Opening Address by 2M Desmond Lee at the International Built Environment Week: BE Connect

Sep 5, 2019 13:30

Good morning, and a warm welcome to all our friends and delegates from Singapore and the region.

We are here at the BE Connect which is part of the larger International Built Environment Week – the first-of-its-kind and also the most comprehensive built environment event in the region, organised by Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority, or BCA for short. The International Built Environment Week is intended as an all-in-one platform for learning and business networking. In particular, BE Connect was conceived as a premier business platform to bring together urban solution providers, developers, government agencies and investment communities to address urban challenges in the region. 

It is an opportunity to showcase capabilities in urban solutions, and aims to be a matchmaking platform between regional business needs and urban solution providers from Singapore. I am happy that we have with us here more than 80 regional developers and 50 local built environment firms.

Common challenges faced in the region

I hope the discussions at this platform today will benefit everyone, as we face common challenges, both in Singapore and in the region and beyond. 

First, how do we encourage and sustain growth given limited urban land area? Asia has been growing rapidly over the past few decades, lifting millions of people out of extreme poverty. The standard of living in the region is also constantly improving. In the process, Asian cities attract investments and offer attractive opportunities, especially for the young and mobile, resulting in rapid urbanisation. This drives demand for infrastructure like quality housing, efficient transport systems and better social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, which can pose challenges for cities given limited urban land area. Some countries may be large, but urban space can be quite tight because of challenges with redevelopment. Therefore, we need urban solutions that will enable us to effectively address these challenges.

The second challenge is climate change. Increased resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, driven by rapid urbanisation, all contribute to climate change. The impact of climate change includes extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels, which will become more severe over time if left unchecked. This in turn poses real threats to our survival, and cities along the coasts and low lying areas will be the first to bear the brunt of the impact. Like other sectors, the built environment sector will also need to play our part both in mitigating climate change and adapting to its impact. 

The third challenge is in dealing with the implications of a rapidly ageing population on our workforce, and the challenge of attracting young talents to join the built environment sector. This has serious repercussions on cost, on labour and productivity. To overcome this, we will need to embrace productive construction and infocomm technologies which can in turn create better job opportunities for our people – creating niche areas, creating new jobs because processes have changed, because we have reengineered the way we design, build and maintain.

Relevance of Singapore’s solutions to the region

Against the backdrop of these challenges, we have embarked on a process of transformation to shape a more liveable, sustainable, and smarter built environment. Our strategies involve redevelopment, and land intensification, for example, by integrating transport nodes with office, residential and retail developments, allowing people to work, live and play under one roof. Instead of commuting long distances, we can commute up and down vertically within the same building.

Also, to promote sustainable development, we launched the BCA Green Mark Scheme back in 2005 and other related initiatives under our Green Building Master Plans. To date, we have ‘greened’ about 40% of our buildings by gross floor area, and we target to hit 80% by 2030. We want to continue pushing the boundaries in green urban sustainable  buildings. For example, we are driving initiatives such as the development of Super Low Energy (SLE) buildings, which are at least 60% more energy efficient compared to previous standards. We have also been playing a bigger international role in sustainable development by sharing our experiences in green buildings. As a result, Green Mark certification has expanded overseas, and is now being used to rate green buildings in many other cities around the world. It is a common objective standard that we can all benchmark against so we know how our buildings are performing. This is especially important for consumers who take up office space and residential properties. They want to have a certain understanding of the sustainability of the real estate that they are going for.

To overcome the challenges of a shrinking workforce, we have been actively championing technology adoption by industry. An example is the approach known as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, or DfMA in short. This has proven to be a game-changer in improving our building productivity. DfMA allows us to improve the quality of construction, while reducing wastage due to abortive work. Many countries in the region, like China and India, have also started to adopt DfMA.

Another example is Integrated Digital Delivery, or IDD which makes use of the Building Information Modelling platform, or BIM, and advanced infocomm and smart technologies in order to integrate the entire built environment value chain, from design, manufacturing and fabrication, construction, and finally, to facilities management 

This is an intensively collaborative approach. The projects that I have visited that have successfully made good use of IDD coupled with DfMA, all tell me that the secret ingredient is actually a culture of collaboration amongst all the different sectors that are involved in the entire value chain. It enables buildings to be designed with considerations on sustainability upfront, which are often thought of as downstream issues – so that when you design a building, it is not just the design you are going after, but a building that is designed to be run and managed efficiently throughout its lifecycle.

Apart from building design, good maintenance ensures optimal building performance. This can be achieved through smart facilities management solutions such as real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance and automation, which enables building owners to reap more operational cost savings. A couple of years ago, I asked different FM companies and different developers how much a smart building would save in operational cost. They told me that the maintenance cost throughout its lifetime could be as much as four times the cost of building the facility. If it is designed inefficiently, it may be more, but if it is well-designed and green, it may be much less. So if we make good use of technology from the beginning, our buildings can be green, well-maintained and cost-efficient at the same time.

We will have the opportunity to discuss these challenges and solutions further at the sessions lined up for all of us here today. Singapore has accumulated valuable experience in tackling urban challenges, and we are happy to exchange experiences and share lessons we have learnt along the way, and learn from one another.

MOUs Signing

Singapore firms have been actively participating in sustainable development projects in other cities, such as the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in China. Our companies are also involved in projects in many other cities such as Bangalore in India, Jakarta in Indonesia, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. 

Our firms have seen some success in their overseas ventures, and I am happy that this has encouraged many more to follow suit. We now have firms providing green building services in China and Thailand, DfMA services in China, and IDD services in India. Our consultants are also sought after in the region, providing master-planning and infrastructure design services in Vietnam, and project management services in India. Today, we will witness the signing of 16 MOUs, with a total estimated contract value of close to $30 million.

Let me share a few examples. Green solution company G-Energy will be providing energy services for FICO group’s seven hotels and offices in Thailand; while GWS, also a green solution company, will be working on CapitaLand’s Datansha project in China. Ong & Ong and Surbana Jurong, both multi-disciplinary consultants, are also inking MOUs today. Ong & Ong will be working on the detailed master plan and infrastructure design for MX Group’s Smart City in Vietnam, while Surbana Jurong will be providing project management services for the Orange Smart City in India.


I understand that there are many other project discussions taking place here today – some are in the early stages and some are more advanced. I hope to see more collaborations materialise in the near future. This is precisely what the BE Connect is intended to facilitate. So on that note, I wish everyone a very fruitful morning. I hope the stars are aligned here for many more deals to be brokered.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the week.