Underground, the next frontier for Singapore

Soil studies for long-term plan are in progress, says BCA chief

Published on Sep 28, 2012

By Lim Yan Liang

SINGAPOREANS may one day live, work and play below ground in vast, subterranean caverns that make today's underground malls look like home basements.

This is because the Government is keen to look at how to expand Singapore's limited space in unexplored ways, said Building and Construction Authority CEO John Keung in an interview with The Straits Times.

"Of course you can build up, but there is a limit, because we have airports. You can reclaim, but there is also a limit, as you need to keep fairways and anchorages for your port," said Dr Keung.

"The only thing left is to go underground."

Studying the feasibility of expanding Singapore's space by digging down started in 2010, when BCA set up the Singapore Geological Office to carry out soil studies.

Plans are also in the works to collaborate with local universities and the Earth Observatory of Singapore to study rock fractures and the composition of local soil.

"Of course, this is a longer-term thing: we are looking at 2050, 2100," said Dr Keung.

Since 2008, BCA has embarked on new areas of work, with longer timelines, far outside its traditional purview.

Another long-term project could see the Government usher in a sophisticated flood protection system for the island to deal with rising tides caused by global warming.

Since the Coastal and Project Management Department was formed within the BCA in 2008, the statutory board has led other government agencies in coastal protection efforts.

The six-person department has made working trips to study strategies adopted by other coastal countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain.

A three-year study initiated by BCA in 2010, on the impact of rising sea levels on Singapore's coast and possible economic implications, will conclude soon.

"We are also the coastal protection authority of Singapore," said Dr Keung.

"We are looking at the impact of sea-level rise on our shore line. We want to know, if it rises by half a metre, a metre or two metres, what happens?"

Even as BCA widens its long-term role, Dr Keung said one of the statutory board's more immediate goals is to overturn the perception that the construction industry is dirty, noisy and unglamorous, and to attract more Singaporeans to the sector.

To do that, BCA has been encouraging greater mechanisation of construction firms here.

It is doing that by subsidising up to 50 per cent of the cost of buying productivity-boosting hardware such as scissor lifts and automated wheel- washers, and software like Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools, which replace traditional two-dimensional plans and drawings.

Dr Keung said $67 million of the $250 million Construction Productivity and Capability Fund (CPCF) set up in 2010 by the Government has been disbursed to more than 1,600 companies here. Of this, more than $9 million has been used to subsidise BIM software to help local companies stay competitive not just here, but overseas as well.

From next year, BCA will also mandate that all architectural drawings submitted must use BIM, whether they are private or public projects. From 2014, this will include structural plans drawn up by engineers, and by 2015, all plans and drawings.

"Our architects know that if they want to compete for projects overseas, or in the region, they need to use BIM because the other consultants are using it."

The agency has also been making a big push for local firms to adopt prefabrication and precasting, which further reduces the need for manpower at worksites, in addition to reducing the levels of noise and pollution associated with traditional construction sites.

"If you look at our industry in the next three to five years, I am quite confident that there will be more on-site assembly rather than on-site construction," said Dr Keung.

In sum, BCA's goal is to remain the guardian of Singapore's built environment, said Dr Keung.

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