature covers all aspects; organic, in-organic, living, non-living and even energy. Variety relates to genetic and geological variety. Nature in short go by the principle of finding the finest balance for the maximum numbers and types of living things in all possible geological environments.

          We would do well if we can translate these two ecological principles into principles of architectural design and critique.


          If we were to venture into creating a summary checklist of aspects central to the idea of an ecological architecture, it may be as follows:
1)   The abandonment of old planning ideas for a more comprehensive planning strategy that encompasses the entire ecosystem.
2)   The conceptualisation of site selection and site planning as an extension of the natural ecology.
3)   The conceptualisation of the entire building fabric as a living ecosystem.
a.   The building structure is to be used as a substrate for supporting plant and animal life.
b.   Energy conscious design.
c.   Ecological recycling of water and waste related services.
d.   Landscape design to move away from horticulture to one that aims to extend ecologically from the natural habitat.
4)   The use of Equilibrium and Variety (ecological principles) as the central design principles.
           This list is surely not exhaustive but with it we can reappraise the environment around us. Are there designs to date that can stand up squarely to these design criteria? I feel that there are none that can claim to have considered all aspects on the list. In fact, with the exception of Energy efficiency or low energy buildings, there is no large scaled attempt that shows sensitivity to the issues stated.

          However, there are partial or experimental attempts that are instructive in the sense that they give tangible illustrations that can serve as a base to project our ideas.


          Herman Barges in Berlin had taken the starting point of a building structure that supports life (20). He re-uses old structures to reduce waste. He erect structures to allow plants to grow on his buildings not for aesthetic reasons, but to use planting as a form of insulation. Simultaneously, his planting provides the cool shade which birds and all sorts of small animals welcome. All he needs (all that he has to experiment with at the moment) is a wall. An example is in Wassertorplaz in Berlin. Prestressed, ultra-violet resistant nylon ropes are weaved onto the wall for bits of dust to be trapped and eventually allowing plants to hold on and cover the wall.

          The difficulty in the design of such systems in the temperate countries, are the rather limited growth periods that is available. Also, these structures must be in the correct orientation to intercept sunlight at its strongest. Planting is thus limited to the southerly or northerly directions depending which hemisphere it is located.

          In Singapore, creepers are trained onto mental armatures or simply bare concrete as a form of street decoration. The difficulty in the tropics is not so much plant growth, which is easy, but variety and control. At the moment, the number of species actively encouraged to grow as creepers, can be safely said to be less than ten. The type of structures and plants used is also not very supportive of a range of plants and organisms. One metal armature is invariably good for only one type of plant. Bougainvillea which is so commonly planted do not make for good substrate for other plants. Better choices, would be naturally occurring equatorial epiphytes like the orchid, ferns and non-destructive Ficus roots. Special brackets along walkways shaded from the most intense sunlight can be made to encourage their growth.

          This geological view of structure should not be confused with the more symbolic "strata" concept as expressed by Denys Lasdun with regards to the National Theatre in London (21) . Lasdun's strata acts to "express the visual organisation of social spaces in geometrical terms" (22). He seems to stop at the border of the purely human.

          Between the works of these two designers, it may be interesting to think of a joint effort of a theatre by Lasdun and Barges. The result may be a theatre that not only depicts, brilliantly, human drama, but the drama of nature as well.

          In a way, Kevin Roche and John Dinkerloo Associates had managed to capture the inception of this direction in the Oakland Museum.

          In the Oak land Museum terraces of planting upon terraces were used to generate the entire form of the building. The planting effectively soften the harshness of the building. Although the intent was not consciously ecological, there is little doubt as to some of the climatic and psychological benefits due to this exercise in weaving in planting with the building. The major defect in the scheme is the strait-jacketed and totally decorative role that the plants are given. A rather apt observation by Hiroshi Hara (23) is that the architecture and plants do not "stand on par with each other… the mechanism of planning behind them (the plants) is purely architectural. Yet we can only hope to see that from this point more emphasis would be placed in Nature to balance up the equation.

          Another aspect of design that had developed some ecological consciousness is that of Energy Efficient Designs. Clear regional examples come in the works of Ken Yeang. Of note is his own house, the "Roof-roof" house in Kuala Lumpur. We see here a development on the ideas expounded by Fry and Drew on designing in the humid zones.

          The roof is an entire sun shade that spans the entire house. It performs the role of sunshade and pergola. As an integral part of the passive cooling feature there is a pool on the western side that acts as a "cool-air" well. These features ties in with his other components developed for passive cooling as well as tropical sky lighting. A particular feature that appears in various schemes are Z-shaped concrete louvers that Yeang describes as a form of "environmental filter". (24) Yeang's technique at increasing air-flow, sun-shading and orientating the building away from intense glare and radiation shows a richness that can be exploited when we allow a genuine concern for the environment to guide our designing mind.

          Using a similar guide but resulting in almost diametrically opposed strategies is the work done by Ralph Erskine in the Arctic. In the Resolute Bay project, Canada, 1973, subtle round corners in apartment blocks were used to reduce corner radiation. Detached balconies made of low heat capacity material to help reduce the surface area exposed to cooling. Buildings were used as windbreaks to create a milder inner court and mirrors on roof tops can direct the weak light of winter into the building to warm it. (25) Amongst this cornucopia of devices and strategies is wound an authentic architecture that fits marvellously into the environment.

          Just by glancing through these few directions taken by these designers, we can see the "powder-keg" like power that the application of a truly and fully ecological design can become.

          When we finally come to address this vast possibility for richness in our designs, we would truly require a deeper understanding for the ecological principles then we have ever had before. In the words of Bruce Allsopp we need an "Ecological Morality" (26).

          Our new vocabulary of a geological view of structures, energy efficient services and prudent cycling of water would do best to abide by ecological principles or a ecologically "moral" conduct. The principles are not arbitrarily determined by shifting human culture, but of a natural objectivity that we cannot deny. We must not forget that after all, Nature herself is still the ultimate design.


          As we race toward the close of the millennium there is great urgency to resolve this problem. I feel that we cannot do this without a change in the very way in which we are educated. A "morality" is not a matter of a few enlightened individuals to hold on behalf of the many. It must permeate into the core of our education. There would be a need for broad based community empathy as well as serious inculcation into the formal curriculum of the professions.

          For architectural education, I see this field as of great relevance. It can be the leading and harmonizing force that ties the many different disciplines that we need to understand. We have always developed the tendency towards plurality, where anything goes or mono-mania, where there seems only one track of thought. But if we use ecology as our backbone, then the reason and rationale of design would achieve a natural force of conviction that need not be contrived or forced. Architecture would then have found for itself more meaning beyond that of symbolic forms.

          Man is the only creature on earth with a will. We are not shackled by instinct. But are we, by our arrogance and ignorance to deny bird-song and wild flowers as a morning, greeting of the future? A window would be much less a window if little clean air flows through or be there to offer a view of vibrant Nature.


     (1)   Nemerov, Howard, Magnitudes, 1988

     (2)   Benjamin, WaIter, Theses on the Philosophy of History. 1940. A comment on the painting by K1ee, 'Angelus Novus'. Benjamin feels that progress is a devastating storm by which we are propelled.

     (3)   Planet of the year, Time magazine, Jan 2, 1989. The Earth was nominated the Planet of the Year 1988 in Time magazine's annual exercise to nominate the topic or individual that dominates that year.

     (4)   Le Corbusier, (Jeanneret, Charles Edouard) Vers une architecture. Paris 1923. Translated by Frederich Etchells as Towards a New architecture. London 1927, and frequently republished thereafter.

     (5)   Le Corbusier, op cit, ibid.

     (6)   Housing a Nation, Edited by Aline K Wong and Stephen H K Yeh. Maruzen Asia, Singaapore. 1985

     (7)   Doone John: Devotions, 1624.

     (8)   Howard, (Sir) Ebenezeer. Garden Cities of Tomorrow FS Osborne, ed. London: Faber & Faber. 1962. The garden city idea was formulated by a law clerk named Ebenezeer Howard in 1989. He conceived the city as a series of concentric circles, the inner circle would be a civic centre in a park. The outermost ring would be set aside as a green belt for agriculture and institutional use. Between these would be housing and a section for industry.

     (9)   McHarg, lan 1. Designing with nature. The American Museum of Natural History, Garden City, New York. 1969. A seminal work on landscape planning techniques applied to several areas in Baltimore, Washington D.C. with sensitivity for the ecology. Particularly interesting chapters on nature in general are: The Cast and the Capsule and The world is a Capsule.

    (10)  Tyng, Alexandra. Beginnings: Louis I Kahn's Philosophy of Architecture. John Wiley and Sons. 1984.

    (11)  Proceedings of the Conference on Energy Conservation and management in Buildings 6-8 December 1979. PUB and SIA. 1980.

    (12)  Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, Tropical Architecture in the dry and Humid Zones. Robert E Kriger Company London. 1956. Arguably the first comprehensive reference to the design of passive, naturally ventilated modern buildings in the tropics. The techniques proposed has great practical value as well as showing how modern architecture can response cleverly with the climate. Of particular interest are the Plates on ventilating walls and various window types and forms. The influence of these ideas was powerful in local design circles in the 1960's. Many Singapore Improvement Trust flats and Ministry of Education(MOE) schools adopted this approach. Sadly, the pleasant, non air-conditioned, shaded, naturally lit, classrooms enjoyed so much by this author in his childhood, was not developed further or applied to latter MOE designs or used by the various tertiary institutions.

    (13)  Special issue on energy, National Geographic Journal Feb 1981. Good coverage on various photo-voltaic principles and future developments of possible cheaper amorphous silicon photo-cells.

    (14)  There are no existing research done in this area although fully permeable egg-crate paving had been used in car parks for years all over the island. The idea of the extension of such efforts to roads in Singapore is because road area constitute some 10% of the developed area of Singapore in contrast to the 12.6% covered by public housing.

    (15)  HDB, Housing a Nation, op cit.

    (16)  Lim, Chiow Teck, Kevin. Rainwater and Architecture in Singapore. Unpublished graduate thesis National University of Singapore. 1972.

    (17)  Longman, K A. Tropical forest and its environments. 2nd ed. 1987. A concise book on the dynamics and qualities of the tropical rain forest in various regions of South America, Africa and South East Asia. Of particular importance is the chapter on The forest Community, explaining the reasons for diversity and equilibrium in the rainforest.

    (18)  Baines, Chris. Landsgape in practice, UWG, Landscape Design Feb 1984.

    (19)  The City Green, Sandra Higgins ed. AJ 5 Feb 1986

    (20)  AJ 5 Feb 1986, op. cit., ibid.

    (21)  Lasdun, Denys. Architecture in an age of scepticism. Heinmann ,London. 1984.

    (22)  Lasdun, Denys. op cit, ibid.

    (23)  GA 4. Restoration of Rights by Architecture. Hiroshi Hara. A.D.A. EDITA Tokyo Co. Ltd. Japan. 1971.

    (24)  Powell, Robert. Rethinking the environmental filter. Landmark Books, Singapore. 1989.

    (25)  Ralph Erskine, AD vol 47, No 11-12, 1977. Monograph of Ralph Erskine and his works edited by Max Eberius.

    (26)  Allsopp, Bruce. Ecoloqical Morality. Frederick Muller ltd. 1972. An engaging idea of how ecological consciousness can be woven into traditional ideas of morality and religion. This allows for an expression of this ecological sensitivity almost sub-consciously. The analogy is architectural culture's idea of "honesty of structure" (Voillet le Duc). Allsopp feels that an equivalent moral conscience is necessary for ecology.



1.    Planet of the year, Time magazine, Jan 2, 1989.

2.    Longman, K A. Tropical forest and its environments. 2nd ed. 1987.

3.    Odum, Eugene P. Fundamentals of Ecology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1959.

4.    Allsopp, Bruce. Ecological Hor.lity. Frederick Muller ltd. 1972.

5.    Berry, Thomas. The dream of the Earth. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1988.

6.    Forman, Richard T.T. and Godron, Michel. Landscape Ecology. John Wiley and Sons,New York. 1986.

7.    Kwok, Kah Pao Patricia. A guide to the Singapore Science Centre Ecogarden. Singapore Science Centre, 1986.

8.    Tinsley, Bonnie. Singapore Green: A History and Guide to the Botanic gardens. Times Books International, 1983.

9.    Chuang, S H. Animal Life and nature in Singapre. 1973.

10.  Architectural Design. July 1972, Designing for Survival. ed by Moorcroft, Colin.


11.  Le Corbusier, (Jeanneret, Charles Edouard) Vers une architecture, Paris 1923. Translated by Frederich Etchells as Towards a New architecture, London 1927

12.  Curtis, William J R. Modern Architecture since 1900. Phaidon, 1982.

13.  Howard, (Sir) Ebenezeer. Garden Cities of Tomorrow FS Osborne, ed. London: Faber & Faber 1962.

14.  Tyng, Alexandra. Beginnings: Louis I Kahn's Philosophy of Architecture. John Wiley and Sons. 1984.

15.  McHarg, Ian 1. Designing with nature, 1969.

16.  The City Green, Sandra Higgins ed. AJ 5 Feb 1986

17.  Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, Tropical Architecture in the dry and Humid Zones. Robert E Kriger Company, London 1956.

18.  Ralph Erskine. AD vol 47, No 11-12, 1977.

19.  Housing a Nation, Edited by Aline K Wong and Stephen H K Yeh. Maruzen Asia, Singapore. 1985

20.  Lim, Chiow Teck, Kevin. Rainwater and Architecture in Singapore. Unpublished graduate thesis National University of Singapore. 1987.

21.  Baines, Chris. Landscape in practice, UWG, Landscape Design Feb 1984.

22.  Olgay, Victor. Design with Climate. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.

23.  Gill, Don and Bonnett, Penelope. Nature in the Urban Landscape: A Study of City Ecosystems. York Press Inc, 1973.

24.  Raikes, Robert. Water, Weather and Prehistory. John Baker Ltd, London, 1967.

25.  Lasdun, Denys. Architecture in an age of scepticism. Heinmann ,London. 1984.

26.  Powell, Robert. Ken Yeang Rethinking the environmental filter. Landmark Books, Singapore. 1989.

27.  GA 4. Kevin Roche and John Dinkerloo Associates. Hiroshi Hara. A.D.A. EDITA Tokyo Co. Ltd. Japan. 1971.


28.  Special issue on energy, National Geographic Journal Feb 1981.