Towards Sustainability & Resiliency: The Seven Environmental Design Guidelines Update

Facing a worsening climate emergency, the Singapore Institute of Architects’ Seven Environmental Design Guidelines (EDGs) make relevant the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to architects. Envisioned as anchors to the practice of architecture, the EDGs lend agency and urgency to architects to support the Singapore Green Plan.

A World in Multiple Crises
To date, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed almost 5 million lives worldwide, with many more unreported cases. Yet, prior to the COVID-19 explosion, the world had already faced two looming crises – climate change and biodiversity loss. The IPCC (UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report released in August 2021 claims, amongst other damning points, that:

  • The past five years have been the hottest on record, since 1850;
  • The recent rate of sea level rise has tripled in the last fifty years;
  • Human influence accounts for 90% of why glaciers are retreating and Arctic sea-ice is melting since the 1990s.
EDG 1 – Education and Integration
Part of the problem is the building industry’s ignorance of the impact that our work has on the environment. As stewards of the built environment, Architects possess a coveted autonomy in integrating and educating the project team, and therein, formulating a project’s sustainability performance goals. This process could continue into the building’s operations, where occupants are informed of how to operate the building sustainably.

EDG 2 – Climate Action
Architects, as the common denominator throughout the building process, should lead the climate action charge. Not only are we agents of our client and of the State – we also have a moral and ethical requirement to act in the public good, through protecting our environment.

EDG 3 – Natural Capital
We must address the ecological impact of our building work (measurable by biocapacity and landscape replacement), and how our designed processes can reduce or even reverse the negative impacts of our buildings through design and construction choices, and eventual operation.

EDG 4 – Resource Management
Our design choices are critical in determining the use of resources and ability for resource management for the project. This EDG considers resource use holistically, identifying cradle-to-cradle journeys for the sustainable sourcing, usage and potential re-use at the end of its initial life cycle.

EDG 5 – Urban Harmony
This is where aspects of placemaking, connectivity, and environmental comfort come in – thus defining the building’s ‘environmental identity’, response to site, and respect for its context. This represents Architect's bread and butter – the response to pre-existing conditions that physically define a site, and describe its social and cultural context.

EDG 6 – Health and Well-being
Through the creation of spaces, we have the power to promote physiological and psychological wellness, emotional satisfaction and safety – aspects that build a healthy society, and that have become even more apparent in these pandemic times. The measurables for this EDG would include biophilia, comfort, inclusiveness and safety.

EDG 7 – Adaptability and Longevity
Architects bear a crucial role in adaptive reuse, maintenance and the durability of materials. Projects exemplifying this EDG would have considerations of ability to combine, split, extend units and reconfigure spaces. This also extends to ease of upgrading of systems, conservation of heritage assets, and preservation of the existing social fabric.

The Singapore Green Plan 2030
In March 2021, the Singapore government released the Singapore Green Plan – a concerted series of efforts in driving Singapore’s future economy towards sustainability, summarised in the following infographic:

The release of the SIA EDGs was timely in the way that it addressed the (then unknown) details of the Green Plan. Mapping the EDGs against the five pillars of the Green Plan therefore enables us to drive the profession forward in tandem with national sustainability efforts, and find new opportunities in practice – carbon accounting, sustainable development, framing and executing green loans, and their composite research and development.

With the Singapore Green Plan as a wider contextual framework, the SIA EDGs should stand as constant anchors to the practice of architecture. While not fool-proof in combating the triple threats of COVID-19, climate change and biodiversity loss, they can lend us agency – and urgency – in creating a more sustainable, equitable built environment.

Let us build not just for our current societies to thrive in, but for future generations to not suffer from our inaction.