Skip to main content

How To Design A Sustainable Urban City

Advice from an eco-architect about how to green urban centres

As part of its commitment to urban sustainability, the Singapore government has announced ambitious plans to overhaul the power grid and transform it into an intelligent network that consolidates gas, solar and thermal energy. Research and development has begun on Grid 2.0, one of the objectives of the $19 billion investment pledged towards urban solutions and sustainability as part of the RIE2020 Plan. 

“By overhauling the energy grid, Singapore will make its energy distribution system more intelligent, more efficient and more able to leverage the amount of solar energy the city-state could potentially produce,” says Professor Jason Pomeroy, founding principal of sustainable design firm Pomeroy Studio. 

A smarter, decentralised power grid will enable citizens to benefit from renewable energy, both by receiving power and generating revenue by selling back into the grid. Grid 2.0 will also look at on how to make buildings more energy efficient, including ways to cool air more efficiently, which could lead to lower energy bills for Singaporeans. In addition, the government is considering the prospect of exporting these valuable integrated solutions to other cities around the world.  

Pomeroy believes the most compelling reason why cities are moving towards sustainability is because it makes sense economically. Singapore’s first green policies were established by it former Prime Minister the late Lee Kuan Yew, who introduced his vision of a “garden city” in 1967. 

The results speak for themselves. Today, the nation maintains a high ranking on quality of life indexes, a strong reputation as a technologically developed society and a popular status as a pleasant place to live and work. “Environmental policies contribute to economic development, and this is why I believe cities in the region are waking up to sustainability,” says Pomeroy. 

In Southeast Asia, the continual growth of urban centres as a result of rural-to-urban migration has led to huge pressure on infrastructure, rising pollution levels and ever-increasing energy demands. Employing an evidence-based interdisciplinary approach to sustainable design, Pomeroy suggests that urban greenery, skycourts and skygardens, and transportation are three key sustainable solutions for cleaner and greener cities that will enhance the quality of life for its citizens.  

B House, Bukit Timah

B House, Bukit Timah

“Urban greenery reduces the ‘Urban Heat Island’ effect, in which built-up areas are hotter than nearby rural areas due to the built environment and human activity,” he explains. Trees and plants have been proven to reduce surface temperatures by 4–11°C, absorb noxious pollutants and store rainwater. 

Pomeroy is also an advocate for the integration of skycourts and skygardens in urban centres, which create alternative social spaces and replace the loss of public parks and squares due to high density, high rise developments. The Marina Bay Sands Skypark is a prime example; its rooftop bars, restaurants and shops within a lush tropical setting have become a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike. 

The third component for designing a sustainable urban city is transportation. “Transportation does not begin and end with roads, but includes public transport, vehicle limits, network design and technological innovation, like driverless cars,” says Pomeroy. 

“A well-run transportation system can reduce emissions and spur economic growth. No city can begin to be smart if its citizens cannot have the same freedoms of movement as freedoms of speech and trade.”  

To this end, Pomeroy Studio has pioneered a number of innovative green projects that look to the future, from urban habitats, resorts and retail spaces to the B House in Bukit Timah, Singapore’s first carbon-negative home. A modern interpretation of the iconic black and white colonial bungalows, the prototype incorporates passive design such as maximising natural light and ventilation, while generating more renewable energy than it consumes. Constructed at the same cost as a traditional property in the area, the project also demonstrates the sound economic fundamentals of green design. 

Pomeroy’s advice for urban planners in Southeast Asia is not to ignore the intricacies of local culture and heritage. “Modern buildings may be becoming more energy efficient, but they look the same from Hong Kong to New York, and tend to dominate local culture,” he reflects. “Sustainable cities should not come at the expense of a city’s soul, history and culture.” 

Pomeroy Academy provides educational courses to heighten awareness of the green agenda for built environment professionals.