Tessellar Blog

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Skygardens and Skycourts: Greening the Urban Habitat, Jason Pomeroy

This a review of The Skycourt and Skygarden: Greening the Urban Habitat by Jason Pomeroy
Routledge, Nov 20, 2013, 304 pages

In this scholarly book, Jason Pomeroy (an architect based in Singapore and Professor at the University of Nottingham) provides a compelling case for introducing green social spaces to the upper levels of tall buildings. Commercial pressures, which we can find expressed through high land prices, are pushing cities to grow taller. Together with the overburden of cars, public spaces – streets and squares - in cities are also becoming a depleting asset. Sky gardens and sky courts in tall buildings can help replenish the need for spaces where people can congregate. Like arcades and malls – semi-public spaces that allow public access though privately owned – sky gardens and sky courts are able to serve some of the multiple functions that traditional public spaces provided.
The skygarden can be traced back to the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" which had multi-tiered landscaped terraces and a mechanical irrigation system. With the advent of passenger lifts, buildings have become taller and more common in the last 150 years, yet it wasn’t until the late 20th Century that skycourts took off, Ken Yeang’s IBM Tower in Malaysia being an early example. The flat roof top is the most obvious place to put in gardens, but skycourts – landscaped extra-large balconies on intermediate levels of modern skyscrapers – have become another important option.

The author elaborates on the usefulness of sky courts and sky gardens from many aspects: as a way to make high-rise high-density environment seem less crowded, to provide an arena for social interaction, as the vertical equivalents of streets and squares on the ground for high-rise buildings, as an environmental filter to improve the micro-climate around and inside tall buildings, to make people happier by tapping the into the innate human love of nature, as an opportunity to improve biodiversity in urban areas and as something that can help increase revenue for building owners.
The middle sections of the book contains a very interesting range of case studies, categorized into built examples, those under construction, those still on the drawing board and a collection of futuristic work by students and academics. They exhibit a diverse menu of ways skygardens and skycourts can be added to tall buildings; with a strong hint that even more innovation will emerge.
The book concludes with the author’s recommendations on the way forward. The most interesting among them: that just as the segregation of use by zoning in city planning is being challenged, the same logic should be extended vertically so that tall buildings should contain within them a mix of residential, social and commercial uses; that the utilitarian treatment of circulation space in tall buildings should make way to a more generous approach, taking into account the social functions that the spaces can serve; that new ways to increase density without removing existing structures should be explored.

A futuristic idea by Mahdi Kamboozia, Alireza Esfandiari, Nima Dehghani and Mohammad Ashkbar Sefat

I believe that as tall buildings proliferate around the world, sky gardens and skycourts appear destined to becoming a more common feature. Architects, city-planners, developers and academics who are interested in the future of skygardens and skycourts in high-rise design do not have a wide choice of books to choose from. Prominent architect, Ken Yeang, has long argued for them in his books – the most recent and relevant one being “Eco-Skyscrapers II” published in 2011 which documents his latest works and thinking (he also wrote the forward to this book). “Vertical Garden City, Singapore” by Tan Puay Yok in 2014, chronicles the impressive strides made in in the city-state in extending greenery to the upper reaches of tall buildings. Compared with these two excellent books, Pomeroy’s gives a wider overview of the field, providing a broader range of arguments and examples, more ready to become a text-book for an architectural trend that in my opinion is poised to become mainstream.

Disclosure: Jason Pomeroy who sits on the editorial board of the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat reviewed my paper that was recently published in its Journal.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


This article By Laura Lee came out in the 12-19th July Issue of the Malaysia Focus.

Research into high-rise buildings over the last five decades has shown they are not only less suitable as traditional dwellings but also are less conducive to young families with children. Part of the blame lies with the quality of space and lack of social or shared public amenities in apartments or condominiums.  The studies also reveal social relations in high-rise housing can be relatively impersonal, with residents less likely to help one another. Often, they remain strangers though they have lived for years in the same building. "We have become so accustomed to living privately that we have grown intolerant of our neighbours ," says one observer at the recent second ARCASIA Committee on Social Responsibility (ACSR) Architecture Symposium 2014 in Kuala Lumpur).  Additionally, having your own little garden in an apartment is something many high-rise residents do not have opportunity to enjoy as, often, such spaces are not provided by developers.

However Mazlin Ghazali, principal of Arkitek M Ghazalj, intends to make the dream of a private and shared garden for residents of high-rises a reality via a new "sky neighbourhood" concept, which he is working to commercialise so that cost-efficient courtyards can be incorporated into high-rises.  In an ACSR session entitled Social Housing and Liveable Conditions, Mazlin urges developers to consider more semi-private and public spaces in apartments and condominiums with the use of sky courtyards, suitable for social and recreational use.

These courtyards can be planted with medium-sized trees, shrubs and grass. In his basic concept module, Mazlin shows how access is provided to each apartment using six-storey high landscaped courtyards.  Typically, each two-storey apartment is stacked atop another so access to the units is at courtyard level.
Four or more pairs of these apartments are arranged around each courtyard, with lifts off one or more of the courtyards. Where necessary, escape stairs are provided. This structure also  allows for lower-level car park facilities.

While each courtyard offers a communal, semi-private space, in front of most of these apartments will be a garden serving as buffer between the common space outside and the private domain inside.

Here, children can play under the watchful eyes of their parents and other neighbours.  Mazlin believes having a small group of apartment households surrounding a communal courtyard will also enable neighbours to get to know each other, promoting a sense of community.

Citing as example a courtyard cul-de-sac in a low-rise housing project in Bernam Jaya in Selangor, he illustrates how the courtyards have been used as recreational areas as well as being suitable venues for weddings and community events.  Mazlin, with local architect Anniz Bajunid and biochemist Mohd Peter Davis from the UK, have published a paper entitled “Circulation space found in a sky neighbourhood layout compared with that found in a selection of other types of apartment layouts".  Circulation space includes corridors, stairs, lifts and lobbies. Using a 30 storey building as example, the paper explores issues like whether this sky neighbourhood concept is meant only for the high-end market. lt also raises questions like whether the cost of such courtyards will be passed on to purchasers.

Mazlin also notices the type of apartment layout in conventional buildings differs according to the method of access to each apartment.

For a narrow slab block with a side corridor or balcony, a single corridor on one side of a row of apartments is normal for the intermediate, double-aspect units. Having a single loading corridor is the norm in Singapore, he observes.

Meanwhile, a wide slab block with a central corridor would normally have a double loading corridor in the middle of two rows of apartments for the intermediate, single-aspect units.

Apartments in tower blocks, Mazlin says, are usually accessed from the central lobby. Doing a comparative study on apartment access, he finds that space for circulation and services on each floor amounts to 16.03% for a slab block with double-loading corridor, in an apartment project for Bina Puri Holdings Bhd proposed by his company in 2012.

The remaining 83.97%, which makes up the built-up area on each floor, represents saleable apartments (see table).

Compare this with a high-rise project using the sky neighbourhood concept: the table shows circulation and service space constituting only 5.1% on each floor. “Even if you were to add this percentage to 8.39% allocated for the public portion of courtyard green, it totals only 13.49%, which is still pretty good."
Although the sky neighbourhood concept has another 5.69% set aside as frontyard space, this leaves 80.82% of saleable space for the apartment units.

Mazlin says the added cost of constructing a landscaped sky courtyard for all the apartments is offset by eliminating corridors and the need for fewer lifts.

Space allocated for lobbies, lifts and corridors is often deemed costly and not saleable. This explains why you will find many apartments devoid of plant life and basic amenities such as a rubbish bin in front of the lifts.

When planning authorities allow for greater population densities in high-rise housing projects or commercial buildings, Mazlin believes, the balance will tilt firmly in favour of this new concept of sky neighbourhoods. as any extra cost incurred will be dwarfed.

Meanwhile architect Syed Yawar Abbas Jilani, from Arcop Associates of Pakistan, who speaks of low-cost housing in the Social Housing and Liveable Conditions session, mentions how shared courtyards in his country have helped provide individuals with private space as well as serving as playgrounds for children.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Sky Neighbourhood Layout CTBUH Journal 2014 Issue 2

The latest issue of the CTBUH Journal is just out and an article on the Sky Neighbourhood is in it.

Click on the Scrbd Icon above to read on full screen