Q&A with Ronnie Tan, WATG Singapore: Landscape design is highly experiential and sensorial

Q&A with Ronnie Tan, WATG Singapore: Landscape design is highly experiential and sensorial

Q&A with Ronnie Tan, WATG Singapore: Landscape design is highly experiential and sensorial

What is the role of a landscape architect?

As landscape architects, we transcend design and the “green” aspect of our work to consider the sciences, such as water management, geology and even psychology, i.e. how biophilic design considerations can improve moods and promote well-being. Above all, we always go in with a preservative mindset of a light touch in design interventions. The general misconception is that we only deal with flora and fauna, but our role is clearly so much more than that. 

Why is biophilia so central to your work?

Humans have an innate affiliation with nature. In contemporary city life, our busyness and urban lifestyle have alienated us from Mother Nature in varying degrees. Any opportunity to reconnect with nature will bring forth physical and mental wellness and positive experiences. 

Arcadia condominium in Singapore - biophilic design concept
An example of a biophilic design concept for a residential project, Arcadia condominium, in Singapore.

WATG is known for its hospitality design. What lessons can be borrowed from there to incorporate into homes? 

Our extensive experience in designing hospitality destinations that lift spirits has allowed us to constantly experiment with concepts that create a strong sense of place and journey of exploration and discovery for guests. Landscape design is highly experiential, with considerations of how a place makes guests feel through a variety of sensorial touchpoints. It is by far the only design discipline that engages our five senses in the most interesting ways. 

Transcending typologies, landscape features that work for hospitality projects can easily be adopted for the home, and vice versa, to enjoy the positive effects of biophilic design no matter the context. A well thought-out landscape design for the home helps in rejuvenating spirits and promotes an overall sense of wellness, which would invaluably benefit us. 

Here, we share how landscape design can elevate the sensorial quality of residences. 

Sight

This is a sense we rely on heavily and landscape design for the home is significantly focused on aesthetically enhancing our surroundings. Landscape can also provide chromotherapy, where light and colours influence how we feel and alleviate stress. Greenery is often associated with growth and renewal, while the colours of flowers promote optimism and vibrancy. Use plants generously, especially native plants for biodiversity and ease of maintenance. Accent plants like orchids can create a sense of opulence with an exotic garden concept.

Exuberant flora at Zorlu Centre in Istanbul, Turkey.
Exuberant flora at Zorlu Centre in Istanbul, Turkey.

In the day, water features and their reflective nature can visually bring the ground and sky planes together, promoting a calming effect. They also help animate a space and invite wildlife, such as dragonflies and birds, to come visit. Small fish will keep mosquito breeding at bay. At night, focus on lighting to extend the use of outdoor spaces and create ethereal landscapes. The play of shadow and light will create an atmosphere significantly different from the day. Lights with warm colour temperature – like shades of yellow – will feel more natural and soothing than lights with cooler temperature.

Many of us live in apartments, where we may not have much space for living, let alone for landscaping. One solution to this is to capitalise on the concept of “borrowed landscapes” – or extending the boundaries of our properties by borrowing the sights of adjacent landscape. Similar to the composition of a painting, use accents such as sculptures, a colourful burst of flowers, or even a colourful plant pot to help bring interest and visual anchors to the landscape composition. 

Sound

Incorporating a water feature with movement produces a constant stream of soothing sounds that can also camouflage undesirable background noise like busy traffic. A hedge of trees or tall shrubs can do the same and also keep out prying eyes. Water features and flowering plants can attract birds that will bring aural jouissance, especially in the mornings and evenings when they are most active at feeding. Another option is a windchime. It adds to the appreciation and connectedness to the wind, another of Mother Nature’s wonders. Find one that has a likeable chime that will not annoy the neighbours. Usually a heavier and lower tone works better than a light one that tinkles with just a light gust. 

Smell

Often underrated, our sense of smell is one that can evoke strong memories and emotions. Luxurious hotel and resort developers are infusing olfactory experiences into their guests’ experiences to achieve that cognitive impact. Plants like frangipani, lemongrass, rosemary and pandan are known for their scent qualities and could promote relaxation; some even come in handy when harvested for culinary endeavours. Besides distinct scents, clean air produced by plants always smells fresh.

Taste

Grow your own food. Try to grow micro-herbs, vegetables and even fruits for that impressive “garden to table” gesture when entertaining. Even high-rise residential apartments have celebrated urban farming successes despite their space constraints. Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you know you have closed the loop on the circular farm-to-table experience in your own backyard or balcony.

Touch

Get outdoors. Be involved in gardening and get your hands dirty – it has been known to reduce stress levels and promote well-being. Walk barefoot and take it as a form of foot reflexology; it helps to reconnect with the earth. If possible, shade some outdoor spaces so that they can be an extension of the indoor spaces and activities. Use different plants and hardscape materials in the garden to offer a varied tactile experience.

Landscape composition at Nobu Hotel in Los Cabos, Mexico
Landscape composition at Nobu Hotel in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Ronnie Tan is the Studio Director of Landscape at WATG Singapore.

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