The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #30

From tropical Singapore to Europe – the “ABC Waters” of sponge cities and climate adaptive design

Guest: Tobias Baur

June 4th, 2024

Episode Teaser


“…When you go through nature, you cannot see a boundary between ‘blue’ and ‘green’ …”

Tobias Baur is Professor in Landscape Architecture and Design at the Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences (OST) and former partner at Studio Ramboll-Dreiseitl. Tobias developed a lifelong passion around the connection between humans and water, growing up along the waterfront in Germany. In 2008, he embarked on a 10-year journey to the tropics in Singapore to lead major engineering and design projects centered around the country’s national Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters program, from watershed masterplans, to urban redevelopment and local-scale sponge city and climate-adaptive designs.

On today’s show, Tobias and I reflect upon Singapore’s journey in water management, its Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters approach and the intricacies of renaturalising urban spaces in the tropics. We hear his experience on leading the flagship Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park project among others and draw comparisons to Europe and the current push for climate adaptation, especially the necessity of interdisciplinary collaboration for a more sustainable future.


Tobias Baur is a Professor in Landscape Design at the Institute for Landscape and Open Space (ILF) at the Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences (OST), Rapperswil, former Partner and Team Leader at Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl, Germany (2018-2021) and former Adjunct Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) (2016-2018). He studied landscape architecture and landscape planning at the University of Applied Sciences Nürtingen from 1995 to 2004, undertaking a thesis on the topic of “Urban Development along the waterfront”. In 2004, he joined Atelier Dreiseitl and spent 2008 to 2018 in Singapore undertaking numerous projects in supporting Singapore’s shift to more Active, Beautiful and Clean (ABC) Waters Programme (a holistic approach to linking water, nature and community) across the country.

Notable projects, which Tobias led, have involved elements of river renaturalisation, urban climate improvement and adaptation as well as holistic and sustainable water management using blue-green infrastructures and sustainable landscape design. These include the development of the Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park, the flagship project of the ABC Waters Programme, the Central watershed management masterplan for Singapore as well as the Ludwigsburg Climate Terrace and Frankfurt FOUR in Germany among many others. In his current role as Professor, he is now looking into improving the design of blue-green infrastructures or ‘sponge cities’ across Switzerland and finding ways to apply his global knowledge to support better adoption of the practice.

Resources Related to the Episode

Episode Chapters

(Chapters are embedded in the episode for quick access, click this to expand and view all chapters and time stamps)
  • 0:00 Intro
  • 1:59 Guest Intro and Reflections on Singapore
  • 5:04 Early inspiration for water in landscape design
  • 9:00 Singapore’s early water management leadership
  • 12:15 The ABC Waters Programme
  • 15:46 The Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park Project
  • 27:20 Tobias’ other projects around Singapore
  • 31:58 Back in Europe and comparisons with the tropics
  • 36:14 Sponge Cities in Switzerland
  • 40:06 The role of the landscape architect and designer
  • 42:34 Q&A Start
  • 42:54 What inspires you?
  • 44:10 Key event, person, book
  • 44:40 If you had a magic wand?
  • 46:16 Biggest challenge in career to date
  • 48:20 Time management
  • 50:00 Advice for young researchers
  • 51:05 Where can people reach you?
  • 51:36 Final Message
  • 52:02 Outro

Connect with Tobias Baur

Related Episodes

Episode #13 – Veljko Prodanovic
Going vertical in a green horizontal world and promoting urban water and nature co-design

(Related Topics: water sensitive urban design, co-design)
Episode #16 – Mattheos Santamouris
A ‘hot’ topic for ‘cooler’ cities – high performance architecture to combat urban overheating

(Related Topics: climate adaptation, urban heat, health)
Episode #20 – Belinda Hatt
Stormwater control measures, healthy waterways, battleships and karate at the riverside camp

(Related Topics: stormwater management, waterways, blue-green infrastructures)
Episode #28 – Alexa Delbosc
A social psychology toolkit for changing transport planning, built environment and future mobility
(Related Topics: space conflicts, mobility, urban development)