Buildings here still have room to improve: Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE - Building owners still have some way to go to make their properties more accessible, connected, green, smart, productive and high-tech.

This was National Development Minister Lawrence Wong's message to more than 2,000 industry players at the BCA (Building and Construction Authority) Awards 2016 on Thursday.

In his speech, he set out three broad directions that buildings of the future must take.

First, buildings must be designed for all ages and abilities - to ensure an inclusive society. They also need to account for changing demographics. Singapore's proportion of seniors is set to double by 2030. At present, there is still a lot of room to install elderly-friendly features at older private sector buildings, he said.

For new buildings, universal design can be incorporated during the design stage. Because it is more difficult to retrofit existing buildings, BCA has set up an Accessibility Fund to help private building owners defray the bulk of costs for adding accessibility features.

Second, Mr Wong wants buildings to be environmentally sustainable. Buildings are a major source of carbon emissions, with about a quarter of Singapore's total emissions generated by buildings and the energy they consume. There is thus a need to cut back on energy usage and carbon emissions from buildings.

According to Mr Wong, only about 30 per cent of Singapore's buildings are "greened". This means they are energy and water efficient, sensitive to their surrounding environments, and providing a high quality indoor environment for users. This is a far cry from the nation's aim to have 80 per cent of all buildings greened by 2030.

He beseeched private building owners to tap on BCA's enhanced green building schemes which will help them manage the initial cost premium for energy efficiency projects in their existing buildings.

Builders can also do more with smart devices and data analytics. The government needs the industry to continue test-bedding smart energy efficiency solutions. Mr Wong hopes that the industry will be convinced that green buildings do make business sense, and are the right way forward.

Thirdly, Mr Wong said many of the industry players' construction methods are still labour-intensive and time-consuming, and Singapore cannot continue like this in the long run. It is not sustainable to rely heavily on foreign, low-skilled manpower, he said.

There is thus a need to adopt the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly approach, which refers to a range of methods, such as prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction, cross laminated timber and structural steel - in short, more productive construction methods.

With more work mechanised and done off-site, the industry can then build faster, more safely, and with less impact to the surrounding environment. It will also create better career opportunities for Singaporeans and attract more young people to join the sector.

In the longer term, the government has major infrastructure plans to transform Singapore's urban landscape. For instance, building the new Jurong Lake District as its second Central Business District, the Greater Southern Waterfront after the planned relocation of the City Terminals and Pasir Panjang Terminal to Tuas, and the re-development of Paya Lebar Airbase.

Mr Wong said these plans will take several terms of government to complete, and will need the help of a strong and capable construction industry to realise. He assured the industry that the government will work with them to drive the changes in the building sector.

The event also gave out awards to honour the industry's best. This included the inaugural BCA Green Mark PlatinumSTAR Champion award - given to the Nanyang Technological University.

It is the latest category introduced to recognise developers and building owners who have 50 or more building projects with the highest BCA Green Mark Platinum rating.

This article was first published on May 27, 2016.
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