Humans of enCity: Heather Banerd – Designing the intersection between sustainability and urban aesthetic

Humans of enCity: Heather Banerd – Designing the intersection between sustainability and urban aesthetic

Our sustainability advocate is also passionate about aesthetics and design. Whether it be adding color to cities, buildings, or salads… Heather has theorized it all!
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enCity: How long have you been with enCity, and what attracted you to the company?

Heather: I’ve been with enCity for a year and a half. I was working in architecture originally, but I really wanted to specialize in sustainability so I went back to do my masters in Integrated Sustainable Design and then when I was looking for a job, enCity  was hiring. 

I came in and had a really great chat with Dzung (enCity CEO), and left thinking that I would love to work for this company. But they were considering someone else as well, and I got another really great offer from Ramboll, so I went with them and worked in landscape architecture for two years, which I loved. Then, in the middle of the pandemic Dzung reached out to me on LinkedIn and I thought, why not give it a try? I also felt like maybe I shouldn’t turn him down twice!

enCity: It all worked out, but just a little bit later!

Heather: Exactly. It also worked out because the in-depth experience in landscape, and my team at that company, shaped how I work and my design thinking. With that experience, I’m able to bring more to enCity then I would have if I had joined earlier on. 

enCity: What’s your favorite thing about working at enCity? 

Heather: Office-wise, it’s really a very supportive environment. Everyone genuinely wants to engage with their colleagues, rather than just keep their heads down and work, so it’s a really nice office culture in that way.

In terms of work, I really value that (within the parameters of our role) we have the opportunity at enCity to shape the work we do, what we learn and the skills we develop. I feel like I have more agency over my own career and can carve my own path.

enCity: You mentioned the culture here is different from other companies. Has this changed since you’ve joined? 

Heather: Definitely.  I joined at a period of major transition. There was much more of a start-up vibe when I joined in 2020, but that shifted very quickly as we have grown so fast. Now, we all have more clearly defined roles  and more specialists have come in, which you need as you grow.  ‘All hands on deck’ only works up to a certain scale. That’s been the shift from a small company mentality to a big company mentality, and it’s been really interesting to be here through this period.

enCity: Is there anything that stands out for you during your time here?

Outside of work, we’ve done a lot of activities so it’s hard to choose. Our company outings are always pretty fun, we have a good time. We did the Hydrodash on Sentosa last year; we did a week of F45 as well; and Hoa always organizes great games for our office parties.

The Singapore team loves running and working out.

All smiles at the annual Christmas gathering in Singapore.

Project-wise, Nui Coc Escape is still my favorite. Although the project stalled, it was such a beautiful site and we were so excited about it. The terrain was quite steep but we really wanted to follow the site contours to define our urban structure. The result was a very squiggly plan on paper, but in reality it would have been such an incredible project. The client was also such a pleasure to work with, they were very invested in doing something different with the site and very open to our ideas. I’m still holding out hope that we can continue it one day.

Illustrative plan of Nui Coc Escape (by Elizelle David)

enCity: You work a lot with the sustainability side of planning and design. What has shaped your design thinking? 

Heather: I’ve always been fascinated by cities, architecture – basically, space in general – and how it makes me feel. I lived in Australia where they have a very hot, dry climate. Then I lived in Canada where the streetscape and urban form is totally different because of the cold, wet climate. They each have a totally different way of designing even though they are both western-driven models of urban planning. Then in Singapore, I saw that cities can follow a different model from the west, and have a climate-responsive urban form, and it made so much sense. Everyone talks about sustainability like it’s such a challenge, but half the challenge is breaking away from the standard way of doing things. Most of what we consider “sustainable design” is just common sense – like climate-responsive cities. 

I’m always trying to understand the aesthetic code of a place, and how this  affects how we act, how we think and how we feel. For example, I went to university in Halifax, NS and the weather is very gray – it rains all the time. They have a very maritime aesthetic with wooden houses and brightly painted colors, and my theory is they paint them in bright colors because the weather is so depressing. If you look at the aesthetic of northern countries, from Scandinavia to Japan,  they have a very parallel aesthetic and color palette with all the dark, muted neutrals from the landscape and then they inject bits of bright colors. Then the whole palette changes as you go down in latitude, for example you have a Mediterranean palette that is totally different, but that overlaps a lot with a Southeast Asian palette in a similar climate. I’m really fascinated by how culture, place and climate drive urban and personal aesthetics. 

enCity: If you had to choose a different career what would it be? 

Heather: It depends. If you asked me after a deadline I would say I’m going to give it all up and become a pilates teacher or a nutritionist. But honestly, I could do anything as long as it’s something creative, something aesthetically driven. I don’t think we value the aesthetics of our environment enough. That doesn’t mean ignoring function – a really functional space or object is inherently beautiful – but often we prioritize function at the cost of other qualities. We need to balance both, so we can bring a little more joy into the world.

enCity: Thank you Heather!

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Everyone talks about sustainability like it’s such a challenge, but half the challenge is breaking away from the standard way of doing things. Most of what we consider “sustainable design” is just common sense - like climate-responsive cities. 

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