Master of Greenprints

A look at the green building movement in Singapore, with former World Building Council chairman and architect Tai Lee Siang’s take on working with the international community for a more sustainable world.

BY SASHA GONZALES

A

rchitect Tai Lee Siang has built a career out of dreaming green. After watching former United States vice-president Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, in 2006, Tai was confronted by the reality of climate change, which spurred him to help the environment by creating eco-friendly structures built using environmentally responsible materials and methods. Informed by principles of sustainability, the architect and urban planner has designed a slew of green buildings, including public institution ITE College West and National University of Singapore UTown.

Tai’s illustrious career is marked by creative collaboration – from the NUS UTown project that he designed together with American architectural firm SOM (Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill) to his stint as the chairman of the World Green Building Council, an international body whose mission is to promote sustainability in the building sector.

Here, he worked with senior leaders from 15 Green Building Councils around the world, including India, Australia and the US, to create a sustainable lived environment for future generations.

 

SOUNDING OFF

An architect and urban planner for over two decades, Tai shares his views on sustainable architecture and more.

On collaboration…
“When designing the NUS UTown project in collaboration with SOM from the US, instead of the initial idea of a road that would cut through the heart of the campus, SOM proposed a car-free centre. This was a great decision that resulted in a new community centre for NUS students. At the same time, the local team shared their knowledge about tree conservation and landscape design to help create a ‘green lung' in the centre of the campus.”

On his takeaways from cross-cultural projects…
“I find that American architects are usually very creative when it comes to the design of large-scale, mixed-use complexes, while ensuring functionality. European architects, on the other hand, tend to be quite science-based and good with research and development. The Japanese architects, I’ve found, are precise and passionate about good craftsmanship. Foreign architects are usually impressed with Singapore’s physical environment. For instance, they marvel at the abundance of greenery despite the country’s small area and high population density. They are also impressed by our urban sustainability solutions such as water conservation and transport infrastructure.”

On the future of green buildings…
“The latest technology in the area of prefabrication is the prefabricated pre-finished volumetric construction, or PPVC. This is a cleaner and safer construction methodology where container-size rooms are manufactured and assembled off-site, and their interiors finished, before being transported to the building location. The builders then stack the modules onto the building using cranes.”

On green building philosophies…
“The authors of Cradle to Cradle, German chemist Michael Braungart and American scientist William McDonough, proposed the holistic, whole-life-cycle approach to the design of products and systems. It’s a profound shift from conventional consumerist philosophy, which does not consider end-of-life recyclability of materials.”

MEASURING UP

NetZero – Under the World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero project…

By 2030

All of the world’s new buildings must operate at net zero carbon – meaning they are highly energy efficient and fully powered from renewable energy sources

By 2050

100 per cent of the world’s buildings, both old and new, must operate at net zero carbon

SINGAPORE'S STANCE

The Building Construction Authority aims for 80 per cent of buildings in Singapore to be Green Mark-certified (Singapore’s green building rating system) by 2030.

As of September 2018, around 37 per cent of Singapore’s built environment is green.

SCALED TO SUSTAIN

Designed by Tai from 2007 to 2010 while he was partner-in-charge at DP Architects, these Green Mark-certified buildings feature eco-friendly features.

ITE COLLEGE WEST
Awarded BCA’s Green Mark Plantinum award in 2009

 
  • Completed in 2010, it boasts an estimated 30 percent reduction in energy consumption.
  • Features extensive themed landscaping at ground level (right), green roofs that function to reduce heat fluctuations, and rooftop gardens that cover 40 per cent of the total roof area.
  • Its naturally ventilated 2,700 sqm Events Plaza is shaded by a high-tensile-fabric membrane roof that requires less supporting steelwork, compared to conventional roofing structures.

 

NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE UTOWN
Awarded BCA’s Green Mark Ch ampion award in 2009

  • Salvaged demolition waste from neighbouring construction sites was used as backfill material for roads and pathways.
  • Has a reduced urban-heat-island effect, thanks to lush greenery-shading roads and a selection of hardscape materials, as well as green roofs on buildings, similar to those at ITE College West, that help to insulate the building from the heat.
  • Its waste management recycling strategies involve dedicated collection areas for recyclables, food/organic waste and horticultural waste for off-site composting.
 




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