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Cultivate News

Bringing People to Nature: Examples from Singapore

 | Published on 7/12/2019

with guest speaker Nan Elamgovan
Saturday 25th May, 2019
Nan event

On Saturday 25th May, we were treated to a fabulous talk by Nanthini Elamgovan, Deputy Director, in the Parks Division of the National Parks Board in Singapore.

Nanthini spent six months on a sabbatical at the Royal Botanic Gardens with the Community Greening team, exchanging ideas and knowledge.

The description of Nan’s talk was as follows: ‘Therapeutic Gardens are spaces designed to meet the physical, psychological and social needs of people. The Therapeutic Gardens in Singapore were designed following evidence from scientific studies on the benefits of exposure to greenery and the outdoors. Singapore boasts over 350 parks, gardens and nature reserves, with a master plan to create and provide Therapeutic Gardens throughout the country. The gardens are conducive for children, elderly, and people with special needs, on top of being a tranquil space for all to enjoy. Visitors can also be involved in Therapeutic Horticulture programmes that allow them to have hands-on experiences with plants and nature. The aim of the gardens is to promote health benefits such as the relief of mental fatigue, stress reduction and an overall improvement to emotional well-being.’

In 2017, Singapore was judged the most treed city in the world as judged by the MIT Treepedia project.  It’s now number 2 behind Tampa, Florida. 

The vision for Singapore has evolved from being a ‘garden city’ to that of  ‘the city in a garden,’ based on the principles of biophilia and biophilic design as expounded by Dr Stephen Kellert and the Living Future Institute whereby biophilia and biophilic design is used to enhance urban design using nature – making the design as green as possible. Link to National Geographic article. 


One outstanding example of many in Singapore is the Khoo Teck Puat hospital which was awarded the inaugural Stephen R Kellert Biophilic Design Award in 2017. It has been renovated and extended over time and has embraced biophilic design with gusto. Extensive gardens and expanses of water feature in the design along with lots of large windows that open allowing fresh air to circulate as would happen in their own homes. Known as Class C wards, they face the lake and wind from the lake can be harnesses to cool the wards. They have fans instead of air-conditioning and are cheaper but with the very best views! Now there’s a thought! Gardens on the roof provide organic vegetables and fruit for the hospital kitchens and specially designed dementia garden areas allow people living with dementia to enjoy the gardens and take part in activities in a safe environment.  The hospital is more than a hospital, it is a community health hub. This article provides more information and some stunning photos of the hospital and the gardens.


Nan also talked about an ongoing research study of ageing on Asian communities which has lead to the development of Design Guidelines for ageing and dementia which can be found here.

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