Oct 14 (CNN) – Finding room for green spaces is a challenge in any city, let alone the world’s most densely populated ones. So in downtown Singapore, anyone looking for a new park to stroll in may need to turn toward the sky.
A third of the way up the recently completed CapitaSpring tower, the soaring glass and aluminum facade seemingly bursts open to reveal plants and trees growing hundreds of feet above ground. At street level, passersby and office workers can line up for an elevator leading to this so-called “Green Oasis” — a spiral garden path that winds past exercise equipment, benches and tables on its journey through four stories of tropical flora.
At 280 meters (919 feet), CapitaSpring is now one of the Asian city-state’s tallest skyscrapers. The building is privately owned by real estate giants CapitaLand and Mitsubishi Estate, with the investment bank J.P. Morgan among its corporate tenants. But in keeping with a government drive to ensure that Singapore’s business district offers residents more than just office space, the developer has opened some of the tower’s landscaped areas to the public.
There is more above the Oasis: On the building’s top floor, visitors can stroll through a 4,500-square-foot rooftop farm that supplies fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers to three on-site restaurants. During CNN’s visit to the building, an urban farmer tending the garden estimated that it generates 70 to 100 kilograms, or 154 to 220 pounds, of produce each month.
In total, the 51-story building houses over 80,000 trees and plants across 90,000 square feet of landscaped area, which also includes a shady covered plaza at its base. According to the Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), which designed the tower in collaboration with Carlo Ratti Associati, most of the plant species found throughout the site are indigenous to Singapore and thus adapted to the year-round heat and humidity.
The architects describe CapitaSpring, which broke ground in 2018, as “biophilic,” an increasingly popular term that describes the integration of nature and design. The firm said in a press release that the placement of greenery “mimics the plant hierarchy of tropical rainforests,” with those requiring the least direct light lying beneath a “canopy” of taller trees.
“Due to the unique character of Singapore’s urbanism — both extremely dense and green — we decided to make the design a vertical exploration of tropical urbanism,” BIG’s founder, Bjarke Ingels, said in a statement, adding that the tower is “like a vision of a future in which city and countryside, culture and nature can coexist.”
A ‘garden city’
CapitaSpring is one of several eye-catching biophilic buildings to have opened in Singapore’s Downtown Core district in recent years. A few blocks away, the Parkroyal Collection Pickering hotel features over 160,000 square feet of greenery, with a series of balconies overrun with trees and plants. Less than a mile to its south, the once-red exterior of the Oasia Hotel is slowly turning green as more than 20 species of creepers and vines colonize its facade.
In a country that packs almost 6 million people into an area less than half the size of London, building green spaces is not merely an act of corporate generosity — it is a legal requirement in some areas.
Singapore’s government has long promoted itself as a “garden city,” a term famously applied to the country by its founding father and former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, in the 1960s. In the decades since, planners have embarked on city-wide tree-planting programs and landscaping projects in its vast public housing complexes.
The city-state also demands that private property developers set aside space for greenery when building new high-rises. In Downtown Core, where CapitaSpring is located, they are required to provide landscaped zones equivalent to the gross area of the entire site. (As both CapitaLand and BIG point out, their skyscraper exceeds this legal minimum by some 40%.)
Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority is simultaneously hoping to turn the business district — which can be eerily quiet during evenings and weekends — into what it calls a “round-the-clock vibrant commercial district.” To this end, officials have offered the owners of existing buildings incentives to convert the structures into mixed-use developments with leisure and lifestyle facilities.
And there is, perhaps, no greater source of social activity in Singapore than its hawker centers, the island’s ubiquitous cooked food markets.
The creation of CapitaSpring involved the demolition of one that had stood on the site since the 1980s. But earlier this year, a new 56-stall hawker center opened on the building’s second and third floors, with some of the original food-sellers returning after four years of construction work. The center is owned and managed, like all of Singapore’s cooked food markets, by the government.
The hawker center’s success may ultimately signal whether the building has become what Ingels describes as a “diverse neighborhood of places to work, live and play.”