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2nd March 2015

Singapore Real Estate

Laying the foundations for a City in a Garden
DesignSingapore Council is the national agency for design. In the fifth of a six-part series, Melissa De Silva speaks to its chief on efforts to make Singapore a design centre, and the landscape architects' institute that is encouraging professionals in the field to get themselves accredited for their own good.
Source: Straits Times / Singapore

MR DAMIAN Tang, president of the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects (Sila), spoke to The Straits Times about efforts to encourage landscape professionals to get themselves accredited, and the benefits for them.

·       You have been working with DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) to develop an accreditation framework for landscape architects. What is its value?

It creates value on several levels. For the landscape architecture industry, it would strengthen the awareness and competencies of this profession.

It would maintain and elevate professionalism and standards for landscape architects and better integrate them with multi-disciplinary consultancy teams, with defined competencies and better- recognised expertise.

Also, it would raise competitiveness and enhance the portability of this profession internationally.

And, of course, there would be alignment of professional standards, from public to private developments.

For government agencies, the framework would make procurement evaluation easier.

Now, when some government tenders go out, they request landscape consultants.

The term "landscape consultant" is very broad. With accreditation, there is the assurance that those who offer their services have the necessary qualifications as landscape architects.

We would highly recommend that government agencies state "landscape architects" in such tenders, because the accreditation is for landscape architects.

Landscape architects would need to have academic qualifications - a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture at least.

For Singapore as a "City in a Garden", having such a framework would set an international benchmark for Singapore landscapes and greenery design.

A lot of people think landscape architecture is just about where you put plants; but to really bring in ecology and integrate natural and human environments re- quires proper planning and training.

So we play a key role, together with other stakeholders, in benchmarking Singapore as a City in a Garden.

Also, it would strengthen biodiversity and enhance ecological design with art and science-based approaches.

·       At what stage is the industry in Singapore, in relation to adopting such a framework?

In my opinion, the industry is definitely at a mature stage to adopt such a framework.

In fact, we feel that we could have done it earlier, together with our key stakeholders, to move Singapore faster into the City in a Garden state.

In development projects, architects are usually the project leads. If, after the building is done, the landscape architect is told: "Now the ground is for you to landscape", it becomes just an afterthought.

If you want the landscape to be integrated with the architecture, with the engineering components, you will have to start thinking of issues such as "This building needs to take the load of this number of trees, these corridors and connections".

All this requires upfront planning. This is why interdisciplinary planning at the initial stage is so important.

Over the past three to five years, we have found that more landscape architects are getting involved in the planning stage of projects.

This is a big change from 10 or 20 years ago.

Please elaborate on the continuing professional development programme, which is part of accreditation.

Broadly, continual professional development covers three domains.

First, professional practice, where we look at the areas of codes, regulations, submissions, guidelines and policies related to landscape projects and environmental practices.

Second, urban ecology, in the areas where we strengthen our science-based design approaches with knowledge in biodiversity, urban greenery and softscapes - elements of a landscape that comprise live, horticultural elements such as flowers, plants, shrubs, trees and flower beds.

Anyone can bring in plants, but you need to know which plants will be able to survive, given specific lighting and drainage conditions, for example.

With City in a Garden, we do not want a stark city without birds, butterflies and wildlife.

So we need to calibrate our choice of plants carefully to determine what wildlife they attract. This is part of the training of a landscape architect.

Third, there is landscape design management. This covers areas associated with landscape contract and design management processes for landscape consultancy. It covers pre- to post-landscape contract issues.

How is this professional programme valuable to designers? As a landscape architect, it is part of our professional responsibility to maintain a high level of standards and uphold our professional code of ethics and conduct.

Therefore, this programme maintains high standards of design, competencies and practice due to the evolving environmental challenges and rapidly changing landscapes of Singapore.

It also enhances employability and creates better opportunities for career advancement.

·       How is Dsg working with Sila to promote the framework?

Sila is developing the accreditation framework together with Dsg.

This framework will become the Landscape Architects Accreditation Directory, which sets out the general qualifications and requirements for accreditation.

Dsg will administer this directory with a board being appointed and a panel will be responsible for evaluation of applications for admission to the directory of landscape architects.