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Singapore’s ‘plant whisperer’ on why ‘green walls’ are now a thing

And why everybody should have one in their home

veera



From living walls, to lush roof gardens and urban farming initiatives, the increased appetite for metropolitan nature is clear.

While Singapore's omnipresence at the top end of global sustainability rankings marks it out as a pioneer in the green building arena, one man who understands the importance of green – in its more literal sense – is Veera from Greenology.

Nicknamed “the plant whisperer of Singapore” by his botany students, Veera has seen how including plants within home design can drastically improve personal health and wellbeing, as well as reducing a buildings carbon footprint.

We met up with him at BEX-Asia earlier this month, to discuss the greenification of our homes and cities.

How did Greenology start?

I started Greenology about nine years ago. I’ve done a lot of different things in the green industry, but I’m a botanist by trade. I’ve been around the world and helped to build the Singapore Zoo and the night safari. I also was involved in doing the greening for Changi airport.

Driven by passion, I left the civil service and started Greenology. Reacting to the challenges coming along, I decided to look at technologies and solutions to bring plants closer to people, and that’s when I started developing the green wall system and all the other technologies that allow habitats to be created for people. Not only for people but other fauna: the bees, the birds and everything to co-exist, and I think that's the real intention and philosophy behind what we do.

More: Singapore ranks second in the world for green buildings

[gallery size="medium" type="circle" ids="55388,55472,55390,55395,55389,55458"]


You mention the challenges – you mean more people moving to the city?

Basically, the urban environment is a very real issue. Everyone from the rural areas wants to come into the cities, but the cities are not really prepared for it. Even if you were to take in more people within the cities, how do you deal with the interactions and the difficulties of managing that space and infrastructure? For people to exist the easiest thing to do is to get rid of greenery  and that’s what people do: take away trees and replace them with buildings. It's only then that they try and find ways to put the trees back. What people realise is that when you start putting up buildings so close together, they shade each other out, and lo and behold, plants require sun.

[pullquote]"The health and environmental reasons for doing this are completely mind-blowing"[/pullquote]

Tell us more about the three components to your business: living art, living walls and vertical agriculture

Green wall systems “vertical greening” is our main business, and it is done both indoors and outdoors. We try to bring that into outdoor spaces in the outdoors – the complete façade of the building, or on a balcony. Or inside where it’s in your home and in space that’s very close to you.

The other business is essentially about urban farming systems, which essentially allow you to grown your own produce, in the comfort of your home. So if it’s in a balcony, you can grow some vegetables that can give you some self-sufficiency. Because the challenges in the urban environment are not only the greening, but also about food production, and food security as well.

Do you need a lot of equipment?

[pullquote]"The technology is fuss free, maintenance free, and everything is able to look after itself"[/pullquote]

When we developed these systems we bore in mind that we needed systems to be fuss free and literally idiot proof, so you need the plants to literally look after themselves. The technology allows the plants to be watered and irrigated, the lights to come on at a certain time, so you can come back home to enjoy the greenery rather than working on it.

Or you can come home and have a fresh salad by just snipping a few leaves into a bowl. I think these are solutions that will evolve.

More: It’s official: Singapore, Seoul ranked Asia’s most sustainable cities

greennnnoo

Are more people coming to you now saying – I want a green wall in my house?

Yes – every day.

When I started the green walls, and providing urban green solutions, we were struggling and this struggle lasted about 2.5 years.

But then it suddenly took off. People began to realise that the technology was becoming more affordable, and that it makes sense in so many ways. The technology is fuss free, maintenance free, and everything is able to look after itself. The convenience is allowing people with urban lifestyles have more and more plant elements in their homes.

How do the plants get the nourishment they need?

It’s all automated. So we’ve got drip systems running at the top of each panel, and it drips in in very small
quantities, and the nutrients are dripping in from a small canister together with the water.

How is that different to hydroponics?

Hydroponics essentially is just water. It's soilless media and the roots are submerged in water. You need a layer of water for hydroponics, whereas this is a panel system with the organic media and the plants growing in pockets. So there’s very little water dripping through.

[pullquote]"If you have plants on the façade of the wall, the temperature drops inside by 3-5 degrees.[/pullquote]

So in this instance there’s very little wastage of water, water is a precious resource. The biggest challenge in vertical greening is how to get water up in a vertical plane, this is why we develop a particular project called a nanofiber, which is inserted into the panel, and holds water in the vertical plane.

grereennnnnoo


When people come to you and say "I want a green wall in my house," how do you advise them?

We will go to their home and assess the situation. Because every wall has a different orientation to the sun, and every wall has got a different environment. It might face east, west, north, south.

We’ll then ask the client what size they want the wall to be, we’ll create a design and discuss with the client what's possible and what's not. We then give them a budgetry figure, and from there, they decide whether they want to proceed.

If they’re still keen then we go into more detailed design, for example, the client might want a particular plant colour for the wall.  When everything is approved, we pre-grow the plants in the nursery for about 6-8 weeks, then we go and install it.

More: Tapei 101 earns title of the world’s tallest green building

greeeennnn

Are there any projects that people have come to you with that have not been possible?

Yes. We have. It’s very strange, there are some people who come to us wanting to do a green wall. They want it because their neighbour has one – it becomes a status thing. So some people really don't understand plants and don’t understand the environment; they just want to do it for the sake of it.

Sometimes I make an assessment, and I have to say to them, look, if you’re really not into it you shouldn’t do it. This shouldn’t be used as a fashion statement.

What are the health benefits of doing this?

I think both the health and environmental reasons for doing this are completely mind-blowing.

The environmental reasons are essentially that if you have plants on the façade of the wall, the temperature drops inside by 3-5 degrees,, which is really significant in Asia.

The other reason is because photosynthesis produces oxygen, so you get fresh air from plants if you have them on the façade of the wall or indoors.

greeennnn-wall

If you really look at the benefits plants can give to an individual at home, or even in hospital, then you realise that the psychological relief that it brings is phenomenal. That’s the reason why people with stress should go to a park, having that greenery around them is so helpful.

So having a big wall of greenery, being able to sit by it and just being close to nature gives you a lot of psychological relief.

green-box

We all crave the peace and quiet around nature. Creating that ambience and that habitat is what this is all about.

We’ve also worked with dementia patients, when they work with plants, we’ve seen remarkable changes. We’ve seen social improvements, cognitive improvements, psychological, physical - they tend to become completely different people when they’re around plants. It’s amazing. Horticulture therapy is a proven science now.

Hospitals today recognise this, they want greenery everywhere. If you go to some of the hospitals in Singapore they have wonderful gardens.

This sense of calmness is what you get when you have plants all around you.

So the environmental and psychological benefits all come together with it. Not necessarily in a big building but a small house as well.

greeennnnn

Read next: Chen Lian Pang: ‘stretch your dollar and buy in a good location’

 

Why this Miss Universe prefers to live in Thai property

Natalie Glebova talks luxury Asian homes and life after coronation

 

 

 

Former Miss Universe Natalie Glebova has called Thailand home for over 10 years.

When the scepter has been put down, when the crown has been handed over, when the final walk has been walked, a Miss Universe contemplates life unlike anyone. The world’s most coveted beauty pageant title subjects its holders through a whirlwind year of travels and oft-gainful contracts, and it is a maelstrom that promises no soft landing. Beauty queens eventually face a crossroads leading stateside or home, bright lights all.

But those crossroads have turned out to be home itself for Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova. After flying the flag high for Canada that year, the pageant monarch found herself in a series of serendipitous return trips to then Miss Universe host country Thailand. By the end of her reign, Natalie had received an offer from Thai lager maker Singha to be their brand ambassador.

More than 10 years later, the Russian-Canadian model and television personality still calls the Southeast Asian nation her base, with husband, 2001 Mister Panamá Dean Kelly, and their daughter Maya. Locals have grown endeared to the lanky expatriate, nicknamed Fah ("blue" in Thai) for her steely eye colour.

In 2014, she bought a three-bedroom, 180-square-metre condominium unit near Bangkok's plush Thonglor neighbourhood. She also owns two condos by the beach, one in Na Jomtien, near Pattaya, and the other in Rayong.

Her feet firmly planted in Asia, Natalie sounds proud of her decision to stay and explore the region's real estate offerings — make no Steve-Harvey-sized mistake about it.

What made your decision to move to Thailand?

The country and the people gave us such a warm welcome; it was hard not to fall in love with it. I felt so comfortable in Thailand and the Thais have even given me a local nickname, Fah. I’m very happy with my decision to settle here, because so many wonderful and amazing things have happened to me to make this a very special place in my heart.

Tell us more about your Thai condo. What drew you to it?

I loved the fact that it has only seven floors and doesn’t have too many units. I prefer to stay close to the ground — I don’t like to live in high-rises up in the sky — and also fewer units, so it’s quieter and not so crowded.

More: Asia Property Report speaks with Donald Trump

What drew you to Thonglor? What's so great about the area?


View from the top of the Octave bar in the Thong Lor district of Bangkok. Stephane Bidouze/Shutterstock

Ever since I started living in Thailand, I have loved coming to Thonglor to hang out with friends, go to restaurants and shopping plazas, and get all my beauty services. So when I decided to buy a condo, I looked very closely at properties in this area, not only because I was familiar with it, but also because it’s clean, has a lot of variety, and quite international with people from all over the world living in this area. Now I like it also for the fact that there are a lot of schools and kids’ facilities around here.

More: Why Thonglor remains Bangkok’s epicenter of cool
 

How great is Thailand, or Asia for that matter, in raising a family?


Natalie and husband Dean run a travel startup called Travelbook

Thailand is fantastic for raising a family simply because of ease of lifestyle and affordability. It’s easy to hire help and the schools are of very high international standards. There’s always something to do and places to go in Thailand, and we personally love to travel together as a family all over the region. Our favorite destinations are Phi Phi Islands, Bali, and Hong Kong.
 

Are you thinking of buying more houses in Thailand or Asia?


Sure, I’d love to own more property in Asia. I would love to have another condo in the south of Thailand like Krabi or Trat.

Which other countries in Asia would you like to live in someday?


I’d love to live in Bali, Indonesia one day. It has such a lovely charm and atmosphere, and the food there is just as good as Thailand. I could also see myself living in Hong Kong, as it reminds me of New York City in some ways, and I love NYC!

What is your current relationship with real estate developers?


I did an endorsement for Henderson Land a while ago. I am interested in exploring more real estate deals. I am urbanised and love to travel so I’m looking for properties that match my lifestyle.
 

What's a great final question you really would like to answer?


How do you define success? This was actually a question I asked one of the finalists in Miss Universe 2006 when I was passing on the title. I like this question because there are many ways to answer as success means different things to different people. For me, success has always been about reaching your personal goals, being satisfied with your life and what you’ve achieved, and having an inner happiness that doesn’t come from material things or possessions but from wealth of experience, love, and personal development.

 Natalie and Dean with daughter Maya, born April 2016

Read next: Ivanka Trump, scion of brand sophistication

 

Richard Meier on designing the hottest new luxury residences in Taipei

The starchitect talks creative process, The Master Collection and his Pritzker Prize

the-master-collection_richard-meier-copy



Perhaps sitting on Architectural Digest’s top 100 influencers list in 2016 was no big deal for Richard Meier. He is, after all, winner of the Pritzker Prize – architectures highest honour.

Meier joins fellow AD100 architects Jim Olson, Annabelle Selldorf, Steven Harris and Calvin Tsao for The Master Collection – Phoenix Property Investors’ luxury multi-architect project; a 28-villa development in the rolling hills outside Taipei.

Richard Meier & Partners have designed six stand alone houses, each taking advantage of the surrounding natural beauty, and featuring striking geometric contours and white walls typical of Meiers style.

We spoke to Meiers about working on The Master Collection, his unique asthetic principals and his design process...

What appealed to you about the Master Collection?

The Master Collection was remarkable for us not only for the natural beauty around the site, and the views overlooking the mountains in the Great Taipei area, but also for the commitment expressed by the client to create a sense of place with exceptional residences and a varied group of architects.

[pullquote]"Architecture is not a validation of ideals, but rather a creative process allowing for new ideas to happen"[/pullquote]

Our primary concern at every site is to create a strong sense of “place,” by enhancing or transforming the existing site in a unique and provocative way. Whether urban, suburban, or the open landscape, we search the context of each project individually for clues that inspire a formal idea about issues of organization, scale, and location that provoke a strong dialog with its setting. Each element of the master plan’s organization reflects an ambitious attention to detail and innovative use of construction solutions, and we hope the villas become a successful living environment that is unique to the neighborhood and Taiwan.

[caption id="attachment_59006" align="aligncenter" width="740"]A rendering of one of Richard Meier's homes at The Master Collection A rendering of one of Richard Meier's homes at The Master Collection[/caption]

How do you feel your unique style compliments the hillside surroundings?

We have designed all the villas to read as a single object on the landscape, giving them a cubic appearance and connection to the site. The buildings are oriented to frame views and to modulate the use of natural light into the interior spaces. Stepped courtyards, gardens and terraces follow the existing slopes offering an array of views and outdoor spaces.

The villas are arranged on their respective lots following the idea of a promenade with a sequence of architectural elements composed of pedestrian bridges, suspended walls, and openings that traverse the site culminating in spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.

More: See how landscape architecture is shaping developments all over Asia


What do you enjoy most about the design process?

The principles that guide the work in our office are rooted in timeless, classical design issues such as Context, Site, Order, and the use of Natural Light. In my work I seek to find through design the best of what exists and what can be.

My purpose is to deliver thoughtful, original modern architecture that is as accessible as it is beautiful, as humanist as it is disciplined. This is an architecture which is concerned with the individual as well as the community at large. My commitment to the art of architecture extends from the belief that architecture guided by the principles of purity, organization, and an understanding of each place’s uniqueness has the power to inspire, to elevate the spirit, to feed both the mind and body.

[caption id="attachment_58841" align="aligncenter" width="740"]the-master-collection_premia_site-rendering An aerial view of The Master Collection[/caption]

To what extent do you think culture and tradition are important in modern architecture, if at all?

Architecture is the careful articulation of a process that allows change to happen. Architecture is not a validation of ideals, but rather a creative process allowing for new ideas to happen.

Over the years there have been so many things that have been important to my work as an architect. We look at each project and consider the context—what it is and what it can be—beyond the strictly functional concerns. We think about its public nature and how that can be enhanced, how the spaces we create can enliven the experience of being there. As we develop our first projects in 11 countries one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced working in so many different places is understanding variations, both in terms of culture and tradition.

During the 1984 Pritzker Prize Acceptance Speech I explained that mine is a preoccupation with light and space; not abstract space, not scale-less space, but space whose order and definition are related to light, to human scale and to the culture of architecture.

Architecture is vital and enduring because it contains us; it describes space, space we move through, exit in and use. I work with volume and surface, manipulating forms in light, changes of scale and view, movement and stasis. In this way, one might say that my style is something that is born out of culture, and yet is profoundly connected with personal experience. But to gain any sense of my involvement, it is necessary to consult the work. Almost thirty years later, this design philosophy continues to inform the work.

A slideshow of Richard Meier's previous work:

[gallery type="slideshow" ids="59011,59010,59009,59008"]

Read next: Architectural icon Zaha Hadid leaves a legacy of striking designs behind

This is Part Three in a five week series where we will be publishing exclusive interviews with The Master Collection architects. Next week we will be profiling Steven Harris. Click here for Part One, interview with Jim Olson, and here for Part Two, interview with Annabelle Selldorf. For more details of The Master Collection as well as founding partner of Phoenix Property Investors, go here.

 

Lighting up a high-tech Phuket hideaway

Designer Ian Potter discusses the smart tech powering this exclusive island bolthole

Ian Potter

Few designers light up a place quite like Ian Potter, founder of CWL Lighting. In recent years his company has supernova’d into a star name in the hospitality industry, with a client-list that covers 14 countries and includes brands like Aman, Dusit Thani, Hilton, Intercontinental, Marriott, Pullman, and Sheraton. Potter has also become a go-to collaborator for famed interior designers such as P49, PIA, Bill Bensley, Leo Inter, and HBA.

While his forte is hotels, the UK-born designer paid his dues — and is still — illuminating the abodes of high-net-worth individuals and celebrities in Asia and further afield. Indeed, he was a major presence during the boom period of villa building in Phuket in the late 90s and the early Noughties.

He has since been enlisted to shed light on two Phuket properties owned by David Roberts, former CEO of the New York-based architecture firm Aedas.

Between 2011 and 2013, CWL and Bangkok-based architecture firm Ideal 1 collaborated on Roberts’ THB200-million (USD5.75 million) villa that sits on 8,400 square metres of prime parcel in the hills near Rawai Beach. The 1,731-square-metre structure radiates inside and out with LED external lights, in-ground uplights at all structural supports, uplit rubble walls, and even a home theatre fitted with fibre optics that evoke the night sky.

vidavi (121 of 144) - Copy

In terms of lighting, would you call David’s villa a smart home?

The fact that the whole lighting system is integrated into one control system is pretty smart. If the owner hears a crash or noise outside he can just hit buttons on his bedside control panel, turning on all the external lights and the corridor lighting as a security feature.

[pullquote]Smart living is using technology to help you perform necessary functions to make life easier — not gimmicks[/pullquote]

The fact that all of the channels are dimmable is quite intelligent too. The lights are integrated to the security system so if the system detects an intrusion it will light all perimeter lighting and various other external lights – even if nobody is at the property.

More: The dawn of the smart home is upon us – are you ready?

vidavi (51 of 144) - Copy

Tell us more about the lighting scenes

There is a clock that turns on the external lighting at designated times. The lighting system calculates when it gets dark. It doesn’t come on at the same time throughout the year though, because the time of dusk changes across the year in Phuket. When it calculates the time for the lighting to come on, it runs with one lighting scene and then it fades into another lighting scene, which is usually softer.

The owner also has a handheld control in his car so that as he approaches the villa he can turn the lighting on.

vidavi (100 of 144) - Copy

What makes each villa you work on unique?

Each individual villa is custom designed; you can’t cut and paste. However, techniques may be similar. This depends on the effect we’re looking for or what the individual owners want. Some owners, especially Westerners, like lower-level lighting. They like to have quiet areas, no glare, a softer, orangey type of light — like candlelight.

Whereas if you do a property for moneyed Asians, they like it to be very bright. They’re not into intimacy and quiet spots so much.

vidavi (144 of 144) - Copy

How much has changed in terms of lighting advancements since you designed the villa?

LED light systems have developed significantly in the last three to four years. Now you’re unlikely to design with halogen or incandescent. It’s all going to be LED, whereas three or four years ago, it would be a mixture.

How would you define smart living?

Using technology to help you perform necessary functions to make life easier — not gimmicks.

Read next: Why it’s no longer luxury if it’s not ‘smart’

Chen Lian Pang: 'stretch your dollar and buy in a good location'

Globetrotter, highly successful property investor and Real Estate Personality 2016, the CapitaLand Vietnam CEO talks about the country's exciting future, top investment tips and his humble origins in Malaysia's rubber plantation country

 

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The chic surrounds of The Deck in Ho Chi Minh City where Chen Lian Pang arranges to meet for a sunset coffee is far removed from the CapitaLand Vietnam CEO’s roots in rural northern Malaysia. Taking a seat at a shaded table with sweeping views of the Saigon River and the city’s crane- studded skyline beyond it, 59-year-old Chen recalls his upbringing in the rubber plantation town of Sitiawan.

“My mother worked two shifts every day as a rubber tapper, so I hardly saw her,” he recalls. “My five siblings and I essentially grew up on our own. My older sister cooked for me, took me to school and stuff like that – we took care of each other.”

Yet learning to fend solo is a trait that has led Chen, who was recently named the Vietnam Property Awards 2016 Real Estate Personality of the Year, on an adventurous and often unpredictable path.

The long hours his mother, who Chen holds up as a great inspiration, invested clearly paid off, when at the age of 18, he traded the plantations for the bright lights of London.

More: Take 5: One-on-one with entrepreneur Gulu Lalvani

“At that point, I’d never been to Kuala Lumpur, in fact I’d never even left my hometown! And there I was in London, waiting for my brother to pick me up,” Chen says. “It was a huge culture shock, a brand new environment, but I immediately liked it.”

He credits his upbringing for his passion for taking on fresh challenges.

[pullquote]BUY PROPERTY IN A GOOD LOCATION. IT MIGHT BE EXPENSIVE BUT STRETCH YOUR DOLLAR BECAUSE DURING THE GOOD TIMES THE VALUE OF PROPERTY IN A PRIME LOCATION WILL ALWAYS GO UP, AND DURING BAD TIMES IT DOESN’T DEPRECIATE TOO MUCH[/pullquote]

“I grew up with minimal supervision and I think that’s why I find it easy to adapt to new environments. It is probably why my bosses have always sent me to new frontiers.”

Chen had stints in Taiwan, Vietnam, China and Thailand over the last three decades before assuming his current role in with CapitaLand. But he wasn’t always such a journeyman.

After studying in the UK, Chen was headhunted by Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB) and headed for the island state – another country he’d never before stepped foot in. Over the following decade, Singapore became the stage for many defining acts in Chen’s life and career.

Starting out initially as a design engineer, he later moved into the Profit and Loss department and learned about the business end of the industry. He also gathered skills that would prove invaluable in the emerging markets where he’d later carve out a reputation.

“I learned about the procedures and process of controlling a big company,” he says. “Everybody was very strict on corruption, so I was educated on how bad it can be for a person, for a company and for a country.”

It was in Singapore that Chen met his future wife. Their first joint venture – even prior to marriage – was an investment in a condominium project. Chen continues to invest in property and believes that Singapore remains the best bet for buyers looking for strong returns.

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“Over the last 30 years, Singapore has been one of the only places in the region where property prices have constantly appreciated,” he says. “Buy property in a good location. It might be expensive but stretch your dollar because during the good times the value of property in a prime location will always go up, and during bad times it doesn’t depreciate too much.”

After 11 successful years with the HDB, Chen joined a family-run construction firm as general manager and relocated to Taiwan shortly after.

“It was a really rough place back then... nobody wanted to work there apart from me,” he recalls.

His first time at the helm of a company, Chen describes it as a challenging period, albeit one that taught him the value of managing different cultures and volatile personalities. He transformed the two loss-making units he was overseeing to break even by the time CapitaLand came calling in mid-90s.

Chen went on to spend five years in Thailand with the developer where he was instrumental in the development of 10 landmark properties, including the Athenee Residences. He also managed three start-ups in three different Chinese cities and was involved in the inception of Singapore’s iconic Clarke Quay.


More: Meet the Sydney-based real estate boss who does his own PR

Chen made his first significant mark in Vietnam real estate in 1996 as project manager for Hanoi’s Westlake Hotel before returning in 2013 to take up the mantle of country CEO for CapitaLand.

Reflecting on how the property industry has changed in the two decades since he first visited, he says: “At that point in time the business environment in Vietnam was pretty tough, there were a lot of teething problems, but nowadays the rules and regulations are more transparent, it’s easier to operate and far easier to find knowledgeable staff.”

Plans are already underway for CapitaLand Vietnam – best known for developing high-end condo projects in Ho Chi Minh City, such as the upcoming Vista Verde and The Krista – to introduce office and retail properties to its portfolio. With the country touted as one of the region’s most exciting markets, this would appear to be a no-brainer for such a successful property developer. Citing the crash that stunted the market in Vietnam for the best part of the last 10 years, Chen, however, signs off with words of caution.

“People, capital and frugal investment are what make good real estate developments,” he says. “We saw in the last few cycles that some developers came out and went bust because they didn’t invest carefully. Don’t overstretch and watch your cash flow.

Read next: Zen and the art of landscape gardening

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