Forest in a school?

Hi guys!

In this blog post, I’d like to share a bit about a conversation I had with a friend a few days ago (she’d like to remain anonymous!). I’m not quite sure how we ended up at this topic but we began talking about her previous school, Commonwealth Secondary School. She then brought up a recent incident where a male jambu fruit dove collided into a school window and died. While I have heard of the incident from some friends, I was not aware of the reason why. After this, my friend mentioned that her school “has a forest”. I was completely taken aback! A forest in a school?? How is that even possible when we already have so little forest left in Singapore?

She whipped out her phone and began to show me photos of the “pretty bird” and “forest”.

Male Jambu Fruit Dove [1]


“Forest” in Commonwealth Secondary School [2]

This was how I discovered that there is a Greening Schools for Biodiversity (GSB) programme by NParks! Funding and guidance is given to schools to ‘green’ their campus and increase biodiversity [3].

Commonwealth Secondary School underwent this greening process in 2012. Now, the school has 7 eco-habitats! You can watch the video in the link below if you’re interested to find out more about the vast greenery in the school!

Also, scrolling through the #cwssbiodiversity hashtag on Instagram got me pretty excited! Since building these eco-habitats, the school has attracted all kinds of wildlife, from migratory birds to monitor lizards to bats. This will bring the younger generation in Singapore closer to nature and hopefully instil a sense of love and care for the environment and wildlife within them.

I think that GSB is a great initiative as it provides habitats for wildlife in what are often densely urbanised areas. Compared to large natural forests, there is increased monitoring of the ecosystem and organism health. For example, when Golden Apple Snails invaded The Wetland in Commonwealth Secondary School, threatening native snail species by feeding on many of the water plants, the situation was quickly managed. Students, under the guidance of teachers, helped  to remove the invasive snails and control its population, thus helping the ecosystem to restore some balance [4].

Students handling Golden Apple Snails [5]

There have also been many instances where injured animals, such as birds, were found by students and brought to ACRES Wildlife Rescue to be nursed back to health.

It would be good if NUS could cultivate such a culture in campus, where students and staff care for the environment and are more aware of the wildlife living so close to us! Perhaps then we would find more reported evidence of the health of organisms and ecosystems in and around NUS & we could start working on co-existing better with them.

Thank you for reading!

Sarah 🙂



[1] : Photo by Tan Guan Rui Jacob, a biology teacher in Commonwealth Secondary School. Retrieved from:

[2] : Photo from instagram account @jacob.rui . Retrieved from:

[3] : Greening Schools for Biodiversity. NParks website. Retrieved from:

[4] : Green schools a growing trend by Lea Wee on The Straits Times (2016). Retrieved from:

[5] : Environmental Education. Commonwealth Secondary School website.



Roller Coaster in the City?

Hello everyone!

Do you recognise this building?

Perhaps not, but a more characteristic feature of this development is the sloping canopy roof pictured below!

Canopy of pedestrian space [1]

Still not sure? Well, this is the South Beach development located near City Hall and Esplanade!

The first time I noticed the unique architecture of the South Beach development, I was in the National Library Building hundreds of metres away. I got a bird’s-eye view of the site while it was under construction and wondered, “Why are they building a roller coaster track in the middle of the city?” (not even kidding!). From that moment onwards, I was fascinated by the architecture of South Beach, particularly its canopy feature.

The canopy is made of aluminium and steel, but the brown colour of the panels gives off the impression that the structure is made of wood. It is the shelter of a wide pedestrian avenue and was designed to allow air to flow through [2], providing some relief in our hot tropical climate. The valleys of the canopy also collect rainwater, which is used to water the plants within the South Beach development [3]. Other green features include solar panels installed on the roof and sky gardens that help cool the buildings.

I decided to visit South Beach development on Saturday, to find out if there were any other noticeable green features. Apart from the greenery planted along the pedestrian avenue, the other “environmentally related thing” I noticed was this art installation located near the entrance to Esplanade MRT station.

Singapore’s Plastic Iceberg

This art piece is called Singapore’s Plastic Iceberg and was designed by Mathieu Meur & Oriane Guyon. Made up of thousands of plastic bottles, it aims to raise awareness on the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean.

As South Beach comprises offices as well as a hotel, I think that placing such installations here would help generate much interest towards environmental issues. South Beach could also perhaps be marketed and portrayed as an environmental landmark, as its unique green design could draw lots of attention and the wide space of South Beach Avenue could be used to host environmental fairs or for other installations that convey an environmental message.

Thanks for reading!




[1] : Photo by Nigel Young. Retrieved from:

[2] : South Beach / Foster + Partners. Retrieved from:

[3] : South Beach: Creating comfort in the tropics. Retrieved from:


Green Spaces

Hey friends!

When you hear ‘co-existence with nature’, what comes to your mind? For me, my experience in Melbourne immediately appears in my thoughts. Having visited my relatives in Melbourne countless times, I have a strong impression of kangaroos and possums practically living in one’s backyard.

Photo of a kangaroo I spotted during my trip in April this year!

This is due to pockets of forest weaved into residential estates. However, this may be a scene foreign to many of us here in Singapore, where land is scarce and the density of buildings and people is high. The few green spaces we have around us are often man-made (eg. Gardens by the Bay) or are not concentrated within densely built-up areas (eg. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve).

Also, in my opinion, the current green spaces in buildings and communities are more for our respite from the grey concrete, rather than for the good of the environment or wildlife. Rooftop gardens, for example, are green spaces incorporated into high-rise buildings. They mainly fulfil the purpose of being a place for relaxation or leisure activities. They are often unable to sustain as rich the biodiversity as natural habitats.

In efforts to design green spaces with wildlife better in mind, we could have larger pockets of natural greenery left untouched within districts. Why not have an actual untouched forest in the heart of the city? Well, that’s exactly what Christchurch did! Riccarton Bush is a 6.4-hectare piece of native forest land preserved right in the middle of the city.

Photo of Riccarton Bush in Christchurch [1]

Not only is this piece of forest frequented by visitors for enjoyment, it also sustains at least 115 species of wildlife [2]. Comparing Riccarton Bush to Fort Canning Park in Singapore (since it is also located in the city), Riccarton Bush is left more untouched and natural. Riccarton Bush does have boardwalks installed, but this is a lot less artificial compared to Fort Canning’s manicured pavements.

Riccarton Bush boardwalk [1]


Fort Canning Park (taken by me)

Perhaps we could follow after the example of Riccarton Bush and let nature be nature in the green spaces that we preserve, rather than altering it and suiting it to purely our own needs.

Thanks for reading my post!



[1] : “Riccarton Bush a precious remnant of Canterbury’s ecological past” by Jack Fletcher (2018). Retrieved from:

[2] : Riccarton Bush Check List. Retrieved from:

Eco Houses

Hi guys!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on the upcoming Tengah development, which will mostly comprise public housing. For public housing, the onus to build eco-friendly homes is mainly on the government. The home-owners usually don’t get much involved in the process of designing the estate or building and its features. Even for those living in private apartments and condominiums, they do not have direct say on the design of the estate and whether green features will be incorporated.

What about those living in landed homes? Well, in the case of home-owners living on landed property such as bungalows and terraces, they are able to dictate the architecture and design of their homes. Hence much awareness would be needed among these home-owners for green architecture to be considered and implemented in the construction of new landed homes.

I was astonished to find that only 26 landed homes have been listed as Green Mark* buildings [1]. This is out of approximately 67,000 landed homes in Singapore [2]. That means less than 4% of landed properties in Singapore are considered green and eco-friendly.

One of such homes listed under the Green Mark Scheme is a bungalow in Astrid Hill.

Bungalow at Astrid Hill, home of Mrs Darani Winnie Tsao [3]


It was featured in a Straits Time article in 2016 [4] for its green features, such as a rainwater-collecting system and solar panels on the roof. Natural lighting and greenery were also significant features of the home’s design.

In my opinion, I feel that the reason why there are so few green homes in Singapore is largely due to ignorance about the environment. Many do not see or care about the pressing need for sustainability in our lifestyles. For owners of landed homes, the economic cost of incorporating green design may not be of such a huge concern to them but they still choose not to do so. In the case of Mrs Tsao, I personally feel that she has a heart for the environment. Apart from designing and building her home to be sustainable, she also engages in composting and recycling.

This is the kind of attitude we could aim to nurture through public education, thereby inducing greater sustainability not just in housing design, but also in daily habits of the public.


Til’ my next post! 😊


*Green Mark Scheme by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore. The certification is awarded to green and sustainable buildings.



[1] : Green Mark Buildings Directory. Building and Construction Authority. Retrieved from:

[2] : Households – Latest Data. Department of Statistics Singapore. Retrieved from:

[3] Photo of bungalow taken from The Straits Times. Retrieved from:

[4] : “In tune with nature” written by Natasha Ann Zachariah. The Straits Times.

Window Woes

Hey guys! A recent article published on The Straits Times really captured my attention.

This is the link to the article.

However, you must be subscribed to the newspaper in order to access the article, so I’ll just briefly describe what was written.

The article, titled “When winter escape becomes flight of death”, reports that many migratory birds have died as they crash into buildings here in Singapore. Mr David Tan, an avian ecologist, has collected 700 carcasses of birds that died from slamming into buildings and infrastructure over the past 5 years. This is only a conservative number as many more carcasses are probably not found or reported.

Also, not only are migratory birds affected, even birds native to Singapore make the mistake of flying into buildings. A study has shown that casualties of birds in Singapore, like the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (pictured below), are often due to buildings [1].

Pink-necked Green Pigeon [2]


Why are birds flying into buildings?

  1. Migratory birds often fly in at night. They navigate according to star patterns. The light from buildings may confuse or obstruct them.
  2. Windows of buildings reflect the sky and greenery. They may think they are flying towards these.
  3. Reflections of themselves may cause them to become territorial and attack their own reflections, as they may want to defend their territory or their mate.


There is the consensus that it is good to incorporate nature and green spaces into our urban areas. However, perhaps we haven’t been sensitive enough to mitigate the threats we impose on the wildlife living in urban areas.

We can design our buildings and infrastructure in ways that help minimise the occurrences of such incidents. In commercial and office buildings, bird-friendly glass can be installed. ORNILUX Bird Protection Glass, for example, is more visible to birds, and hence may be effective in reducing bird collisions.

Pattern on ORNILUX glass (left) [3]

For existing buildings, some ways to make windows visible include installing a Bird Screen. This is a transparent and flexible layer that acts as a cushion, reducing the impact of bird collisions. Another method, that is DIY, involves using a yellow highlighter to make a fluorescent grid on the windows [4]. This is visible to birds, but not very visible to humans.

In the long term, I think that bird-proof glass should be installed on buildings in areas with high incidence rates. A study suggests that areas near the Central Business District and NUS are hotspots [1]. Although people may not view bird collisions as a major issue, I feel that we should do what we can to reduce the threat that is known to us.

Thank you for reading!





[1] : Tan, D. et al. (2017). Anthropogenic sources of non-migratory avian mortalities in Singapore. Retrieved from:

[2] : Photo taken by Francis Yap. Singapore Birds Project website. Retrieved from:

[3] : Photo of ORNILUX glass. Retrieved from:

[4] : Fluorescent highlighter method by David Sibley. Retrieved from:


Zero Energy Buildings

Hello again!

I’m here to share with you about the innovative Net-Zero Energy building in NUS that will be opening early next year. This building is within the NUS School of Design and Environment (SDE) campus & is called SDE 4. A talk by Mr Giovanni Cossu, who is in charge of the building project, covered many of their considerations and interesting features of the development.

In designing the building, their original focus was on maximising energy production in order to achieve net-zero energy consumption. They did so by installing over 1200 solar panels on the roof [1]. However, net-zero energy consumption means that the total energy consumed is roughly equal to the total energy produced. Hence an important factor in achieving net-zero energy consumption is the minimisation of energy usage.

One important innovation that will reduce energy usage is the hybrid cooling system. Instead of the conventional air-conditioning system which would typically consume up to 60% of the building’s total energy consumption, the hybrid cooling system which uses elevated air speed and ceiling fans to keep temperatures in the building comfortable for users [2].

Mr Cossu also mentioned during the talk that the only such “zero energy building” so far is the Zero Energy Building located within the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy. The building, pictured below, was completed in 2009, which is almost 10 years ago.

ZEB @ BCA Academy [3]


However, I found some similarities between the two buildings such as the installation of solar panels and features that maximise the amount of natural light entering the building.

Various differences between ZEB @ BCA Academy and SDE 4 are shown in the table below.

Differences BCA SDE 4
Size 4,500 m2 8,514 m2
Use of space Offices, classrooms, library, school hall, resource centre Research laboratories, design studios, teaching & learning spaces, library, staff offices
Cooling system Mix of air-conditioning and natural ventilation in different spaces Hybrid cooling system (mentioned above)

Information taken from sources [1] & [4]


10 years of progress in innovation and design has resulted in new technologies that enhance the environmental sustainability of buildings. Although each building may have different specifications and are built for different purposes, the basic green solutions can be incorporated into its design eg. solar panels. It is also encouraging to see how green building design and technologies have improved over time. As emphasised on by Mr Lam Khee Poh, the Dean of SDE [5], “Every building is a living project. We are not going to be satisfied necessarily with the immediate baseline but rather to look at this entity as a continuous life cycle…”, sustainable building design should be a continuous process. We should not be satisfied with achieving net-zero but strive for net-positive energy consumption in our buildings.

I am also heartened by the recent launch of the green building project that is Tahir Foundation Connexion building. This net-zero energy building will be part of Singapore Management University (SMU)’s campus, which is located in the city.

Artist’s impression of Tahir Foundation Connexion [6]


I think it is great that local universities are spearheading green building initiatives, as they also serve as models for students to learn from. Students, as the future generation, can develop some sense of environmental awareness and lead to more progress in such innovation and design.

Thanks for reading!



[1] : NUS Department of Architecture. Net-Zero Energy Building – SDE 4. Retrieved from :

[2] : NUS News (2016). NUS breaks ground on first Net-Zero Energy Building. Retrieved from :

[3] : Building and Construction Authority website. Annual Report 2015/16.

[4] : Wittkopf, S. (2015). High Performing Buildings. Retrieved from :

[5] : “NUS breaks ground on its first Net-Zero Energy Building today!” by School of Design & Environment NUS. Retrieved from :

[6] : SMU News (27 August 2018). SMU expands city campus footprint with new sustainable development named Tahir Foundation Connexion.


Rifle Range – Forest or Nature Park?

Hey guys! I recently read an article on the development of Rifle Range Nature Park that will be beginning this month. I’m pretty sure most of you are not aware of Rifle Range Nature Park.

Map of Rifle Range Nature Park (Photo by National Parks Board) [1]

As seen in the photo above, it is located near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It is one of the largely untouched forests left in Singapore. Although it was originally the location of a kampong, it is now a secondary forest as vegetation has sprung up, covering most of the ruins left from the kampong.

This 67-hectare forest is rich in wildlife and home to threatened species, such as the Sunda pangolin.

Sunda pangolins in Singapore (Photo by Wildlife Reserves Singapore) [2]

This could be attributed to the fact that there has not been much interruption to wildlife in the area, as compared to the nearby Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where there are hiking trails and a substantial number of people visiting weekly. The only human interruption that has been occurring is perhaps Forest School Singapore, where children visit Rifle Range Forest to play and learn among the trees and in the streams.

Some concerns have been raised with regard to this forest school concept. Allowing children, who may not be aware of how to behave in such an environment, to play in the forest could possibly lead to devastating consequences on wildlife. For example, if not supervised, they may pluck leaves and flowers, uproot vegetation, or even catch certain organisms, all with the intention of fun. Walking in the streams can also cause sediments to be stirred up, causing chalky waters and the aquatic animals to experience difficulty in finding their prey (Capper, 2006).

While I do agree with the concerns about Forest School Singapore, I think that the impending renovations and upgrading of Rifle Range Forest to a park will have a much wider and more severe impact on the forest and its biodiversity.

The National Parks Board (NParks) plans to build an elevated walkway, hiking trails and even a building (for a visitor centre?) and carpark as seen in the pictures below.


Sky Garden (elevated walkway beginning from Beauty World) [1]

Park entrance [1]

Not only will the construction of these facilities cause disruption to wildlife via noise pollution and air pollution from the dust, some vegetation and animal habitats will need to be cleared in order to build these facilities. Furthermore, hiking trails and a carpark will facilitate the visiting of more members of the public to the area, making Rifle Range Forest yet another one of the national parks in Singapore with its natural beauty ruined. Increased vehicle traffic may not only scare animals, but also lead to increased roadkill, especially since this is a sensitive area where most of the wildlife may have never encountered humans or vehicles before.

Although some may argue that these implementations are for the sake of conservation efforts and public awareness on nature, I think it goes against the definition of conservation in the first place. I hope that NParks will consider scaling down their renovation efforts. Hiking trails could be beneficial, as there would then be designated space to walk on and the public would not just trample on wherever they please. However, an elevated walkway and carpark may not be necessary as they could bring much more harm than benefits to the wildlife in the area.


Thank you for reading my post! See you soon 😊






[1] National Parks Board. Media Factsheet E. Retrieved from :

[2] Retrieved from :


[3] Capper, Neil, “The Effects of Suspended Sediment on the Aquatic Organisms Daphnia magna and Pimephales promelas” (2006). All Theses. 2. Retrieved from :

Pulau Semakau

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve had a good week. It’s nearing the end of recess week for us students in NUS so it’s been pretty busy!

Last Sunday, I, along with 50 other BES students, visited Pulau Semakau, which is an offshore landfill. We learnt more about how waste is dealt with. Trash collected from all around Singapore is brought to 4 incineration plants to be incinerated. The ash is then carried to Pulau Semakau by ferry, where it is used to fill pockets that were once sea.

I won’t be going into the technical details of the process, but I’ll be sharing some photos of the island with you, as well as my thoughts and reflections. While this may not be directly linked to the theme of my blog (urban ecology & sustainable cities), waste management is an important aspect of a city. Furthermore, Pulau Semakau is proof that nature and urbanisation can be intertwined, with the diverse wildlife now present on the completed landfill pockets on the island.

Pulau Semakau landfill site

A photo of some of us after an informative talk by Mr Patrick, our guide (taken by Mr Patrick)

Firstly, I think that many people, including myself, have a common misconception about Pulau Semakau. My initial impression of the offshore landfill was that it was used for the dumping of unprocessed solid waste.  This caused me to wonder how wildlife could possibly coexist with such garbage. Friends and family I have spoken to about Pulau Semakau also have similar sentiments, with a few asking me “Is the island smelly?”. This suggests an acute lack of awareness in the public about Singapore’s waste management system, which could be a reason why our recycling rate has stagnated at 61% from 2016 [1]. While 61% may seem like quite a high rate, other countries like Sweden have achieved recycling rates of 99% and are almost zero waste.

All in all, this field trip has increased my understanding and awareness on the topic of waste management and inspired me to think more about sustainable solid waste management. This is an area significant to cities, especially, since the amount of waste generated in urbanised areas is increasing rapidly [2].

Next week, we will be visiting a Zero Energy building which I’m very excited to write about!

See ya!




[1] : National Environment Agency (NEA). Waste statistics and overall recycling. Retrieved from :


[2] : Hoonwerg, D. and Bhada-Tata, P. (2012). What a waste: A global review of solid waste management. Retrieved from :


The Tengah Town Talk

Welcome back, friends! In this blog post, I’d like to share about the new and upcoming housing project, Tengah estate, as well as my thoughts about this development.

What exactly is ‘Tengah estate’ and what makes it so special? Well, Tengah estate is in the works of being built in an area sandwiched between Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Batok and Jurong West. More than 40,000 units are expected to be built [1], helping to meet the rising demand for both public and private housing. The first of these HDB flats will soon be released in November [1].

The concept of Tengah estate is in building a ‘Forest Town’, where nature is vastly incorporated into the urban housing area. Some exciting features include a car-free town centre, five districts with unique identities and smart technologies that increase convenience [2].

If you’re interested in finding out more about Tengah estate’s features, the link below will direct you to a video by HDB that showcases the many unique features of Tengah town.


While many Singaporeans are excited about this futuristic “eco-town”, critics have been sceptical about these development plans. The land that Tengah estate is going to be occupying is a large area of forest used for military training [3]. Although some of the forest area will be retained and integrated into Tengah estate’s forest corridor [4], most of it will still be cleared to make way for the town.

One feature I’d like to focus on is the car-free town centre. When I first heard about it being ‘car-free’, I thought it meant that there would be absolutely no cars in the area, much like Car-Free Sundays in the city where roads are closed to encourage a car-lite society. However, as you can see in the photo below, the town centre will be built above the roads, so that pedestrians need not worry about vehicle traffic. Cars will still be able to access the town centre, thereby not really serving the purpose of discouraging car usage.

Source: HDB website. Retrieved from:


Also, the Jurong Region Line will only begin its first phase in 2026 [5], meaning that residents who move in before that will not be in close proximity to an MRT station. Though there are cycling and walking paths for residents to travel around Tengah, travelling to other parts of Singapore may be more inconvenient, especially since Tengah is located quite far away from the city centre. Hence it is likely that many residents will choose to drive.

All in all, I think that Tengah estate is a step in the right direction. It is about time we start developing towns that are more sustainable and green. The talk about this new estate has also heightened environmental awareness in the public, challenging more people to consider how they can lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Apart from just building new green estates, perhaps more can also be done to improve older and mature estates with smart infrastructure.

I hope you have found this post interesting.

See ya soon!




[1] : Channel News Asia (2016). First batch of Tengah HDB flats to be launched from 2018. Retrieved from :

[2] : Sim, Fann (2018). Farm features to be part of first HDB homes in new Tengah town. Retrieved from:

[3] : Zhi Hao. A Look at Tengah, the Bishan-sized new town that has ‘no cars’. Retrieved from :

[4] : Razak, Atikah (2016). Retrieved from :

[5] : Land Transport Authority Singapore website. Retrieved from :


Hello world!

Hello everyone! I’m Sarah and I’m a Year 1 student studying Environmental Studies in NUS. Here is a bit about myself: I love travelling and exploring new places, even in Singapore. The most exciting and enjoyable destination I’ve been to is Turkey!

Cappadocia’s majestic rock formations

Although I appreciate nature and the serenity of rural areas, I think I am still a city girl at heart.

Central Park, New York (photo taken by my dad)

I am greatly intrigued by cities and how they function. I was initially intending to pursue architecture. However, after talking it out with some seniors and contemplating further, I realised that my passion was not just in buildings and structures. My interest lies in the interactions between the different elements of a city.

With more than two-thirds of the world’s population projected to be living in cities by 2050 (1), I think that we need to seriously consider the impact of our rapid urbanisation on the natural environment and rethink the rate at which we are developing cities, as well as the very idea of urbanisation itself.

Is there a way to develop cities and infrastructure such that there is a balance between the concrete and the green? My blog’s aim is to explore urban ecosystems and raise greater awareness of sustainable design.

Thank you for reading my first blog post and I hope you’ll continue this journey with me as we discover more about sustainable development!

See ya!


(1) : World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. Retrieved from:


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