Monday, February 7, 2011

Singapore - sustainability in the mist?

A photo critique of some "sustainability" features at the Marina Bay Sands MEGA development in Singapore.

Singapore has some claims of being a modern sustainable city. And while we can all marvel at and envy the efficient public transport system, there are some aspects of the city that suggest that technocratic thinking has limits.

On a recent visit I took a stroll through the latest addition to the cities "attractions" - the Marina Bay Sands area. The promenade around the entire area is concrete, a material well known for its capacity to absorb and retain heat. However should you find yourself overcome from the tropical (cement enhanced) heat, respite is at hand. Located near some towering buildings are three large stainless steel and glass umbrella shaped structures.

On closer inspection you can see that each of these structures is a large outdoor fan, each powered by 4kW of solar cells.

Don't worry! To "save power" these monsters only spin when hot tired souls activate the motion sensors at the rim. The specification plate proudly displayed nearby tells passersby that each machine is 5.3m high, 8m wide with a fan diameter of 3.5m. Personal observation (i.e. standing under operating fan) suggests that the effective cooling capacity on my visit was zero (see below).

In the distance, behind the moving wind sculpture, is the marvel of the new casino. The large object on the roof purposefully resembles a ship - representing the trading source of Singaporean wealth. This platform also contains a rooftop park.

A better use of the sun can be seen in the nearby (small?) Art gallery where the roof consists of several kW of solar glass.

We should remind ourselves that Singapore is a port, and has been for a long time. On the assumption that the British Navy is not stupid, we might also assume that a port developed in the time of sail might also be located at a site with some reasonable occurrence of wind.

The next piece of sustainability sculpture on the way to Marina Sands consists of over 250m of stainless steel pipe located at a height of between 5 - 8m. Lovingly named 'A Stroll in the Mist', each pipe had a diameter of about 30cm and was activated by 12 motion sensors. The stated aim of the structure is to:
As part of the environmental initiative, it sprays clouds of mist to reduce the ambient temperature and provides a cooling experience throughout the day. At night, it provides an integrated light-and-sound experience. Motion, temperature and humidity detectors help to control the release of the mist and also help to conserve energy.

Again, notice all that nice concrete. On closer inspection we can see that the effective cooling capacity on this particular day was ZERO.

A fine mist, even in the most moderate of breezes will just be blown sideways. Hidden in the adjacent shrubbery I noticed the sustainable source of the misting, and at great risk of being identified as a suspicious person (the announcement you hear at every station on the MRT) and promptly thrown in jail, I took this picture.

Three large pumps hidden in large 1m3 boxes draw power from this little substation.

This misty experience leads us to a palm lined path with the barest hint of water sensitive urban design. The gaps between the concrete are grassed and lead to a subsurface drain. Again, note all the concrete.

Presumably all the runoff from this site goes to the adjacent enclosed bay which is probably the single most sustainable feature at the site and serves as an auxiliary water storage. Though I noticed the water had a nice green tinge. Singapore has a curious water dilemma, both too much and too little water. When it rains, the considerable impervious surfaces in the city frequently threaten to flood parts of the city. But in the dry season, there is insufficient water on the island to supply the city: water imports, reuse/recycling and desalination must be used.

And finally, where has the sojourn through the mist brought us?

James Kunstler might observe that the scale of this shopping center totally dehumanizes the recreational shoppers (those small things on the walkways). All air conditioned at ~25oC of course.

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