It’s like Spring is in the air

January 23, 2013

flowerIt is flowering times in Singapore.

A Talipot Palm in the Botanic Gardens flowered.  It is the first and will be the last bloom for this palm tree as Talipot palm flowers only once and dies soon after its flowers turn to fruits.  This unusual phenomenon has attracted many visitors to the Gardens.

But it’s not only the Talipot Palm that has bloomed.  Others too.

Two Tiger Orchids are currently flowering inside the National Orchid Garden.  This is also unusual as Tiger Orchids have unpredictable blooming patterns, and to see one in bloom is already a rare treat.

One is near the Cool House and the other is at the Heritage Garden.  The former is in fact flowering for the first time!  With flowers that can measure up to 10cm, the Tiger Orchid is the largest orchid in the world. These orchids are expected to remain in bloom until March.

Another plant that is flowering in the Botanic Gardens is a climber called Red Jade Vine. Located at the Plant House; the plant was introduced to the Gardens way back in 1939. It has unique claw-shaped flowers that are a vibrant orangey-red, and each bunch of flowers can grow up to 30cm.

This is the most massive flowering recorded so far.

The plants in the Gardens by the Bay are responding to the competition.

Camellias in both Conservatories are blooming, ready to usher in the Lunar New Year. There are more than 70 Camellia trees and shrubs.  The oldest is  about 500 years old and yes, it is flowering too!

For plants, fertility seems to know no age limit.  We have olive trees in the Gardens which are more than 1,000 years old.  Once they get used to  the conditions, we may see them flower and fruit too?

Meanwhile, the pretty hues of red, pink and white flowers are perfect for the Lunar New Year.  Give yourself a visual treat, won’t you?

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Technology Knows No Bounds

January 17, 2013

We are pushing our construction industry to up its productivity and to reduce our reliance on unskilled foreign construction workers.  We need quantum leap, not just incremental improvements.  Technology is key to this.

Sophisticated IT and its greater use is one approach. Locally, architects, engineers and builders are using Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology more frequently.  BCA is pushing this with a view to make BIM an essential tool in every designer’s office.

But it is not just BIM.

There are a number of other advanced construction technologies and systems that are being tested and implemented around the world. We are encouraged that some of our more enlightened local developers and construction firms have already begun searching for such new technologies to improve the way they build and push for higher productivity.

In this post, I would like to introduce three specific technologies: contour crafting, Cross Laminated Timber and Unitised Building System.  They can significantly boost construction productivity if successfully applied in Singapore.

min blog_pic1

Contour crafting is still in development.  It is similar to 3D printing but applied to buildings. Instead of transforming digital models into 3D objects using ink, an entire building can be ‘printed’ rapidly and efficiently using layers of concrete. In other words, a 2500 sq ft house can be built, complete with electrical and plumbing fittings, in less than 24 hours!  A simple house in 24 hours, can you imagine that?

While contour crafting may still seem far-fetched as of now, a simpler variant of this concept applied to manufacturing the specific building components is already here, in the form of robotic fabrication.

In Singapore, we are exploring the design of robotic fabricated high-rise buildings, where robots can assemble building components such as bricks in pre-programmed patterns. The Futures Cities Laboratory, under the Singapore-ETH Centre, is working on such an idea. At this stage, their goal is not (yet) to automate the entire building process but rather to identify the points at which robotic intervention can replace the labour-intensive and inefficient work like tiling.

min blog_pic2Another notable technology is the use of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).  This is already being used in Australia, the UK and many parts of Europe. Essentially, CLT is manufactured by binding layers of timber to produce a solid timber panel which can support heavy loads like the structural and non-structural components in buildings. They are prefabricated in factories and assembled on-site, leading to productivity gain and time savings.

Through the use of CLT, The Forte, a 10-storey residential development in Melbourne, was completed in 11 months instead of 14 months with only 4 workers, 2 crane crews and 1 supervisor on-site. CLT cut its construction time by about 30%.

Finally, Unitised Building (UB) System is a modular system where room-sized units complete with internal finishes, fixtures and fittings are manufactured in factories, and are then transported to site for installation in a Lego-like manner. This is a great solution as prefabricating the UB modules in factories away from residential areas means reduced construction noise and dust pollution, besides cutting out labour intensive wet trades on-site. The typical UB system cuts down construction time by 50%, and has been applied to a wide variety of buildings including hotels, residential developments and student hostels.

BCA will continue to assist firms in introducing new construction technologies into Singapore, by facilitating approval processes among the various building regulatory agencies here. The future is already here, in several other parts of the world.  Let’s make sure Singapore is not left out.


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Who gets short-changed?

January 7, 2013

Super EC

In some recent EC launches, super-sized ECs units were offered and snapped up by buyers who did not appear to be from the “sandwiched” households. Understandably, there was public indignation at such deviations (both by some developers and some buyers) from what we had intended ECs to serve.

The developers explained that such super EC units were a minority and that they had priced them low (that was why they were snapped up by buyers who could actually afford private properties). The media reported that one such developer priced its super penthouse at $470psf, while selling the other smaller typical EC units at $770psf.

I was initially baffled by this. Why would the developer short-change itself? Why not sell more normal-sized EC units at a higher $psf, and make more profit? The space for one super penthouse, for example, can be used to build 2 or 3 normal-sized EC units.

As I probed, I discovered that the developer had not short-changed itself.

Let me illustrate: a super EC unit of 3,500 sqft may comprise 2,500 sqft of built-in space and 1,000 sqft of private roof terrace. Now, outdoor roof terraces are actually free space, space that developers do not have to pay development charges. URA allows this to encourage developers to build more outdoor space open to the sky, for the enjoyment of the residents. Developers can use this free space to develop private OR communal roof terraces, and they are NOT counted as GFA (gross floor area).

Communal sky terraces have been effective in promoting greenery and providing useful common amenities for residents in our residential developments. However, the creation and sale of super-sized private roof terraces (at the expense of communal sky terraces), is increasingly prevalent. What is happening at the roof top in the form of private roof terrace is also happening on the ground floor where it is referred to as “private enclosed space (PES)” for the buyer.

Developers’ selling off free spaces to make additional profit for themselves is not improper under current URA rules. But as more developers do so, with larger private roof terraces and PES, communal space in the development that benefits all residents will correspondingly shrink. There is a further downstream problem as some buyers may be disappointed later on, when they find out that these outdoor spaces that they have paid for are not allowed to be covered up or enclosed.

I have directed URA to review this policy and have it fixed.

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Buy SG Fish Next Time

December 17, 2012

Singaporeans eat a lot of fish. How much is a lot?

Last year, each Singaporean ate, on average, 21 kg of fish. Together, we imported 150,000 tonnes of fish, the equivalent in weight of 3,000 blue whales put together!

That is a lot of fish, though I did not contribute any, being a vegetarian.

To reduce our dependence on fish imports, AVA actively helps our local fish farms raise their productivity through R&D. Much of this scientific test-bedding work is done at AVA’s Marine Aquaculture Centre (MAC) in St John’s Island.

MAC visit

I paid the MAC a visit recently.

This is not your normal office. Nobody lives in St John’s Island, so our staff members have to commute to St John’s Island daily by ferry. The ride takes about half an hour from Marina South Pier.

They are a passionate bunch. They love their work. I spoke to a young scientist currently pursuing his postgraduate studies on fish genetics who uses advanced molecular technology to produce fast growing and disease-resistant Asian seabass. Advances in the study of the human genome have benefited the other branches of biology.

The objective is to get the fish to reproduce and grow faster. First, our MAC scientists have identified fast growing, good quality fish of several locally popular species, such as the Asian Seabass, Pompano and Tilapia.

Second, the challenge is to get them to spawn. This is about getting the right environmental conditions for the fishes. Fortunately, fishes are not as fussy as Jia Jia and Kai Kai.

Third, when the babies (fish larvae) are born, we give them a leg up, an additional boost of special diet to ensure healthy growth.

Finally, the frys are transferred to commercial fish farms for scaling up as adult fish.

These R&D efforts have been valuable. They have helped boost our local fish production steadily, from 4% of total consumption in 2009 to 8% currently.

Lifecycle of an Asian SeabassLifecycle of an Asian Seabass

Our fish farms have come together to brand their locally farmed fish as “SG Fish”. They are labelled as such in the supermarket.

As AVA continues to work closely with the industry to bolster our fish supply, you can help support our local farms by buying “SG Fish” the next time you do your marketing.

Our target is to raise the market share of SG Fish to 15%, from today’s 8%. This should not be too difficult. With your help, of course!

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Giving back to nature

December 8, 2012


This morning, I had a great time at National Parks (NParks)’ annual Volunteers Appreciation Day.

NParks has 800 volunteers who play a vital role in helping us achieve our City in a Garden vision.  All are passionate about greenery and nature.  They are involved in a variety of activities – as guides in our parks and nature reserves, as educators who conduct workshops for the public on an array of greenery-related topics and as helpers to carry out conservation activities like biodiversity surveys and forest patrols.

Age holds no barrier for NParks’ volunteers.

Nine-year-old Suryanni and 84-year-old Mdm Kwoh Toh are both actively involved in an award-winning community garden.  Through their participation in gardening roadshows, they also engage others to learn more about gardening.NParks

Ms Heng Pei Yan – a teacher– participated in the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey early this year.  Despite the risk of getting stung by marine organisms and having to trudge through knee-deep mud, she was undeterred and gamely participated in the survey simply because of her passion for nature.

Kudos to all our volunteers!  Thanks to every one of them for their commitment and dedication to enhancing our greenery and giving back to the community.

We welcome more to come and join us in this endeavor to make Singapore a City in a Garden.  Just call NParks whenever nature beckons.

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Going Underground

December 4, 2012


Minister Iswaran and I went underground recently. We explored the Jurong Rock Caverns (JRC) beneath the Banyan Basin on Jurong Island. It was quite an experience.

Located at a depth of more than 130m, Phase One JRC contains 5 caverns which will provide storage and terminalling facilities for liquid hydrocarbons such as crude oil and condensate. They form an important infrastructure for our petrochemical industry.

Normally such facilities are built above ground as they will be cheaper. But by building them underground, we free up valuable land for other purposes. The 5 caverns are made up of storage galleries, each with average dimensions of 20m (W) X 27m (H) X 340m (L). The height is equivalent to a 9-storey building. The saving is equivalent to a saving of 60 ha of land which is very significant for Singapore.

Two caverns are now almost completed and will be used to store liquid hydrocarbons once ready. Subsequent visits to the first two caverns will no longer be possible.

Worldwide, there are more than 200 rock caverns. We now have some in our midst.

Not quite to the centre of the Earth, but the visit down the shaft to the (currently) deepest part of Singapore, nevertheless, left a deep impression. The JRC opens up new opportunities for land-scarce Singapore. Beyond storage, what more can be moved underground?

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