How greenery can influence the design of form and space

How greenery can influence the design of form and space

Greenery is normally applied onto building façades and rooftops as an aesthetic treatment. There are many examples on this website that shows the extensive use of greenery on buildings (Figure 6), but very few where the decision to install greenery can be rationalised as a direct response to specific site conditions. Actually, there is none. Buildings have been sculpted with natural elements such as light and wind, but never with plants.
This article explores how greenery can provide direction when designing form and space.

Passive design features as design style

Active / passive design features are features that can be found in a building. These features have a positive impact on the overall building performance. It can be energy savings or improvements in comfort levels.

Active design features = Features that require energy in order to work, such as 

  • Air-con chiller with high COP
  • Solar Photovoltaic panels
  • Fans with high efficiency rating

Passive design features = Features that interact natural elements to function and do not require energy to work, such as

  • Wind towers for increased stack effect and better ventilation
  • Sun-shades for reducing exposure to direct solar irradiance (Figure 2)
  • Air wells for ventilation and provision of natural daylighting (Figure 5)

In some cases, we can observe the use of passive design features to become the chief design intention. The architectural style is derived from understanding fundamental climatic requirements and translating it into geometrical interpretation.

We can find examples of how renowned architect Glenn Murcutt emphasises on the use of verandahs to improve the thermal condition of his residential projects (Figure 1). These verandah spaces have evolved from traditional front porches to very well-integrated spaces that can exist throughout the building. In this case, spatial allocation is influenced by thermal conditions.
WOHA, an architecture practice in Singapore, has had several projects that showcase successful interpretations of climatic data with their design. Sun-shades, the quintessential building component for the tropics (and strangely missing in most buildings), are heavily featured in the Newton Suites façade (Figure 2). A modern interpretation of the monsoon window, a vernacular design feature, can be found in the No. 1 Moulmein Rise condominium design (Figure 4). The building massing for the School of the Arts was conceptualised with the intention of providing breezeway atriums at higher levels to promote natural ventilation, ultimately producing an architectural style teeming with climatic sensitivities (Figure 7). 
Not that I have a bias for WOHA, but these guys really have a genuine respect for the climate and it shows in their designs.
Finally, if we look at the Reid Building (Glasgow School of Art), you can see how natural elements can influence active and passive design features. The 3D sectional perspective in Figure 3 shows how the rays of the sun are influencing the building design. By responding to natural lighting conditions of the site, usage of artificial lighting can be reduced. This is a fine example of how climatic responsive architecture should look like:  not to conform to the aesthetics of modern architecture, but to be attuned to its context and programmatic requirements. In the end, the design of the building will make sense for this site only, and cannot be transplanted to another site and assumed to work just as well.

glasgow school of art


In the examples given, the emphasis is on the manipulation of sun, wind and light. This is logical, since they are tangible that can be readily experienced by us. Can we do the same with greenery?
Greenery as passive design driver
Greenery for aesthetics is merely cosmetic and does not provide substance. In our previous articles, we have discussed how greenery can reduce energy consumption and improve thermal comfort.  Therefore, the design intent we can apply is to employ greenery for the purpose of reducing cooling load and improving overall thermal comfort. For greenery to influence design, it must first be seen as a passive design feature.

In subsequent articles, we will explore the possibility of designing a building with greenery as the main passive design feature.

– T

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Figure 3:
Bryan Christie Design
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