Towards Sustainability & Resiliency: The Seven Environment Design Guidelines

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.

Global warming – to a tune of +1.09 degrees Celsius over the past 150 years – has impacted natural biodiversity systems irreversibly. Our entire notion of food and nutrition will need to be shaken up, as crops may no longer grow and ocean waters may no longer become tenable for seafood. Ironically, yet unsurprisingly, it is the way we consume – and indeed, the way we build – that have contributed to these crises. The acceleration of global carbon output following the Industrial Revolution, in tandem with rapid rural-urban migration, has put a massive strain on cities and their infrastructure. Meanwhile, the continuing culture of overconsumption, catalysed by the explosion of mass media in the latter half of the 20th Century, has accelerated the planet’s manufacturing output, and concomitantly, its waste output. These have shifted the balance of natural ecosystems, and rendered some climes uninhabitable.

The spread of COVID-19 – and other prior respiratory disease outbreaks – has been attributed to our wanton behaviours in urbanisation, industrialisation and overconsumption. While it may seem naively remissive or even crudely dogmatic to attribute the pandemic as a “punishment” for our practices, there is some truth in that notion. When human activity breaches natural habitats, peripheries between man-made landscapes and natural landscapes are blurred, encouraging the spread of zoonotic diseases. Unbridled densification and poor hygiene conditions then precipitate convenient transmission of the disease.

SIA’s Seven Environmental Design Guidelines (EDGs)

In the context of these concurrent crises, the SIA Sustainability Committee has developed the seven SIA EDGs – Environmental Design Guidelines which, if appropriately adopted, would gear towards a more sustainable built environment. Drawing reference from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the EDGs focus on aspects over which Architects and building professionals have agency.


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As a guide, the SIA Green Book (2020, digital edition, free download from the SIA website) expounds on these EDGs. It demonstrates how specific EDGs become relevant in the building life cycle process and describes how these EDGs can be measured.


Excerpts from the SIA Green Book, Towell, B. H. SIA Press, 2020

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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.



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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. 



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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.



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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.


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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.



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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.


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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:
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