Integrating Nature into Masterplanning and Landscape Design




Henry Steed




Nature is the whole system of physical life not controlled by man. It is a habitat in a wild and primitive state untouched by man. Its inhabitants do not, by definition, include man.

So we are the bad guys?

Nature, without us would seem to comprise an environment in a pristine condition, where eco- systems perpetually sustain themselves through natural selection: a sort of glorious paradise.

This pristine environment can also be described as a dangerous one, where wild beasts tear each other apart in a vile and agonising way, where diseases and poisons lurk around every corner, and where fearsome insects and spores inhabit every crevice. Nature is where life and death run hand in hand over aeons of time and at a frightening speed.

Small wonder Man is so wary of Nature, and has spent so much time and resource trying to control it. The ultimate method of control so far has been the City, which is in effect a vast nest, a termite mound of construction, designed to allow Man to function efficiently without the predations and dangers of Nature

In the urban environment, nature barely exists.    if it does exist, it is only because we allow it a small intrusion, but always under control. But in our concrete and steel bastions, we still dream of the glorious paradise which we somehow recall is out there somewhere, and which we see from time to time when we go on holiday.

So we plant trees along our streets and build parks and gardens to relieve the hardness of the city.

Though these are contrived and man made environments, they are also a microcosm of Nature.

It reflects our dream or illusion that we are still part of a natural world which only exists properly when we are not there.

Thus our city greenery and our nature reserves, our waterfronts and parks form a magic carpet where we can gather to be amongst natural things, a harmonisation between man and man, and man and nature.


The MAN / NATURE relationship can be seen as a sliding scale, with 100% Nature (no Man) at the one end, and 100% Man (No Nature), at the other.

Somewhere in the middle is the Garden and the Garden City, where Man has decided he wants to allow Nature into his protected environment, under strict terms and conditions, and where Nature is able to thrive and “do its natural thing” (bugs, wild growth, birds etc) in the areas kindly allocated by Man.

Nature and Man are in constant attrition.

Man wrestles with Nature, pushing back the untidy edges. Nature batter’s endlessly into the edges of Man’s domain. Wilderness grows in every crevice, sprouts on every lawn. Man endlessly cuts it, sprays it, trims it, mows it.

Man nurtures Nature under controlled conditions: THE GARDEN.


There are, according to those that know, a hundred ways to skin a cat. There are equally a hundred uses for a dead cat.

  • How to choose which method is the best and most useful?
  • How does this dilemma apply to Man’s relationship with Nature?

It is a question planners and designers must wrestle with every time they are confronted by a new situation, a new challenge, a new place on which to inflict their expertise.

  • There can be a simple choice; flatten it all out and start from scratch, a clean

« There can be a complex choice; work with the existing conditions, mould the new requirements into the existing, and sustain what was best before to make what comes after even better.

One thing is for sure. Unless the designer is the one funding the project (he never is) he will be planning or designing for someone else; not just for people, but for the environment of the place itself and for the denizens of that environment. Ultimately, because thousands of such plans and designs are being done all over the place all the time, this will have an impact on the entire environment, whether it be a City, a region, an entire country, or even a continent.

When a new Environment is planned and designed, the designer/planner must always remind himself that he is not designing for himself. He is designing for the people who will use the place, for the natural elements that already occupy the place, and for a new “nature” that will move in to make its home in this place.

To be successful in this, the designer/planner must understand the land itself, and how the land came to be the way it is, the way it has been used in the past, how it is being used today, and consider how it will be used tomorrow.

There must be a depth to this understanding, an appreciation of the essences that make a place wonderful or may make a place awful. Our treatment can never be superficial, unless our goals are very short term.

Trends can only be applied like wallpaper, and mostly become decor on the surface. Trends of even three years ago are quickly out of date. As people and their way of life changes, as demands alter, as attitudes to the world around us mature, we must design, build and manage our environments to evolve steadily and change over time.


Look at the changing trends in the way people use, appreciate and demand the “great outdoors”. In 1985, the countryside of Singapore was fast disappearing. Traditional farmland was giving way to rapid urban development. The surge of growth seemed likely to consume all the natural greenery of Singapore apart from the water catchment areas.

Nobody in the city seemed to notice. Nobody complained, or questioned the loss of an asset most didn’t even know existed.

But in the late nineties there is a whole new attitude to being outdoors. People cannot get enough fresh air and exercise. Bicycles, previously scorned have become popular. Eating outdoors is as common as eating indoors. People are health conscious and most take outdoor exercise of some sort.

The nature trails, woodland walks, park connectors and bike tracks, and the amount of green parkland have expanded rapidly.

Equally, the crazed land take of the 1980’s and early 90’s has given way to a steadier growth, and in many areas a withdrawal of growth. ,Many areas targeted for the removal of natural green zones have been taken off the development zoning plans for up to fifteen years. Singapore is not as land hungry as previously thought. Nature zones proliferate, access to them expands, birds fly in and there is a morning chorus again.

Now people have seen the benefits of being close to nature, and they know they can find it round the corner. There is today a major demand for more and better outdoor facilities, and with it an appreciation of the need to conserve and re-introduce nature right into the heart of the city and its communities.

This is not exclusive to Singapore. In fact Singapore is about twenty years behind Europe in this respect, and similar in the USA and Australia


This New Generation is looking for a wholesome lifestyle, a fine place in which to live and work, and a safe and healthy place in which to bring up their children. Nobody is going to object to these goals. They are modest, and should be relatively undemanding.

Sadly they turn out to be not modest at all, and are horribly demanding. Tdey’ require massive funding and physical resources, they require huge tracts of land, and they require enormous change from the uncoordinated and risk prone environments that existed there before.

We are, in effect, animals which need gigantic nests and protected territories which, in order to secure themselves, exclude virtually all other life-forms and demand the total eradication of previous environments.

Of course we don’t see ourselves like that. We are nice people who don’t ask for much. We are a sophisticated society.

We see ourselves as being…..

  • Part of a World that is changing fast, keeping apace with a global culture of technology and
  • Members of the Global Village and we are exposed to new ideas, new technology and new
  • Able to influence the political climate, and thus demand some control over the things we need and the way we run our lives in the
  • Streamlined, sophisticated, environmentally conscious, philosophical, and tech-savvy.

We (You) will be demanding a top quality living and working environment in your home base, for yourselves and your children.

You will be concerned about the Global Environment and the way Politicians, Big Business and Science are dealing with climate change, and damage to the environment and wildlife.

You will be concerned about conditions in other countries, and will play a greater role in influencing the way our fellow brethren are treated all across the globe. You will worry about poverty and the lack of resources in the poorer and disadvantaged parts of the wor

You will groom your children to become university graduates with high level opportunities to become the decision makers and key players of tomorrow.

All of this affects the behavior of the Designer/Planner, who is supposed to be way ahead of all these needs and demands The Designer/Planner, knowing that political scenarios, man’s influence on his environment, economics, social habits, trends and lifestyles will change, must be able to create sustainable and manageable environments that are capable of Evolution, accommodating all of these complex needs of the future.

This is the Social Component of the Design Task. The Designer / Planner will need to understand his customers, who as stated before are:

The people, the environment of the place itself and, the denizens of that environment.

  • Will people want to be closer to Nature in spite of bugs and heat, or will they develop a phobia for it and want to be hermetically sealed into a City controlled entirely by machines?

»    Will we all follow current trends, or are these just a passing phase?

  • Will people, enjoying the finer things in life, look for more complex activities, or will they seek the simple things, such as a return to the rural heritage?
  • Will people demand more space, or will they be happy with less?
  • Will increasing populations force us to cram people into ever smaller spaces, or will decreasing populations release more space?

Will people develop new habits and desires in sports and recreation?

  • What will be the new interests of adults, families and children?
  • What new activities are likely to come on the market, what old ones will fade?

»    Will there be new rules, controlling what people can and cannot do?

  • Will there be new methods of transport, of working habits, of eating out, of building things?
  • Will there be new insights into human behaviour, of how children play, what makes a society content, of what makes a society efficient?
  • Will societies develop new values which demand a different way in which we plan our environments?
  • What new factors may be invented that demand space, safety, access, management?

My interpretation is that there is an ever present micro-shift in people’s habits, different between yesterday, today and tomorrow. If you look at the habits of City Dwellers at any one point of time, you will see changes in the way people recreate, how they relax and enjoy fresh air, how and where they eat, socialise and do formal or informal business.

There is a constant discarding of old things, and a constant renewal, hopefully for the better. There is an appreciable shift in the way people appreciate things like the Arts and the spiritual side of Nature, of beauty and romantic solitude.


A New Environment cannot be forged in one go. Bringing an entire “Place” to fruition, with all its component parts fully developed, may take many years to complete, and should grow steadily as the Environment changes and matures.

Any New Environment must, from the start, be designed to evolve as this process continues.

First we must get to grips with the fundamentals, and work from the ground up. Study and review of existing conditions is rarely done properly. Topography needs to be understood and interpreted. Prevailing climatic conditions need to be studied to see how the influence the location and its surroundings. The surroundings themselves need to be studied to see how they influence the particular site. The flora and fauna need to be understood, surveyed and accounted for in the designs to ensure they are, wherever possible, protected and not unreasonably dispossessed.

  1. STAGE 1. BUILDING THE BEDROCK. Creating a solid GEOGRAPHY of topography and earth and trees, with all of its layers and connections and its working infrastructure.
  2. STAGE 2. APPLYING THE DÉCOR. Adding in the buildings, decorative and aesthetic features and facilities once the response to the new environment has been observed and

This spreads out the initial cost of building. Facilities and special features are progressively funded as time goes on, when the user response can be correctly predicted and responded to.

The People of Tomorrow will make the Place the way they want it, adding in and taking out to suit the tastes of their own time.


Any landscape is rooted on the BEDROCK of the location’s geology, topography, climate, hydrology and native vegetation. Thorough SITE PLANNING is the key to success.

Designs will begin with the Bedrock’ decisions:

  • Earthworks and Major Grading.

°Protection of Existing Trees.

  • Grades, Gradients and Slopes,
  • Location of Buildings and main development Platforms
  • Modelling of the ground to accommodate Roads
  • Path Routes, Footbridges and Vehicular and Pedestrian Circulation, ”Waterbodies and Watercourses.
  • Drainage and accommodation of Services and essential Infrastructure.
  • Primary lighting and signage.
  • Structure Planting and the provision of Shade.
  • Construction of Primary Buildings.


The APPLIED features, buildings, decoration, patterns, activities, facilities, artefacts, and accessories which go to make the location an interesting PLACE:

  • Open Spaces, Plazas and Public Concourses, with decorative paving and Hard Landscape.
  • Secondary and Minor Buildings and Structures.
  • Refined Circulation and Access Provisions, Transport and Public Services. ”Ornament and decoration in finishes.
  • Artefacts and Accessories.
  • Water Features and decorative treatment of Waterbodies

°Decorative lighting and lighting effects,

  • Facilities such as cultural and commercial outlets or
  • Sporting and Recreation facilities.
  • Decorative signage and Sculptures.