Portrait of a landscaper…

It’s not just location, price and size that matters. A lush green lung that visually seduces condo buyers also counts, says landscaper Henry Steed

LOCATION, price and unit size are the mantra of the condo-buyer, right? Well there is a little-known element that plays a big part in a purchasing decision too. Think of it as planting the seed of desire in a buyer’s eye – landscaping.

Landscaping, involving the layout of a condo’s surrounds, and incorporating plants, flowers, trees and even sculpture, is playing an increasingly important role in private residential developments, say landscape architects.

It’s a trend given the green thumbs-up by big names such as award-winning Henry Steed, responsible for the landscaping of the landmark Four Seasons Park condo off Orchard Boulevard, and who is the landscape architect behind new project Sky@eleven being developed by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

For this project, the British-born Mr Steed has dreamed up the idea of a semi-jungle ‘underneath’ the residential units, which start from the fifth storey.

The 59-year-old, who has worked in Singapore for 24 years, made headlines last month with his Philosopher’s Seat creation at the inaugural Singapore Garden Festival. It won him a gold medal and award for best landscape garden. His design consisted of a tropical garden set at the edge of a marshland and hidden amid the ruins of an abandoned jetty.

Landscaping isn’t just important as the finishing touch to a project, points out Mr Steed, a director at well-known ICN Design International, which has done the landscaping for condo Cairnhill Crest and the one-north science hub in Buona Vista.

Even in the marketing brochure, before construction has even started, it plays its part as visual seduction. ‘Buyers dream of having that kind of lifestyle,’ says Mr Steed, a Singapore permanent resident.

This is especially so for upmarket condos such as Sky@eleven, where buyers tend to expect more from their landscaping, he adds.

It’s a far cry from 10 years ago, when landscaping came low in the budgeting priorities of condo developers.

Today, the money they spend on this aspect is more than double that previously, he says, without giving specific figures.

‘Property developers are seeing the importance of landscaping, as it enhances the property,’ he says.

Ms Helen Smith-Yeo, a principal architect with landscape architecture firm Sitetectonix, agrees. Her firm has done the landscaping for upmarket condos such as Three Three Robin and Botanic@Lloyd.

She was unable to give figures but confirms that more money is being spent than in the past, adding that developers are also willing to fork out money for better quality materials.

‘They see the reward in the end-product. A good end-product means better sales, as the project can fetch a higher price,’ she says.

An enthusiastic Mr Steed has lush plans for his semi-jungle at Sky@eleven, but adds that the landscaping will be subtle yet smart, to fit in with the tastes of its target clientele.

In the 48,437 sq ft, five-storey high space, he will be planting ferns, palms, trees and low shrubs. The green sanctuary will also have water features and pathways for residents to walk through.

He says a well-designed landscape is a combination of aesthetics and pragmatic solutions.

Take Sky@eleven’s 50m lap pool on the carpark roof. He will put in trees, flowers and shrubs to make the area resemble a pool in a garden, rather than on a roof-top.

Growing interest

APART from designing the landscape for Sky@eleven, for the past two years Mr Steed has been busy doing work for Sentosa Leisure Group.

The island’s Imbian Lookout – combining greenery and newly-built outdoor escalators – are his doing.

‘The job is not just about plants, but about making areas more accessible,’ he says.

One of his earliest projects for the popular tourist island was in 1982, when he designed its fountain gardens.

He has also been the island’s consultant for its annual floral festival – Sentosa Flowers. He will again be involved in this year’s festival from Feb 18 to 25.

He notes that Singapore’s hot and wet climate is a boon for plant growing, compared to temperate climates.

‘Working in the tropics is more satisfying as things don’t take so long to grow,’ says Mr Steed, who hastens to add that he is, however, a patient person.

‘Here, plants take three months to thicken, and trees about four years,’ he says. In colder climates, plants take three years to thicken, and a tree could take 10 to 12 years to mature.

He gets a kick out of seeing trees that he planted 20 years ago, such as on Sentosa, grow and flourish. ‘It’s like seeing a child grow up, but better, because unless someone chops it down, it will be there for a long time.’

There is a downside to Singapore’s climate though – plants here can grow too fast. ‘The solution is finding the right plants – those that do not grow too tall.’

The landscape veteran traces the roots of his interest in landscaping to his childhood: ‘I was always curious to find out more about a location – if it was man-made or natural, or the differences between a forest and a desert,’ he recalls.

In the 1960s, when he went to university, landscape architecture was a new course of study, but it ‘turned out to be a combination of my interests’, says Mr Steed. He graduated with a diploma in landscape architecture from the Gloucestershire College of Art & Design and Pershore College of Horticulture.

Mr Steed, who speaks English, French and Bahasa Indonesia, has served as a council member of the Singapore Institute Of Landscape Architects (Sila) and has won numerous awards.

However, he says he has a more down-to-earth way of knowing he has done his job well: when people start taking photos of the landscape he has created.


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