Singapore: The fast development of smart buildings

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The next generation of buildings is set to become a lot smarter, thanks to the increasing convergence of new data streams, sensor technology and breakthroughs in building material science.

The relentless march of technological innovation has transformed the way we communicate. Soon it will change the urban landscape in Singapore.

The next generation of buildings is set to become a lot smarter, thanks to the increasing convergence of new data streams, sensor technology and breakthroughs in building material science.

Singapore has come a long way since horse drawn carriages plied Commercial Square in the mid-19th century. The area was later renamed Raffles Place and it still stands as Singapore’s prime commercial district.

Skyscrapers have replaced many old buildings, but experts said they could themselves be transformed – as society’s needs and technology evolve.

Chong Keng Hua, assistant professor of architecture and sustainable design at Singapore University of Technology and Design, said: “Starting from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, we have different needs of the society that the architects or the urban planners are trying to fulfil. From the basic needs in the 60s, to a more society needs in the 80s and 90s, when we talk about identity, when we talk about tropical architecture, what is Singapore architecture to the 2000s when we talk about sustainability and liveability.”

Singapore’s built environment has evolved over the past decades and in the last 10 to 20 years, there has been a greater focus on sustainable development, improving accessibility in buildings as well as boosting labour productivity in the construction sector.

One key initiative that has taken off is the Green Mark Scheme, launched by the Building and Construction Authority in 2005, to encourage developers to adopt more environmentally-sustainable practices.

The number of green buildings in Singapore has grown from just 17 in 2005 to more than 2,100 today. Last year, the BCA introduced a new masterplan that would drive the Singapore’s green building strategy for the next five to 10 years.

Buildings are getting greener and industry players say they will get a lot smarter too in the not so distant future as new technology integrates with building design. A big part of it will ride on Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, with greater use of data analytics, and a range of infocomm and media technologies.

Developer CapitaLand said it is open to new ideas which innovation may bring. CapitaLand’s chief of Design Review Unit, Poon Hin Kong, said: “With your phone you can control your switches, your washing machines or your ovens, and in the States they are also intelligent enough where the fridge can tell you that it’s time to buy a new carton of milk because your are running out.

“Or the moment you step in, it remembers what you have, the music you like or the lighting level you like and it will automatically turn it on to accommodate what you want. We are certainly keen to explore all these ideas and tap on the latest and newest technology to keep up with what the market wants.”

Meanwhile Keppel Land highlighted the potential for sensor technology to offer optimised energy usage solutions in commercial buildings. “Imagine, we can put in sensors in such a way that if the system detects that there are heavier people workload in a particular floor or area, then more air-con cooling capacity will be directed to that location to make it cooler,” said Tan Swee Yiow, Keppel Land’s president (Singapore).

“For meeting rooms, for example, if they are empty, they are not occupied, then there is no need to blow cool air over there. Imagine if we can develop a system that can automatically do this, that will save a lot of cooling load and yet at the same time provide comfort for the occupier,” Mr Tan added.

Arup, a global multi-disciplinary engineering and consulting firm has pieced together what buildings could potentially look like in 2050 when the world’s population may hit nine billion, with 75 per cent living in cities.

Arup projects that buildings in the future are not passive shells, but rather “living and breathing” structures plugged into the smart urban infrastructure. They will boast a network of sensors that provide real time data to the building system, allowing it to respond accordingly to environmental changes. And the city will be seamlessly linked by cable cars.

Arup says skyscrapers of tomorrow could comprise modular components which can be rearranged and assembled by robots. The buildings will also be able to harness energy and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Andrew Henry, principal of Arup Singapore, said: “At the moment, there are trials for solar paints, we would be able to paint our buildings with solar technology, so if you can imagine, all our buildings being able to harness technology, the effect that will have on the sustainability of our buildings, the look and feel of our buildings will be amazing.

“And I think a huge potential is using buildings for food production. So we are developing facades and skins of buildings that can not only act as energy storage elements, but also act as food generation element.”

Dr John Keung, CEO of Building and Construction Authority, said: “Many of those features that are proposed for these buildings in 2050 are happening now. We can give you many examples like rainwater collection, recycling, energy generating lifts although we have not put everything together in one single building.

“Going forward, if we can integrate more and more such sustainable practices for our buildings, through our Green Mark assessment system … I think we are going to be able to get there quite soon – we probably don’t have to wait till 2050.”

But as the city changes over time, there is also a need to preserve buildings of architectural significance or are representative of its time. The Singapore Institute of Architects says it is keen to work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to look into it.

“Perhaps URA could say that every 10 years, we have a concerted effort, or let’s review the top 10 buildings of the past 10 years and give it some form of status – that would be one way to preserve the better architecture buildings for generations to come … and perhaps some of the first generation HDB flats,” said president of Singapore Institute of Architects Theodore Chan.

“Because to my mind, the architectural character of Singapore, you cannot divorce it from HDB because no where in the world you’ll find public housing of that kind of scale. For instance, the mall at Toa Payoh Central – if you walk through, the lovely scale of the small little shops downstairs and the residential units upstairs, it is a very humanistic, social kind of scale, which is quite void now in the big shopping centres,” he added.

The institute also suggests that incentives be provided to encourage developers to “free up” the first two storeys of new buildings and turn them into public spaces with parks or atriums to enrich the quality of life in the city.

As waves of technology sweep across Singapore, the urban landscape will continue to change – just as Raffles Place did, from the 1980s till now. So Singapore’s skyline today – iconic as it is – may well look very different in the not-too-distant future.

Source: Channel NewsAsia

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