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REARVIEW:
Ramping Up Green

Ken Yeang’s visions for greening the skyscraper move toward realization in Singapore

By Alexsandr Bierig

Ken Yeang’s visions for ecoskyscrapers—massive towers whose systems and appearance are interwoven with plant life—have become a touchstone in contemporary discussions of sustainable architecture, a way to re-imagine a stubborn building type for a green future. For Yeang, the idea is not new. He has been exploring ways buildings can borrow from and reflect natural ecosystems for nearly 30 years. Though he has built extensively, a new project—the 15-story Solaris office building in Singapore—is set to push his more audacious visions closer to reality.

Architect Ken YeangBird’s-eye rendering of Solaris
Photo: TR Hamzah & Yeang

Architect Ken Yeang (top). Bird’s-eye rendering of Solaris(above).

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The site of Solaris is part of a Zaha Hadid-master-planned office park in central Singapore called Fusionopolis 2B. A March 2008 competition held by the Jurong Town Council, which presides over the semi-suburban area, asked entries to adhere their envelopes, footprints, and massing to the Hadid plan. Yeang’s Asian office, Malaysia-based TR Hamzah & Yeang (he is also a partner at London office Llewelyn Davies Yeang), won the competition with a distinctively green articulation of Hadid’s fluid envelope. The facade is covered with sun-shading louvers to mitigate the tropical heat of the region, and the entire structure is interpolated by a continuous band of vegetation, running in a spiral from the basement to the roof.

Scheduled for completion in 2010, the building was initially slated as a research and development space for high-tech companies, but is now planned mostly as office space for an array of IT and media firms.

Project Architect Mitch Gelber says that the project was conceived to both look and function as green. The firm is applying for Platinum certification in Singapore’s Greenmark program (their equivalent of LEED certification) for strategies like rainwater reuse and recycling, lowflow efficient plumbing fixtures, strategic use of photovoltaic film, and carbon-footprint considerations in the use of building materials. The building is a paragon of sustainable building techniques.

But it is the spiral ramp that will set it apart. Like a ribbon that unfurls through the structure, it represents a new expression in Yeang’s expanding green vocabulary. In physical terms, the ramp is impressive: at least 10 feet wide throughout, the full length of the band runs nearly an entire mile.

According to Gelber, this means the amount of planted area winding its way up the building has a larger square footage (about 90,000 square feet) than the footprint of the site itself (about 75,000 square feet). Yeang and his firm are working with in-house landscape architects to determine the ideal plants for each portion of the spiral, according to its different exposures to sunlight. The ramp is designed to be self-sustaining, using the building’s rainwater collection for irrigation and placed within a waterproof masonry bed to isolate it from the rest of the structure’s less organic systems. It will absorb heat that would otherwise go into the building, create an ecosystem that is integral to the structure, and provide a series of semi-public, landscaped spaces for the building’s tenants, making their office environment both healthier and more connected to the natural world.

Solaris is set to become one of the most complete manifestations of Yeang’s long-developing ecological pursuits. He wrote in an e-mail to GreenSource that “a green building should look like what the term indicates—‘green.’ It should look like a human-made ecosystem—a balance of organic and inorganic mass that works as a whole and is [connected] to the landscape at the ground. It should look, I believe, indeterminate, fuzzy or hairy.”

   

Gelber elaborated on this concept: “When people think about green buildings, what are they thinking about? A solar panel, or a tree on the roof, or some combination of that? This project contributes to that ongoing discussion.”

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This article appeared in the May 2009 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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