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Bishan–Ang Mo Kio Park by Atelier Dreiseitl Asia

On the occasion of its ‘Design of the Year’ win in the President’s Design Award 2012, we reflect on Singapore’s Bishan–Ang Mo Kio Park with the Director of Atelier Dreiseitl Asia, Leonard Ng.

Bishan–Ang Mo Kio Park by Atelier Dreiseitl Asia


December 6th, 2012

Where once there was a fenced, rectilinear concrete storm water canal, now there is a lively winding river.

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

Seamless integration of the park and water reflects a changing paradigm of government agencies working together

Bishan–Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore’s central-northern suburbs was a most deserved recipient of a President’s Design Award on Tuesday. Years in the making, this park and river rejuvenation project opened in early 2012. In the words of the jury, it offers “a significant new physical and social environment” and “shows Singaporeans a confident attitude [toward] water and its uses.”

The design is holistic and multi-layered, balancing functional, ecological and communal needs for sustainable co-existence. Soil bio-engineering, multiple ecotones, and accessible soft edges provide for effective storm water management as well as a healthy site ecosystem (with a measured increase in biodiversity) and pleasurable urban spaces.

Atelier Dreiseitl Asia’s Director Leonard Ng chats to us about these very qualities:

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

New ways of interacting with the river and other people have formed around the naturalised stream

“We were pushing for engagement with the public – inviting the public to go and use a space they used to be excluded from.”

“The water’s edge is never even; it’s constantly changing. There are islands, nooks and crannies. These were purposefully designed, because we wanted to create pockets where water is slow, where it’s fast, where it’s deep, and where it’s shallow. When we have a diversity of environment, different animals are attracted. This creates a more balanced ecosystem.”

“The demographic of park users seems to have changed. The river itself is more focussed toward the young. They like to dip their toes in it. I’ve got three young kids and that’s the first thing they do; they go straight to the river and muck around in the mud.”

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

The park is open to all 24/7 – a truly public park

“One of the first questions we were asked when we proposed this design was, how are you going to handle the mosquitoes? Our response was: the answer is not spraying. It’s to create a balanced ecosystem. The mosquitoes will come, but the predators will too. In the first six months there were a lot of mosquitoes. But later the fish, dragonflies and birds came, and now they control each other. There are still mosquitoes, but no more than you find anywhere else.”

“The design is not just about humans. It’s about co-existing with the natural environment.”

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

A sinuous natural river has morphed out of a concrete utilitarian drain. This view: before rain

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

This view: after rain

“The neighbourhood residents have created the ‘Friends of Kallang River’ group. They do patrols and really take ownership of the park and river. They help people to behave in a civic manner. And people are writing in, suggesting ways to improve things all the time. There’s a diversity of opinions, and a lot of them are conflicting. But what’s heartening is that people are taking an interest and making the effort to give feedback.”

“We used natural materials as soil stabilisers to prevent erosion. We tested many techniques on site with a test ridge. That had never been done in the tropics before.”

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

The cleansing biotope increases the ecological value of the park’s biotic systems, cleansing water naturally through plants and filtration media

“We created a series of plant beds with soil media that cleans the water in conjunction with UV lighting. The river water, which is highly polluted, flows through the terraces, down the beds, and out. The water is cleaned by the bacteria living in the media. They absorb all the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. And plants were selected to extract specific pollutants. Some of the cleaned water is discharged into the lake. You can see that it’s cleaner. And some goes to the Water Playground.”

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

Water is cleansed and recycled from the ponds into the Water Playground, where kids enjoy and appreciate the dynamic qualities of water

“One of the major drivers for the future of landscape design in Singapore is the fact that we live in dense, high-rise housing. The kids that live up there are really disconnected from the ground. When you’re disconnected from the ground, you lose an appreciation of what is required to maintain a balance. I think it’s important for the profession to give them a reason to come back down to the ground so they can understand the issues that confront us. These issues extend beyond Singapore.”

Top image: aerial view of Bishan–Ang Mo Kio Park. All photos: Atelier Dreiseitl Asia.

Atelier Dreiseitl Asia 

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