First look – Invisible Architecture by Atelier Ten

To celebrate its 25th Anniversary, leading environmental design consultancy Atelier Ten is launching a new book, Invisible Architecture, a collection of essays written by the company’s global staff and select guest contributors. Invisible Architecture investigates the unseen elements that make up the physical experience of architecture.

The book will be available in leading bookstores and on Amazon from 17 November 2015. In the meantime, here is a taste of what to expect, in the form of one of the many stunning photo essays that make up the book.

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Interior of the Cloud Forest Dome at night. A series of illuminated walkways provide connectivity to the mountain.

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Aerial views of the Gardens by the Bay conservatory. The Flower Dome re-creates Mediterranean conditions, while the Cloud Forest Dome re-creates tropical mountain conditions. The supertrees (foreground) are part of the ventilation system.

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The baobab level within the Flower Dome.

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Gardens by the Bay, Cloud Forest Dome (left), Flower Dome (right) and Supertrees (background).

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The mountain within the Cloud Forest Dome and panorama from lower walkways.

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The conservatory complex and Supertrees are seen from Dragonfly Lake at night.

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Liquid dessicant dehumidification in the plant rooms within the domes.

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Roof ventilators within the domes’ cladding release hot air at high level.

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Photovoltaic panels are integrated in the top of the Supertrees.

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Foggers on the walkways in the Cloud Forest Dome create artificial clouds, which are used as a visitor attraction and linked to the conditioning of the building.

Gardens by the Bay, by Meredith Davey

An international exemplar of integrated design, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is comprised of 54 ha of landscaped gardens situated on the city’s waterfront. Winner of the World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival 2012, its two cooled conservatories are the jewels of the project, along with 18 dramatic ‘supertree’ structures that support vertical gardens while housing mechanical services and renewable technologies. The project achieved GreenMark Platinum and contributes to Singapore’s global reputation as a garden city.

The 20,000m² conservatories house two biomes, which re-create the cool dry conditions of the Mediterranean springtime and the cool moist conditions of tropical mountain regions. The conflicting need to maintain light levels for the plants at 45,000 lux while minimising solar heat gain posed a considerable design challenge. Our innovative strategies controlled conditions within the biomes and reduced energy demand to exemplar levels.

The envelope design used selective glazing to control radiant transmission and surface temperatures, while retractable external shades modulate daylight levels. The form of the biomes follows the efficient geometry of a hyperbolic curve, enclosing a large volume within a relatively small surface area. This creates a stack effect, which draws heat up and stratifies air within the space so that only the lower occupied zone is conditioned, significantly reducing cooling loads.

The conservatories and gardens are designed to be symbiotic through the interaction of energy and water processes. The cooling and dehumidification system operates on horticultural residue. Waste timber collected from the pruning of Singapore’s street trees, which was previously sent to landfill, feeds a biomass CHP plant in the central energy centre that powers, cools and heats the biomes. The energy is fed into chillers that supply variable-temperature chilled water to the biomes.

The water strategy was critical because the site abuts Marina Bay, which was recently transformed from a tidal estuary into a freshwater reserve by the construction of a barrage east of the site. The retention, conservation and purification of water were major drivers for the masterplan design. Rainfall within the site catchment is filtered and cleansed of the high content of nitrogen, phosphorous and suspended solids arising from the gardens before being discharged into the marina reservoir.

At Gardens by the Bay’s opening festivities in 2012, Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong spoke of the lessons Singaporeans could learn from the project’s many green technologies so that once ‘economics’ allowed, they could be implemented more widely to create a more sustainable city.

Can constructing such significant garden buildings to create artificial environments in Singapore’s climate ever be described as a sustainable proposition? As environmental designers we are frequently faced with a brief that seeks sustainable outcomes from a project for a predetermined purpose that we cannot control. The responsibility falls on us to make the most of the resources at our disposal. We must endeavour not just to ‘do more with less’ as Buckminster Fuller said, but to proactively seek out and initiate virtuous cycles so that every project can be beneficial to the local environment and not just less bad.

The above is an extract written by Meredith Davey from Invisible Architecture by Atelier Ten, available from 17 November.

Those attending the World Architecture Festival in Singapore, 4-6 November, are invited to join Atelier Ten at the opening night drinks (7.15pm on 4 November, in the Festival Hall) where Atelier Ten Principal and Founding Director, Patrick Bellew, will be signing copies of the new book.