Above and Beyond the Green
Designing sustainable cities of the future
Photos courtesy of Pomeroy Studio
When award-winning architect, masterplanner, academic, author, and TV personality Prof. Jason Pomeroy travels the world to explore cities and landscapes, his eyes witness both past and future. As host to Channel News Asia’s “City Time Traveller,” Pomeroy observes: “Each city I visited was unique and remarkable in their own way, from Amritsar’s temples to Manila’s own Intramuros.”
He also mentions Kolkata in India as a classic example of how well the British had administered their “crown jewel” during the colonial days. “The city was the center point from which British Kolkata’s influence can even be seen in contemporary Britain, through the popularity of Indian cuisine, which has its roots in the spices that were transported from Kolkata to England during British colonial rule.”
Fascinating though the past may be, present-day development and urbanization can be seen slowly eroding that foundation and paving a way for an uncertain future in terms of the sustainability and survival of many cities.
Pomeroy remarks that “while cities may change over time, the basic socio/cultural needs of the inhabitants have remained the same for hundreds, if not thousands of years. There is an almost Darwinian process of natural selection, in that only the strongest design ideas and principles survive, and superfluous detail quickly gets discarded.
“The adornments and motifs that do survive come in the form of religious or local crafts, providing a distinctively local cultural flavor and providing a cultural starting point from which the architecture is then shaped. So for the city planners of the future, I would say that ultimately, it is the people associated with these living environments that shape the culture, and therefore the buildings that they occupy. So keep an eye on the past and concentrate on the local population and culture, and use that as a point of reference when designing cities for the future.”
From wigwams to Wren and onto the world
The good Professor surely knows whereof he speaks. Pomeroy’s professional journey had taken him through the august design halls of London-based Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardell (YRM) who were early pioneers of British modernism; then the Japanese architecture, engineering, construction and development corporation Kajima, where he worked in Brussels, London and Amsterdam. Next was the London office of the architecture, urbanism and design firm of Broadway Malyan, and later established the company’s Singapore office.
In 2012, Pomeroy left Broadway Malyan Asia to form his own sustainable design firm Pomeroy Studio in Singapore. Among his company’s landmark green projects are “B House (2015) – the first carbon negative house in Singapore; Gramercy Sky Park (2012) – the tallest residential skypark in the Philippines; Newpark (2015), a new township set to contain the first zero-carbon public realm in Malaysia; and Century City (2015) – a residential and commercial district that includes Trump Tower Manila, the Philippines.”
Quite an adventure that began, interestingly enough, in his family’s backyard while growing up in the UK, the only son of an English father and Malaysian mother.
Pomeroy recalls: “One of the first ‘forays’ into architecture that I can remember was in my back garden at home, making a wigwam out of branches from trees and stealing some of my Mum’s blankets to put on top! I remember spending most of my childhood outside in that garden, enjoying the greenery and natural habitat of England. However, what really cemented my passion was when I was a bit older, and my father took me to St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, I remember being in awe of such a large yet dignified building, with its lofty interior and domed structure.”
Pomeroy cultivated this passion, and even while in school, formulated his concepts that would impact current architectural standards. It was during his studies at both Canterbury School of Architecture and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom that he developed an interest in Skycourts and Skygardens.
Pomeroy defines the essence of Skycourts and Skygardens as spaces “designed to replace the loss of green open spaces on the ground, with communal spaces in the sky, allowing an alternative public realm where society can congregate.”
Another focus of his research has been in Zero Energy Development which developed into the Pomeroy Studio designed Idea House in Malaysia.
As Asia’s first carbon-neutral prototype home completed in 2010, Pomeroy describes the Idea House: “At a basic level, a green building will harness the sun, wind and rain to reduce energy consumption and lower the cost to the user. However, I go further than this, and draw on the essence of culture and tradition to create buildings that positively impact people’s lives. The Idea House used many of the techniques employed in the ancient Malay Kampong House, which itself was designed before electricity, and so maximized natural light and ventilation, was expandable to accommodate a Malay family of three to five, and was very sensitive to its surrounding environment. We added technology sparingly, such as solar panels and rainwater harvesting features.”
Following in the footsteps of The Idea House is the B House in Singapore. Likewise designed by Pomeroy Studio and due for completion by December 2015, it is the city state’s first targeted carbon negative house. Pomeroy explains: “Not only does it generate more carbon-free energy than it consumes – making it carbon-negative – but it costs the same as a traditional property in the same area. When people start seeing physical proof that sustainable properties can be built at no additional cost, mindsets will start to shift.”
Caring for the cities of tomorrow
Despite the growing popularity of these environment-friendly design concepts, Prof. Pomeroy is still greatly concerned. The cities that he has come to love will continue on crisis mode should outdated wasteful planning practices prevail. He warns: “Should we not change direction soon, I believe that the cities of tomorrow, rather than being centers of wealth creation and innovation, could well become mired in poverty, crime, congestion and pollution. We are already seeing the privatization of space and removal of green, communal areas. Rising urban land prices are increasing inequality, as only the rich can afford to live in the centers of cities, while the poor are required to commute to their place of work on a daily basis. Poorly designed mass housing needs more energy to cool and power, thus further placing an economic burden on the poorest.”
And that is what drives Pomeroy to continue with his efforts at advocating sustainable city planning, hinged on environmental protection and conservation. He points out: “Today, there are also more pressing reasons behind my advocacy of the green agenda. The number of people on this planet is set to grow from 7.3 billion today, to 9.7 billion in 2050, and by 2100, this will rise to 11.2 billion. The built environment contributes by far the most to Global Warming, with cities estimated to be responsible for 75 percent of global CO2 emissions, buildings and transport being the main culprits. Rapid urbanization has resulted in cities that are poorly planned, overcrowded, unequal and in some cases, centers of crime and poverty. The current methods of designing and building our urban environments is simply not working and must change if mankind is to survive the next century without destroying the planet we live on. I therefore take this as a unique responsibility, and opportunity, to improve the lives for ourselves and future generations by creating built environments that are not only ‘livable and lovable,’ but are also good for the environment.”
For more about Prof. Jason Pomeroy and the Pomeroy Studio, visit www.pomeroystudio.sg
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