Away with the Grey:  Bringing Green Spaces Back to the City

Away with the Grey: Bringing Green Spaces Back to the City

From New York City’s Central Park to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens, urban green spaces are an iconic element of many of the world’s greatest cities. Below, CADdetails highlights 5 unique urban green spaces destined to become not only lush landmarks, but shining examples of sustainable design, bringing innovative green spaces back to the urban jungle.

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Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay

British architects Wilkinson Eyre and landscape architects Grant Associates are the creative team behind Singapore’s enormous tropical Gardens by the Bay, above. Dotted with tree-like towers, shell-shaped greenhouses and a 98 foot-high man-made indoor waterfall, the spectacular Gardens is located on reclaimed land beside the city’s downtown marina. The unique horticultural destination is the recipient of 16 international awards, including the Landscape Institute Awards 2013 for Climate Change Adaptation and World Building of the Year 2012.

The futuristic site is dominated by a grove of eighteen larger-than-life 'Supertree' structures measuring between 80 and 160 feet tall, with thousands of orchids, ferns and tropical flowering climbers growing up their vein-like cladding. According to the design team, “they are at one level spectacular vertical gardens and landmark features, at another they are the environmental engines for the cooled conservatories, incorporating devices for water harvesting and storage, air intake, cooling and exhaust, photovoltaic arrays, and solar collectors.”

The spectacular vertical gardens are connected by an aerial walkway, leading to a treetop bar. There are also themed gardens, a lake, tree-lined walkways, a playground and an events space. Promoted as a tourist attraction, the Gardens are meant to restore public parkland to this fast-moving city and, in the 2 giant climate-controlled biomes, provide a cool respite from the intense equatorial heat. The horticultural oasis is in stark contrast to the country's extremely dense urban environment, forming an important part of the government's overall strategy to transform Singapore into a "city in a garden."

Just as important is the message Singapore is trying to send about itself as an up-and-coming center of green technology. Both the Supertrees and the biomes use cutting-edge window glazing, cooling and water capture and recycling technologies to maintain the indoor temperatures. A biomass furnace deep underground is entirely fuelled by wood waste collected from Singapore’s parks, leaving the entire Gardens power-neutral, and independent of the local grid.

© Diego Delso

© Diego Delso

The Rubens at the Palace Hotel
Victoria, United Kingdom

The Rubens at the Palace Hotel near Victoria Station, in London, England, is now home to the British capital’s largest living wall, pictured at right. Soaring 68 feet up the side of the luxury hotel, the lush living wall designed by Gary Grant of the Green Roof Consultancy Ltd. contains over 10,000 plants including buttercups, crocuses, strawberries, spring bulbs and winter geraniums, irrigated by harvested rainwater that is caught in dedicated storage tanks on the roof. The permanent living wall will not only provide a vertical garden for visitors to enjoy, but it will also help combat surface flooding and air pollution naturally, while attracting hungry pollinators like bees and butterflies to the urban environment. 

Unveiled in August, 2013, the ground-breaking green project came to light following a Green Infrastructure Audit, a mapping process that sought to identify new locations for green space in Victoria that was carried out by the Victoria Business Improvement District (Victoria BID), the body representing over 250 businesses in the Victoria area including the Rubens at the Palace Hotel. As a result of the audit, the hotel commissioned concept designs for the wall in recognition of the environmental benefits the wall will have for Victoria. The wall's unique design enables it to capture rainwater from the roof of the building in dedicated storage tanks. A key environmental challenge in Victoria is the risk of flooding during periods of heavy rain, due to the low absorbency of urban surfaces. According to the Environment Agency, there are now around 534,000 properties in London on the Thames floodplain, and one in four in London are at risk of flooding. Water collected by the tanks is channeled slowly through the wall, nourishing plant life and helping to reduce the risk of surface water flooding in the area by storing up to 10,000 liters at any time.

The project has received support from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, through his Greening the BIDs program. In addition, the wall will improve the air quality in the area, deaden noise and help to keep the hotel cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Finally, the vegetation will trap microscopic pollutants, high levels of which have been shown to cause respiratory illnesses. The wall was installed and maintained by TreeBox Ltd.

image © Rob Deutscher

image © Rob Deutscher

One Central Park
Sydney, Australia

A residential building in the heart of Sydney, Australia, has recently been named the best tall building in the world. One Central Park by French design group Ateliers Jean Nouvel and Australia’s PTW, beat 87 other international entries to top the list, and was commended for its visible use of green design.

Pictured at right, the building’s key features include hanging gardens, a cantilevered heliostat, an internal water recycling plant and low-carbon tri-generation power plant. Not surprisingly, One Central Park has also been awarded a five-star green star by the Green Building Council Australia.

French landscape artist Patrick Blanc was commissioned to design the vertical gardens that cover the surface of the building. 35,200 plants and 383 different species were used, including some natives such as acacias.

The gardens use a remote controlled, dripper irrigation system and a special process developed by Blanc in which the roots of a plant are attached to a mesh-covered felt, soaked with mineralized water. This allows the plants to grow without soil along the face of a wall. The gardens are maintained by a local green roof and wall company called Junglefy. 

One Central Park is also unusual for its cantilever that is covered in a series of reflector panels. These panels automatically redirect natural sunlight to various parts of a nearby park during shady periods of the day. In the evening the heliostat turns into an LED artwork called Sea Mirror, designed by French artist Yann Kersale. 

Mick Caddey, development director of Central Park, said that while it is the building’s on-site water recycling factory and power plant that are responsible for most of the water and energy savings, the vertical gardens are a visible and tangible reminder of innovative green infrastructure.

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Project Jewel
Changi Airport, Singapore

Singapore’s Changi Airport, aptly named the ‘world’s best’ by the 2014 World Airport Awards, is planning to get even better with a massive glass and steel structure that is being hailed as the terminal of the future.

Construction is now underway on ‘Project Jewel’, which will boast the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, a large indoor park with native trees and plants, winding walking trails, and improved check-ins and transfers for passengers.

Safdie Architects and PWP Landscape Architecture are creating a spherical “air hub,” in the center of Changi so even brief visitors passing through Singapore will get a sense of this garden-city as they walk through the lush interior landscape. When it opens in 2018, Jewel will have five storeys above ground and five below ground, with a total footprint of more than 1.4 million square feet.
By bringing elements of the outdoors inside, the round-shaped terminal will be unlike anything that has been built before.

Designed by a team led by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the visually stunning terminal features a glass and steel facade. Officials said Jewel will be the first in Singapore to seamlessly integrate abundant greenery with other attractions and facilities within the same building. It will house one of the largest indoor collections of plants in Singapore and one of its top attractions will be Forest Valley, a huge five-storey garden filled with thousands of trees, plants, ferns and shrubs.

Officials describe it as an ‘idyllic valley of verdant landscaping and waterfalls’ where visitors can go for a hike in air-conditioned comfort. There will be four different gardens and an incredible 130-ft ‘Rain Vortex’ that is expected to be the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The spectacular waterfall will be located at the core of the complex and at night will transform into a light and sound show with special lighting effects.

image © 螺钉

image © 螺钉

Pasona Urban Farm
Tokyo, Japan

In the offices of Pasona, a multi-national recruitment agency located in the center of Tokyo’s busy financial district, 20% of the 215,000 square foot office space is dedicated to growing fresh vegetables, fruits and rice, making it the largest and most direct farm-to-table urban farm in Japan. Ripe tomatoes hang from conference room ceilings, rice paddies grow waist-high in the lobby, and a living façade of flowers and orange trees covers the expanse of the building’s exterior, pictured at right. In total, over 200 species of fruits, vegetables, and rice are grown within the office building, including lemons, broccoli, salad greens, berries, squash, eggplant, and passion fruit.

Pasona dedicated itself to creating this urban farm in part because of Japan’s worrying reliance on foreign food. With a shortage of arable land in Japan (roughly only 12%, compared to 20% in the US and over 50% in Denmark), the country’s food supply is highly unsustainable. By creating this urban farm, Pasona is working to encourage and educate new farmers, while exposing urban inhabitants to farming. Pasona employees, supported by a team of agricultural specialists, are encouraged to take part in the care and cultivation of the crops, which are eaten on site in the office cafeteria. Employees can be seen working in the rice paddy or broccoli field, pruning fruit trees, tending to lettuces and harvesting veggies. 

The plants are kept healthy via HEFL, fluorescent and LED lamps and a state of the art automatic irrigation system. The building is also equipped with an intelligent climate control system that monitors humidity, temperature and breeze so that the human inhabitants are comfortable during business hours, and the plants are comfortable overnight.

This unique office space is truly a vision of a more sustainable future that promotes worker’s productivity, mental health, and social interaction and engages the wider community of Tokyo by showcasing the benefits and technology of urban agriculture.


These five examples highlight innovative approaches to bringing a little more green back to the city in our increasingly built-up and built-out urban environments.

Looking to add some green to your space? Search 'landscape' on CADdetails.com.

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