Eco-active Totems

  • Design

    WOHA Architects & Systmz

  • Location


  • Service

    Wildlife Infrastructure Design

  • Status

    Design & Prototype Phase

  • Use

    Individual, community, corporate

  • Year

    2021 - ongoing


Totems were a concept first conceived by WOHA during the design phase of the Bukit Timah Rocher Green Corridor. With rapid urbanization and the proliferation of a concrete jungle, it has become pertinent to create pockets within developments for wildlife to find refuge in. As designers with a penchant for innovation and execution of bold ideas, WOHA recognized a need to create better more wildlife-friendly infrastructure that could reshape how humans currently co-exist with nature in built spaces.  

Working with our ecological input and guidance from material specialists, fabrication experts and landscapers, WOHA has managed to not only revolutionize the traditional nest box but create a movement that gives power to the layperson and equips them with the tools necessary to design infrastructure for urban wildlife. 

Totems for the 21st Century managed to pique the interest of Mandai Nature who quickly became a key research partner. Trials are underway to better determine the sweet spot that balances both the ecological needs of the totem’s wild inhabitants while creating space to practice creativity in design. 

Color experiments with standard nest boxes to identify color preferences for nesting of tropical birds.

Cover Image: A dedicated project website to celebrate the Eco-active Totem movement for the 21st century. .


Designing supplemental habitats in urban spaces required an understanding of the behavioural ecology of the targeted species.



To read more about Totems for the 21st Century, please visit 

Totems of the 21st-century website

The journey of the designs so far – a documentary


To guide the construction of the first Totem aimed at housing birds, four native target species were studied – the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Asian Glossy starling, Oriental magpie robin and the Long-tailed parakeet. Despite all these species being nest-cavity dwellers they still had varied needs in terms of how wide the diameter of the entrance is, the depth and inner dimensions of the box, the colour, the types of competitors they may have as well as predators. 

A profile was developed for each of these species through literature reviews and expert consultations. Each bird’s specific needs were outlined and communicated to designers. Predation threats were identified in the local Singapore context and appropriate predation mitigation strategies in the form of baffles and hole extenders were suggested.  

Given that Totems are a marriage of design and ecology, the aim was to elevate the traditional make of the nest box to suit the needs of our wild neighbours. To trial the design amendments, a collaboration with Mandai Nature was initiated by bioSEA. Traditional nest boxes of different colours are currently being tested against the Totem design within the Mandai Nature premises to determine which features influence its adoption rate. The learnings from this study will inform and guide the conception of new Totem designs.

A new nest box design that bioSEA developed with GWS Living Art, WOHA and Systmz and Mandai Nature.  

An innovative totem design being brainstormed by the project team at the Systmz manufacturing facility.

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