In conversation with landscape architect Chris Long
Kheng Leong’s new launch condos MeyerHouse and 15 Holland Hill have a few things in common. Both are low density / high luxury residences that feature jaw-dropping landscape architecture from the house of Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl.
Captivated by the garden designs, we simply had to dig deeper. We caught up with Chris Long, Director for Urban and Landscape Design at Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl, to understand the unique thinking behind these environments.
Before we dive into that, did you know Chris has been behind some of Singapore’s most recognisable spots? A President’s Design Award nominee, his contribution to the island’s landscape is immense. He’s been instrumental in projects like the Istana Front Lawn, Tanglin Core Redevelopment, Gardens by The Bay Preliminary Masterplan, the Southern Ridges Masterplan, and the ongoing Mandai Rejuvenation project to name a few.
What sparked your interested in landscape architecture?
Chris Long: My interest in landscape started at a young age. I need to clarify that “landscape” here does not mean plants only but also the spatial relationship between living and built elements and the larger surroundings within which we live as perceived through the human eyes. This would naturally include all plants and natural elements that make up this environment.
I grew up in an HDB flat that fortunately had an unblocked view, all the way to the city’s Central Business District. I’ve always been in awe of the way we humans shape our living environment.
As a kid, my daily interaction with nature was limited to what I could find on the little piece of grassland between my flat, a hospital and the Philips factory (in front of my apartment building). This must’ve shaped my desire to play a role in making a better environment to live in for future generations.
At the time when I chose to study landscape architecture, my parents had never heard of this profession, and they were seriously worried about my future. It also coincided with the bursting of the ’80s property bubble when the exuberance of the market was given free rein with no government interventions, unlike today. Fortunately, I managed to secure a scholarship to pursue a landscape architectural degree in Germany and have never looked back.
Tell us more about your unique approach to landscape architecture, particularly your adoption of “Synaplan”.
Chris: I adopt design thinking in my landscape architecture work and “Synaplan” is a facilitation methodology that I have learnt from Dr Nereu Feix and have continually put into practice since my first year in Germany. It’s an inclusive collaboration model that taps the ideas and contributions of all team members as well as stakeholders, without denigrating it into a “design by committee”.
In your 20+ years of experience, you’ve contributed greatly to Singapore’s world-renowned landscape. If you had to pick a project that you’re particularly proud of, which one would you choose and why?
Chris: The experience of designing the Istana Front Lawn was unforgettable! I mean, how many people can boast about presenting their work to the president (Mr Ong Teng Cheong), the prime minister (Mr Goh Chok Tong) and the senior minister (Mr Lee Kuan Yew)?
Design notes on MeyerHouse
Undoubtedly, MeyerHouse is one of the most luxurious new launch condos on the East Coast. Walk us through its landscape design process from inspo to concept…
Chris: We started by understanding the unique quality that distinguishes MeyerHouse. The inspiration for the design of the landscape emerged after understanding how the residents will be approaching and entering the landscape… a very innovative design by WOHA Architects.
Every apartment has its own private lift, and the lower level of this development is the portal from which every resident will move through to enter the garden. And they will enter it right smack in the centre of the entire garden.
This is very different from other developments. We envisioned a portal that will transport you from a tropical landscape into a totally different part of the world – the temperate zone. We conceived the landscape on the ground in a very English style, inspired by the gardens of British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll. You can almost imagine a horizontal plane in the garden where everything below that plane is tropical-looking, and everything above it is English.
For the English garden, we wanted the grounds to move around you as you experience it while walking along an entirely levelled path. Imagine the Harry Potter train gliding through the English landscape? That’s how we envisioned it!
And to achieve the design as we imagined it, we made many study models in all sizes. The final study model to fully test our design was so big, it could fill an entire small office!
The final challenge was creating an English garden using tropical plants, while at the same time achieving a design that would not be pigeon-holed into a particular style but that would be exclusive to MeyerHouse.
As a part of the MeyerHouse project, Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl also developed the public park adjacent to the property. What’s the story behind it and what can we expect to see?
Chris: The siting of the project beside a public park was also a unique selling point for the development. The team looked at how to borrow the greenery into the landscape of the project and made the park feel like an extension of the landscape and vice versa.
At the same time, the developer Kheng Leong was keen to give the park a “face-lift”. There will be an enhancement to the circulation system, improvements to the playground and fitness areas, as well as the pavilion. In this way, the project plugs itself into the neighbourhood and we believe the park will help the neighbours bond with each other.
While shooting the showflat, we spotted several butterflies visiting the little English garden – instant joy! What feelings do you hope the landscape design of MeyerHouse will create for its residents?
Chris: Biophilic design is at the core of almost everything we do at Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl.
We hope residents will enjoy this little piece of nature and enjoy visits by our neighbours from nature – be it butterflies, sun-birds or woodpeckers. We hope these creatures will bring joy to the residents.
Design notes on 15 Holland Hill
Luxury new launch condo 15 Holland Hill is on everyone’s watchlist. Walk us through the process of designing its unique landscape.
Chris: When we first saw the site for 15 Holland Hill, nestled into a little hill near the Singapore Botanic Gardens, we thought this must be Singapore’s best-kept secret!
It immediately conjured up an image in our minds – of a gently sloping and rolling landscape with the pool and pavilion peeling off from the ground and a meandering path that invites you to take a leisurely walk through nature.
We were inspired to create three distinctive garden types to fit within this terrain – the knoll gardens (the knolls), the flower gardens (the blooms) and the fern gardens (the vales).
By placing the buildings and the facilities at the edge of the development site, elevating and tucking the play areas like treehouses under the buildings, these gardens form a contiguous swath of greenery, thereby maximising the effect of the almost 40% of green site coverage (i.e. just plants) on the ground alone.
The effect that we achieved will be at once natural yet poetic, full of temporal surprises and inviting.
About two-thirds of 15 Holland Hill’s plot is dedicated to landscaping and amenities. Would you say it’s a rare feature exclusive to this condo or an ongoing trend to offer residents for outdoor space?
Chris: It will be difficult for other projects aspiring to provide the same proportion and feeling of greenery to achieve what 15 Holland Hill has created. It was a confluence of a unique site opportunity, Kheng Leong’s vision, design team effort and the biophilic-centric design of Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl.
But we definitely hope that this will continue to be the trend in the future of Singapore residential developments, towards a more urban nature-centric living.
Where to now?