RSP Architects On Building A Smart And Sustainable University

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One of the teams behind the Singapore Institute of Technology’s new centralized eco-campus in Punggol set to open in 2024, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers designed the university’s administration building, academic blocks, an auditorium, food court and multi-purpose hall. I discuss with Suen Wee Kwok, Executive Director (Singapore) of RSP, about adopting green technologies and the construction of Super Low Energy Buildings.

How does this project take into account the immediate surroundings, landscape and the environment at large in terms of its architecture, layout and systems design?

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) Campus Court located in Plot 2 is built on a green field site. To the east of the site is Serangoon Reservoir and Coney Island Park that houses a wide variety of habitats, including coastal forests, grasslands, mangroves and woodlands. Together with the forest park in SIT Plot 1, a green and blue ecological corridor is designed to thread the two campus plots from the conserved forest park to the waterfront that the Campus Court directly faces. Along this ecological corridor is a series of green courtyards such as rain detention wetlands and green lawns attached to the main spine as an extension to the natural environment. Within the buildings, there are sky terraces with lush planting and vertical green walls. The series of sky terraces punctuating the Administration Block allow the greenery to be enjoyed by users. A waterfront boulevard is also designed abutting the site to connect the campus to the bigger Punggol New Town. As part of this circulation, lush plantings are planted as part of the Park Connector Network (PCN).

How does the project impact the local community?

The SIT campus is designed as an open and porous campus, where the public can roam freely on the lower floors. Besides amenities and parks, these publicly accessible areas are also designed with study areas for other students in the Punggol New Town or anyone who wants a conducive studying space. SIT is one of the rest stops on the PCN, so facilities such as bicycle parking and shower facilities are also offered on campus. To create a campus that is borderless and integrated with the surrounding community and industry, SIT has conducted various community outreach programs since 2017.

What resources and raw materials will be used?

In addition to common building materials, the canteen of the SIT campus will be built using Mass Engineered Timber (MET). MET is a greener material than typical steel and concrete and also helps to make the construction process more efficient.

What are the expected numerical outcomes and performance data that the sustainability features of the project provide?

The entire project is targeted to achieve the BCA Green Mark Platinum rating with projected energy savings of more than 30 %. In particular, the Multi-Purpose Hall (MPH) building is projected to achieve Super Low Energy Building status. It is expected to achieve more than 40 % savings on energy use.

How much energy and carbon can be saved? What are the ways that this project is incorporating to achieve this?

The estimated proposed building energy consumption for the SIT Campus Court is approximately 30 % lower compared with the baseline building energy consumption referencing the BCA guideline. Steeper energy savings estimated to be at more than 40 % are expected at the Multi-Purpose Hall block, the Super Low Energy Building. Some of the green features at the MPH block include Passive Displacement Ventilation (PDV) that relies on natural convection of heat transfer without the need for supplementary mechanical fans to deliver cooled air to the space. At the campus-wide level, SIT will be implementing a number of innovative green features. An example is micro-grid power generation to harness renewable energy and reduce its reliance on the main electricity grid. Another feature is the SMART building control system that has the ability to detect the occupancy in the room and vary the air flow according to the usage demand.

What are the trade-offs of high energy-saving targets?

There are no trade-offs spatially to achieving the energy-saving targets. In fact, the PDV air-conditioning system designed for the MPH and lecture theaters eliminates the need for mechanical fans to circulate the air, thereby creating cost savings. On the other hand, there is a higher initial investment for more efficient M&E and sanitary systems. However, buildings last for generations of people, and the more important consideration is the long-term value and cost savings they bring.

How do you balance technology and user experience? Does a building have to give up something so it can pay for solar panels, an Integrated Building Management System and to house the region’s first multi-energy micro-grid?

The SIT campus is an institution designed and built to integrate technology into every corner. This is made possible by working collaboratively with Singapore Power, consultants and other stakeholders. The Campus will be a SMART campus that will help its students to leverage on technology for the most optimal learning journey.

How does the project aim to be self-sustainable in the long run?

The project aims to be efficient in its energy use and minimize energy wastage. It takes on a long-term perspective on its design from both a technical and user behavior point of view. For example, when energy is used to cool a large space like multi-purpose halls or lecture theaters, it is done using smart technology such as PDV that requires no mechanical fans to circulate the air-conditioning. To ensure that students can congregate comfortably in the various study areas, CFD simulations are carried out to determine the cross-ventilation of these areas within the building. The canteen is also designed to allow for natural ventilation during the cooler times of the day.

Because the word “sustainability” has been overused and often times “abused”, what is your definition of sustainability? Why is it important to leave a minimal ecological footprint?

As architects, we see sustainability as a responsible way to design our buildings. The term can sometimes be mis-characterized as having just a lot of greenery and using little or no energy for the building to perform its function. A multi-pronged approach is required for a sustainable building. Design that allows efficient use of electrical energy is just one component. Sustainability also means being able to have a building that also looks at food security (e.g. urban farming), energy security (e.g. solar panels) and water security (e.g. rainwater harvesting). At SIT, we have designed for these to take place on the campus roofs.

Do you believe that SIT’s Centralized Campus in Punggol can serve as a model for sustainable practices for other educational institutions around the world, impact policy and change industry standards?

SIT’s relocation to the Punggol Digital District (PDD) from its Dover Road campus and various locations within the polytechnics has been carefully thought out. Being co-located with the industrialists within the PDD creates a platform to facilitate closer collaboration between industry and academia for innovation to take place. The consolidation of the campus allows for shorter traveling times between the collaborators, reducing the carbon footprint of their travel. Being adjacent to the Punggol New Town residential area also offers a shorter commute to work, study and play. Within the SIT and PDD, the network of circulation creates manageable walkable distances between blocks, making it a car-lite district. As part of a network of live, work, play and study zones located in the northeast of Singapore, SIT becomes part of the solution to decentralize the city center to reduce commuting, and a greater identity can be built around new towns.



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