How outdoor spaces enrich high-rise living in Asia Pacific

Today's high-rise homes are taking a more people-centric approach to their design through rooftop gardens and communal spaces.

January 18, 2018

Big cities across Asia Pacific have come to rely on high-rise apartments to house growing populations.

While towers in previous years were focused on building as high as possible to maximize the number of available apartments, today’s high-rise homes are taking a more people-centric approach to their design.

These new developments have more open spaces and greenery with a focus on better connecting people both to their local community and the surrounding environment to deliver both health and social benefits. Key factors in achieving engagement include safety, comfort, vibrancy and walkability, according to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.

Take the revitalization of the Parramatta riverfront in Sydney, where residents of new apartments can come together in a range of spaces, including gardens, parks, boardwalks, cycling paths and terraced areas for markets.

Over in space-starved Hong Kong, developers are trying to inject the human element back into high-rise living by offering serene green spaces that directly contrast with the crowds of the city. The Pavilla Hill complex, for example, borrows the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi to create gardens amid the concrete towers where residents can unwind.

Working within urban environments

For many cities where high density living is the norm, it’s about working with existing buildings rather than creating new ones. For example, the Capitol Singapore complex, an old heritage site in Singapore was recently redeveloped to include upmarket apartments with carefully crafted green spaces, complete with water walls and themed gardens acting as an urban oasis for residents.

Similarly in Tokyo, older ‘danchi’ apartments, sprawling blocks of residential buildings, have been redesigned to open up interior living spaces, take advantage of natural light and ventilation and better connect with communal gardens and parks outside. The redesigns are starting to attract younger people who are interested in the community philosophy of danchi and looking for alternatives to modern high rise living.

Tay Huey Ying, Head of Research & Consultancy for JLL Singapore, explains that because high-rise living is a fact of life in Singapore, many developers and landlords are instead exploring other ways to help occupiers better interact.

“Town planners have been mindful of the need to provide a variety of housing forms in Singapore and they also recognise people’s penchant for having homes with land,” says Tay. “This includes developments with more open designs and green spaces like rooftop gardens.”

Many of Singapore’s public housing blocks are already feeling the benefits of a precinct format as Tay points out. “Some blocks face a courtyard or might have a children’s playground or fitness area for the community to gather and interact,” she outlines. In older housing estates, open car parks are also being converted into multi-storey carparks to make space for community areas at ground level.” One example is the award-winning Dawsons SkyVille that comprises 12 ‘villages’ each of 80 units that share elevated gardens, giving the towering development a more intimate and community-centric atmosphere.

However, there’s no-one-size-fits- all formula for getting it right. While some developments need outside space with lots of family friendly facilities, others are catering for more sophisticated spaces. In Auckland, New Zealand, a new lifestyle community in Grace Victoria Quarter is offering redeveloped apartments for those transitioning from large family homes where a rooftop retreat with harbour views can be booked for residents’ private dinner parties and courtyard gardens tick the boxes for comfort, vibrancy and safety.

Cities take green steps

As apartments in many of Asia Pacific’s big cities continue to shrink in size, outdoor space is becoming increasingly prized yet for city dwellers even a private patch of green is beyond their budget. And as cities continue to grow upwards and outwards in the coming years it’s an issue that’s only going to be exacerbated.

Attitudes among local governments are changing, however, as more realize the benefits of having outdoor spaces where residents can relax within close proximity to where they live and work. Singapore is keen to boost its outdoor green spaces through its recently expanded Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises program which aims to boost the number of urban and rooftop gardens. Indonesia’s capital Jakarta has set aside $22.5 million to boost the number of green spaces within the city.

Some developers are getting creative too. In Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam, for example, the planned Empire City projects aims to bring a touch of the country’s famous countryside to its urban heart with a public garden known as the Sky Forest located two thirds up an 88-storey tower.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, is making more of its rooftop space to construct urban farms that draw in locals keen to get back to nature while interacting with others within their community.

Such schemes are just the start. As Asia Pacific’s cities contend with the realities of rapid urbanization, fresh thinking will be needed to preserve and maximize both private and public outdoor space to reintroduce nature into the city for the benefit of all who live there.