ASEAN’s Emeralds: Cultural and Architectural Greenery

Saradise Kuching Township, Malaysia
Saradise Kuching Township, Malaysia

Many ASEAN countries developed based on traditional agriculture. Most cultures in the region in turn, share a deep affinity with nature and greenery. Even Singapore, which doesn’t boast quite the same agrarian roots as its neighbours, envisions itself as a “City in a Garden”. Indeed, being green is an integral part of national identity for many ASEAN countries, with governments actively promoting nature and sustainability as part of their nations’ branding.

However, there remains many challenges impeding the flourishing of greenery in the region. This makes an examination of the various issues impacting the region’s sustainability directive a useful one.

Humans are increasingly consuming resources at a dizzying pace. Businesses in particular, have grown in size and number, mirroring the rapid population and economic growth of the region. Such growing numbers and appetites make it less likely for businesses and private developers in the region to prioritise sustainability and greenery, if everything is left to the free market.

Additionally, climate change and environmental issues today easily cross country borders, making them regional problems that result in air, water and land pollution, as well as the depletion of biological diversity and natural resources for all. This has made ASEAN’s balancing act between human and social capital advancement, economic development, and environmental sustainability, a difficult one. In fact, experts have noted that the latest Global Climate Risk Index 2018 report placed four ASEAN countries – Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – as being among the top 10 countries in the world most affected (from 1997 to 2016) by climate variability.

Many governments have, in response, set out responsible policies to ensure environmental balance is maintained. For example, Indonesia has reportedly imposed an oil palm moratorium, which firstly, mandates compulsory reviews of palm oil permits; second, allows the government to rezone areas as forests, preventing these protected areas from being used for oil palm cultivation; third, level charges against companies seeking to exploit the environment for their gains; and fourth, revoke permits as necessary. Ultimately, sustainable development requires both policies and projects that collectively contribute towards economic development, human and social capital advancement, and sound ecological health.

For those of us helping to develop the built environment, emphasising sustainability also requires us to thoroughly consider efficient resource utilisation, along with the various economic, social, and environmental repercussions that our design and planning decisions will result in. We have to account for the magnitude of these resulting effects, and make proactive plans to mitigate any negative implications accordingly.

Doing so not only better protects our environment, it also enhances the branding of locations where such efforts take place, creating spaces that residents and visitors alike can take great pride in. One good example of a project geared towards environmental sustainability is ‘Saradise’, a project in Sarawak that CPG Consultants and Consulus jointly worked on.

Inspiration for ‘Saradise’ drew from Mother Earth’s gift to Sarawak: its natural diversity. We went to great lengths to incorporate this inspiration into our designs and recommendations for Saradise. For one, we immerse visitors in lush greenery created with 151 different types of plant species carefully selected from the vast collection of flora and fauna of Sarawak. Additionally, Saradise’s logo is designed to be a blend of different elements, including the Sarawak flag, the indigenous Midin fern, and the state bird, the Rhinoceros Hornbill. By tapping on the existing affinities for nature, we have developed a place where residents can be proud to call home.

Climate change is inevitable, however if we pay more attention to adaptation measures in this rapidly changing region, we can ensure that greenery and sustainability continue to play important roles in our regional brands and identities.

By Tony Chan and Helena Pham

Helena Pham is a Partner at Consulus, a Singapore-headquartered Innovation firm specialising in Industry 4.0 transformation, including delivering solutions for smart cities in ASEAN.

Tony Chan, Senior Vice-President at CPG Consultants, heads the company’s integrated solutions division.

CPG and Consulus are alliance partners for an integrated solution for Smart Cities named PlaceCORE.

Discover more about designs that incorporate nature into built environments here.