Much has been made of Singapore’s verdant surroundings, and foreign visitors to the city-state often describe it as a ‘garden city’ – to the point where the characterization has become almost a cliché. In reality, Singapore’s green credentials involve much more than just being one of Asia’s best tree-endowed cities.
The government last year unveiled its ambitious Singapore Green Plan 2030, which aims to make 80 percent of the city’s buildings green by the end of the current decade. A year and a half later, beyond the parks and tree-lined streets, even densely packed skyscrapers and residential buildings are becoming increasingly important contributors to a sustainable urban environment.
Using recycled building materials, optimizing energy use in public housing, and converting unused space into urban farms are just a few ways a once-grey cityscape is turning green. These and other measures can be seen as a four-pronged strategy for greening buildings in Singapore’s urban landscape.
Driven by data
Greening a city isn’t just about physical infrastructure, it’s also about building robust digital platforms that enable improved property management.
In one such initiative, sustainable development agency JTC Corporation, technology agency GovTech and technology and engineering group ST Engineering have developed a means to combine real-time data and management of district systems on a single platform. Known as the Open Digital Platform (ODP), the system will power systems such as building lighting and elevator operations in the Punggol Digital District, GovInsider reported in March.
The Punggol Digital District on the north-eastern tip of the island will be Singapore’s first smart district, functioning as both a residential area and an innovation hub for the digital industry. The ODP will collect data from platforms such as power grids so facility managers can see at-a-glance electricity usage patterns across the district.
Thanks to its holistic view of all relevant data, the ODP will be able to predict energy requirements and thus contribute to optimizing consumption. For example, if temperature data indicates cooler weather, the ODP will automatically turn down air conditioners to save energy.
The data collected via the ODP will also be used in a three-dimensional model of the Punggol Digital District. The 3D interface will be interactive, allowing building managers to comprehensively visualize buildings in the district. You can click on specific buildings to see the energy consumption of hardware such as air conditioners.
Researchers can also use the 3D model as a digital twin to develop digital and analog options for making the district more sustainable. For example, they can first test and later optimize sustainable technologies such as intelligent toilets and waste collection systems with the digital twin.
Singapore has over a million homes, meaning housing developments play a key role in the country’s green infrastructure plan.
The Housing Development Board (HDB) is testing a rainwater harvesting and distribution system known as the UrbanWater Harvesting System in two cities. It collects rainwater for purposes such as cleaning common areas and watering plants, saving the equivalent amount of drinking water used by more than 85 average-sized homes annually.
The HDB is also converting the top parking levels into parks, urban farms and community gardens.
In a move mirroring the ODP, HDB’s Smart Hub data platform integrates real-time data on HDB properties, such as: B. Energy consumption, passenger traffic and elevator use. The data helps optimize energy use in residential complexes, for example by dimming lights in common areas when motion sensors do not detect human movement.
This integrated platform is critical to building smart cities as it allows engineers to ensure that different parts of the system, such as B. solar panels and intelligent waste collection systems, work together effectively.
Through these initiatives, HDB aims to make neighborhoods more sustainable and livable by 2030 through a program known as the Green Towns program.
building by building
At a granular level, Singapore’s ambitious neighborhood greening plan means greening individual buildings, particularly commercial buildings, and a critical component of its success is ensuring businesses maintain and operate their buildings in an environmentally friendly manner.
Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has published an online guide encouraging companies to adopt digital technologies and make their buildings more sustainable. Digital systems include smart sensors placed at entrances or exits that can detect how many people are in an area. When no one is present, building managers can reduce lighting and cooling services, thereby reducing energy use—a process that can be automated by integrating artificial intelligence.
Another way IMDA plans to promote sustainability is through a self-diagnostic toolkit that will help individual companies assess their sustainability and tech readiness levels. Once applied, the toolkit offers recommendations on digital technologies and resources that companies can use to increase their sustainability.
Even after buildings are made more sustainable, Singapore’s urban landscape will continue to grow, so it is also important that future development does not come at the expense of the environment. With this in mind, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is taking action to ensure buildings remain sustainable throughout their life cycle, from construction to demolition.
The BCA encourages developers to use sustainable building materials such as Mass Engineered Timber (MET), an engineered wood product made from certified sustainably managed forests. Some educational buildings in Singapore, including Eunoia Junior College and the National Technological University, have already been built with MET.
MET offers better thermal insulation than traditional wood and reduces the energy required for heating and cooling systems. Building processes using MET are also sustainable, as MET panels and other components are custom-made to precision standards in factories to reduce waste.
In addition, the BCA has introduced a demolition protocol to help contractors recycle waste materials when demolishing buildings. The materials can later be reused for other projects, such as the Samwoh Eco-Green Building in north-west Singapore, the country’s first building constructed from recycled concrete made from construction and demolition waste.
The Samwoh Eco-Green Building opened 12 years ago, more than a decade before the Singapore Green Plan 2030 was unveiled. As implementation of the plan progresses apace, the groundbreaking construction achievement of the Samwoh project can be viewed as symbolic of the country’s growing awareness of the importance of sustainability. And as the environmental challenges and development pressures Singapore faces increase, the acute need for greater sustainability will undoubtedly usher in more such breakthroughs in Singapore’s urban development.