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Dealing With Climate Change Through Interior Design Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3367 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Living in discomfort because of tropical climate is not desirable. Everyday’s challenge in Singapore is humidity, heat, and rainfall for its location that categorized in tropical climate zone. Hence, Singapore Government especially Minister for National Development stated about Singapore’s approach to sustainable development because it also has connection to global warming, that is why sustainable and nature are very important nowadays. For instance, the usage of garden within buildings might be the most effective way to reduce heat and humidity. The necessity to use nature is because it gives positives changes and result to the built environment and people.

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This essay will conduct a topic of tropical climate and nature’s effect in relation with various ways how to tackle the problem and response with design. It is possible to design a comfortable living and working environment by creating in-between spaces to provide relief from the tropical climate through a combination of natural and vernacular architecture elements. In this essay, author will talk about Biophilic design theory as a background that explained about the inner human to be near with nature, as one of the design elements to help and achieve in reducing humidity, heat, and deal with rainfall; in which, those three factors that make people uncomfortable in their activities.

Firstly, natural elements that are involved in warm wet zone and those are to be maximally used in terms of the effect of characteristic from nature which will bring positive result for the end users. Secondly, the variety ways of tackling humidity, heat, and rainfall in tropical climate, such as vernacular architecture is the most appropriate to handle this problem. Thirdly, in-between spaces which are lacking in Singapore; meaning that more intense activities in spaces or places e.g. offices do not have enough nature inside the building which actually can help reduce stress of people from work. Lastly, tropical climate case studies that link to the issue and how those spaces are workable in tropical climate.

In facing tropical climate as a central issue, the design approach can be inspired from using nature elements within certain places or spaces. The reason to use nature as part of solution is because it has qualities of positive psychological effects for human being and to some extent providing visual and spatial relief. As to enhance a better way of living in tropical area, contemporary vernacular architecture nowadays exists to adapt with surroundings. All of these are guides that may lead us to develop and aim for the best design solution in the future living.


Living in nature, people will get benefit from the essence of nature’s effect. Besides, nature shapes the built environmental to be the ideal space for people’s demand at present time.

A. The Tropical Climate

The tropical climate is positioned in the equatorial belt, between 230 and -230latitude which is also known as warm wet zone. Average annual temperatures can reach a maximum of 30o C during the day and 24o C at night while thermal comfort for people is between 26o C-27o C (Anon, p2). Most importantly, tropic area is distinguished by its region characteristics: high levels in humidity, heat or solar radiation in dry season and rainfall in rainy season. During rainy seasons, the level of humidity also increases. Due to high level of humidity, appropriate openings and ventilation are needed to utilize the airflow so the evaporation will increase. Another element is roof as a shelter plays an important role to be shading and keep the inside cool from the heat while it also becomes a protection during rainy periods.

Tropical Climate in Singapore Context

Singapore is one of the countries in South East Asia region that is located in tropical area. The most concern for Singapore is to deal with the unstable climate of heat, rainfall, and humidity since geographically it lies along the equator line.

It has become everyday’s challenge for Singapore to deal with tropical climate. But, it is no longer new problem for people who live in tropical climate face this kind of weather every single day. Furthermore, this condition worsens most of the stressful working people and uncomfortable weather like heat may reduce their energy. Technology innovations such as air conditioners (AC) help people to achieve thermal comfort and they become reliance to AC but it is not the only solution. For over the years, Singapore has achieved itself to be a green city and currently Singapore government especially Minister for National Development, Mr. Tan in his speech (2010) stated about Singapore’s approach to develop more on sustainable environment. At the moment, Bedok Court HDB (Hosing Development and Board) is one of an example how Singapore deals with this tropical climate issue.

B. Nature as Design Elements to Achieve the Aim in Reducing Discomfort in Tropical Climate

Can we deal in a better way to response this issue? Nature is one of the solutions to help reduce heat in tropical climate. As written above, to reduce fatigue and stress which are caused by tropic weather, the importance to use nature is become fundamental, since contact with nature helps to heal and recover health, increases concentration and memory. Viewing nature can produce a rapid improvement in body restoration both psychologically and physiologically. The exposure of nature is purposed to influence the levels of activities and energy for it draws people to a positive changes.

We feel and assume that the impact of heat always give disadvantages, while, the approach in tropical climate is to minimise the heat and also take advantage from it. The benefits from nature elements can be utilized as maximum as possible since they produce positive effects to people’s mind and body. This means, the essence of nature in this context is not only providing the built environment with aesthetic factor.

1. Biophilic Design Theory

The reason to use nature is because it has positive effects psychologically and physiologically to the sense of human beings. It has a close relationship with a theory called Biophilia. The term of Biophilia is founded by E. O. Wilson and this theory is based on the inner of human being that essentially needs to be close with nature. Based on ‘Biophilic Design’, Kellert (2008, p3) stated that biophilia can be defined as an understanding of the inherent human affinity to affiliate with natural systems and processes, especially life and life-like features of the nonhuman environment.

It is proved that people tends to depend on environmental features because it enhances human physically and mentally. Those environmental features can be described such as light, sound, odor, wind, weather, water, vegetation, animals, and landscapes. “There are six biophilic design elements: environmental features, natural shapes and forms, natural patterns and processes, light and space, place-based relationship, and evolved human-nature relationship. ” (Kellert 2008, p6)

2. Natural Elements

With that background of the importance of nature for people, this essay will discuss on the first element of biophilic which is the environmental features that consist of three key elements of nature: greeneries or plants, water, and natural light.

The Essence of Greeneries, Water and Natural Light

There are three main natural elements that are involved and become necessary for tropical climate in order to reduce humidity and heat as the aspects of the tropical climate. Firstly, greeneries; it has become popular and also important to have plants or gardens within buildings. Essentially, greeneries become necessary because they provide visual and spatial relief for human beings. In addition, there are some positive psychological effects of greeneries toward human beings. It effectively reduces stress, decreases mental fatigue, gives relaxations for it is good for eye relief, restores mental clarity, enhances comfort, and improves or increases sense of well being (Kellert 2008, p7).

Secondly, water that produces positive physiological effect and always be the most basic human needs. Water is able to lower blood pressure, relax tension-filled muscles, ease headaches and also cure aches and pains. Water insertion to a built environment provides and enhances the quality of human life. Furthermore, water in motion such as waterfall, cascade, and a pond with circulation will add strong value to the biophilic design attraction. Other applications of water elements can be contributed in roof gardens, green roof, interior pools or basins (as a soft boundary to blur the distinction between inside and outside), exterior water gardens, and water cascade (Kellert 2008, p7).

In a warm-hot climate, water is an absolute necessity. It remains cooler because water heats up slower than the land (Trocme 2006, p11). This means, the built environment which located alongside water will be cooler than one is surrounded by land.

“Water, you have no taste, no color, no odor, you cannot be defined, you are relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, you fill us with gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses. Of the riches that exist in the world, you are the rarest and also the most delicate: you, water, are the proud divinity.” (Antoine De Sant Exupery, p43)

Thirdly, sunlight or natural light which comes from solar radiation; the quality of its illumination and colours from light can affect mood and energy level while it also good for maintaining health. In Kellert’s statement (2008, p11), natural light is preferred in contributing to improve health, productivity, and well being in a built environment. Besides, the effect of natural light also provides sense of openness. People prefer and depend on natural light for its ability in terms of giving visual acuity to satisfy human needs in physical, emotional, and intellectual aspects (Kellert 2008, p7). Direct sunlight in tropical area is not preferable, it might become our enemy. But of course it does help us in providing the advantages, so controlling the sunlight is necessary to make it desirable.

“Light draws people, as it does flowers, but our need for light must be balanced with keeping cool.” (Trocme 2006, p11)

Understanding these elements and factors may help the designers to create and built the controlled environment to adopt with the tropical climate. The prime aim is to minimise and prevent the discomfort that caused by the tropical climate in order to create a better living environment.

C. Variety Ways of Tackling Tropical Climate (Heat, Humidity, and Rainfall)

There are various ways in tackling tropical climate especially with vernacular architecture. Some requirements of treatments and techniques are needed in an appropriate way to tackle the tropical weather.

1. Vernacular Architecture

In the book ‘Contemporary Vernacular’, according to Correa (1998, p10); the term of ‘vernacular’ can be described as the notion of the building that has relation to the environmental contexts and involving society as a whole. The built forms in vernacular architecture are adapted to fulfil specifics needs regarding climate and culture, existing materials in order to accommodate the ways of life and values in producing them.

In Singapore context, because of its multicultural circumstances, it may influence the local architecture. As Singapore was a British colony, historical buildings are mainly influenced by European styles. In the other hand, this small country was known as a free international port, other races such as Chinese, Malay, and Indian are also involved in influencing the local Singapore architecture.

Not only cultures that shaped the vernacular architecture in Singapore but the tropical climate also determined the built environment. In other words, the local vernacular architecture is not originally come from one aspect but is combination with other aspects. These are some influences of vernacular architecture in Singapore which classified by Yeang (1987 ,p30-31) :

Malay Rural Vernacular


Typical Malay vernacular house based on Malaysian tradition, consists of ‘atap’ roof, timber panels with floor raised above from the ground level. The raised floor is purposed to provide tranquillity because in the rural ancient times, they used to live in a village setting where animals might attack their houses. So, it is created in such a way for protection from ground moisture, flood and animals, ventilation, and shade.

Moorish-influenced institutional building

Fig. 2

Mostly the examples are the Istanas of Malay Sultanate which had larger scale and it is influenced by European and Middle Eastern countries.

Dutch influences

Fig. 3

Christ-Church and stadthuys are the most obvious examples of Dutch influences since most of Dutch are Christians.

The straits eclectic

Fig. 4

Chinese shophouses are best described this style. It emphasize in ornamentation in their facade treatment.

Anglo-Indian influences

Fig. 5

The local Anglo Indian style has motifs with Sino Malay influences in terms of unglazed half-around tiles and the ‘serambi’.

In local context, the most appropriate of vernacular architecture in tropic area is the Malay Rural vernacular since it has the same environment and climate with Singapore. But, Malay rural vernacular cannot be called as a set style because it depends on the local circumstances, situation and environmental context that eventually created in a way to meet the specific needs of the built environment. Therefore, this built environment can be held as an approach in order to fulfil the requirement in local context. The existence of vernacular architecture in tropic area can be a guideline in developing the suitable built environment for people.

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Through fundamental guidelines of tropical vernacular architecture, influences from other cultures and weighing the environmental context in the same amount, that is where a critical approach means for vernacular architecture in Singapore. The responsive design to the climate, local context and environment are the key points to aim the built environment. Though Singapore does not have a fixed style, meaning of vernacular architecture in Singapore is may be more important to depend on the characteristic of a place and environment.

In tropical climate, roofs are more important than walls. Roof shaped is one of the vernacular features for thermal control. There are few types that mostly used for tropical area: pitched roof shaped, high jack roof, ventilated roof, and deep roof overhangs. The main function of roof is to allow the breeze penetration in order to utilize the air flow, reduce humidity, and make the space inside cooler.

First type is pitched roof shaped, usually with large overhanging eaves give protection from the direct sunlight and rain. High jack roof, usually used by typical shophouses that has gabled roof segment is mainly functioned as shelters and the small opening which separate from the main roof enhances cross-ventilation to reduce heat from solar radiation (Yeang 1987, p24). Ventilated roof is also effective for removing heat by cross ventilation. Besides ventilated, it usually combined with pitched roof shaped with wide overhang so it also able to shade walls. Deep roof overhangs with ventilation grilles above eye level protected the built environment in terms of sun shading and also allow air flows.

Fig. 6 Types of Roofs

Pitched Roof Jack Roof Ventilated Roof Deep Roof Overhangs

Knowing these several basic types of roof shaped can lead designers to create the built environment in a contemporary context. Types of roof are invented in many ways to be the solution and improve the living environment in tropical area. Besides, in local context roofs’ shapes are mostly influenced from other countries either from the colony (British) or the countries which have the same climate condition as in Singapore.

The applications can be seen in traditional Chinese shophouse design in Malaysia with a key feature of the continuous covered veranda-way in order to minimise the discomfort of tropical climate. Another principles are to use internal air-well that allows light, adequate amount of openness in the interior space with high ceilings and overlapping- roofs to reduce heat radiation.(Yeang 1987, p22-23)

Types of roof are not the only way to tackle the discomfort from tropical climate. Openings are another aspect which is crucial for cross ventilation. Besides, air flow pattern is determined by openings because air has to circulate. Therefore the intensity of using openings is important to design a good controlled of built environment. Louvered or jalousie openings are mostly used because this system directs air to the living areas. Tight area without or less openings will give more humidity and heat. Separated and scattered layout or forms of space are purposely used for air flow. For example: house in Buzen, Japan that is formed in scattered and individual boxes. The design intention in separated layout of each functional room is to have maximum cross ventilation and enhanced with windows in each rooms.

D. Lack of In-Between Space in Singapore

Although Singapore already has adequate amount of greeneries around the city, it still lacks of in-between spaces in terms of inclusion of nature to the interior. However, there is an example which provides a good solution to make more comfortable living in tropical area.

Good application of vernacular aspect and nature can be found in Bedok Court. Compared to other high rise residential, the difference of Bedok Court is the big supply of balconies and spaces that specially planned for plants which placed in-between living units; so called semi open forecourts. Cheng Jian Fenn was the designer of Bedok Court and the inspiration was from the rural village lifestyle whereby people live in a relaxed atmosphere and harmonious environment. But, due to the land scarcity, Cheng strategically planned each dwelling unit with garden as a whole to provide sense of ‘landed house’. (Lim 1998, p63-64) Creatively, his intention in the design is to maximise the land area with the system of high rise building yet each unit will own the garden.

Fig.7 Bedok Court Fig. 8 The Balcony

Through surveys, Bedok Court shows satisfying result. With high supply of garden in each unit, the semi open spaces is preferred as the most comfortable spaces among the other functions in units such as swimming pool, the balcony, the lobby, the lift, and the interior of the unit. (Bay 2006, p66) The usage of garden helps the spaces to improve the thermal comfort condition in terms of the weather become slightly cooler because of the plants. In other words, it is encouraged to increase the ‘green’ areas to get a lower ambient temperature.

In-between space has potential or possibility to be a ‘break’ space (to be developed)

In-between spaces can function as place where activity and free spaces joined (to be developed)

E. Tropical Climate Case Studies

1. The Architect’s House in Sri Lanka by Geoffrey Bawa (need further research)

a. emphasize on openings and light-well on each room

b. use of greeneries or plants inside the house

2. House at Blair Road in Singapore by Richard Ho Architects (need further research)

a. evokes comfort with air-well for light and ventilation



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