DPM Heng Swee Keat at the at the Launch of NUS SDE 1 & 3 and NUS Cities

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 2 February 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the at the launch of NUS SDE 1 & 3 and NUS Cities on 2 February 2023.

NUS Chairman Hsieh Fu Hua

NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye

College Dean Professor Aaron Thean

Ladies and gentlemen, 

I am delighted to be back at NUS today to launch the SDE 1 and 3 buildings, as well as the NUS Cities Centre. When I was here in 2019 to launch SDE 4, it was still within the School of Design and Environment. Back then, SDE 4 broke new ground as the first new-build, net-zero energy building in Singapore. It has since exceeded its net-zero goals and is now certified BCA Green Mark Platinum Positive Energy, one of four such buildings in Singapore. The School of Design and Environment has also merged with the Faculty of Engineering, to form the College of Design and Engineering. 

It is fitting to celebrate this progress with the launch of two retrofitted net-zero energy buildings. SDE 1 and 3 are rich in heritage, having housed generations of Singapore’s architects. When the time came to rejuvenate the buildings, NUS decided to preserve their structures, while transforming them into net-zero energy buildings. 

This effort to green existing building stock is crucial to decarbonising our built environment. In Singapore, buildings contribute to more than 20% of Singapore’s carbon emissions. Singapore, like major cities around the world, is densely built up. Most of our buildings were erected before sustainability considerations and carbon constraints. Likewise, around the world, the existing building stock is large, and not as efficient as new buildings. For the world to meet our climate commitments, we cannot just rely on building more new net-zero energy buildings. We also need building owners to retrofit and improve the performance of existing buildings, to reduce carbon emissions. What NUS has done with SDE 1 and 3 has great potential to be applied in Singapore and beyond. 

An Interdisciplinary Approach

SDE 1 and 3 offer lessons on how such rejuvenation can be done to meet new needs while improving carbon performance. For a start, NUS assessed that retrofitting these two buildings was only 40% of the potential cost of rebuilding them! More impressively, the buildings’ current total energy consumption is around one-third of pre-renovation levels. This is a highly commendable effort that the built environment sector can learn from. 

Transforming SDE 1 and 3 into net-zero energy buildings was an inter-disciplinary effort by architects, engineers, and designers. Good design ensures that the buildings integrate seamlessly with SDE 4. Solar panels on rooftops generate clean energy. Smart building sensors and technology monitor and control the indoor environment. For example, the hybrid cooling system which we are experiencing now, is a low-carbon and low-energy alternative to air-conditioning. It enables us to re-imagine thermal comfort for a tropical climate.

These buildings are a fitting showcase for the College of Design and Engineering, which recently celebrated its first birthday. Climate change and sustainable development are at the top of the global agenda, and cross-cutting in nature. The next bound of green urban solutions to tackle climate change will be found at the intersection of good design and sound engineering. So, it is timely and forward-looking to bring the two NUS schools together to strengthen this inter-disciplinary approach. 

I am glad to see the College at the forefront of training the next generation of architects, engineers, and scientists. Through an inter-disciplinary educational experience, your students will gain multiple perspectives, and develop the instincts to address issues holistically. It will enable your researchers and faculty to forge new frontiers in design and engineering, by tapping on one another’s expertise and networks to design green solutions for tomorrow. Beyond design and engineering, I hope that this inter-disciplinary experience enables your students to develop broad perspectives across specific fields of expertise. This will put them in good stead to collaborate and innovate across domains and professions, when they face new challenges.

Commitment to Action

NUS’ commitment to sustainability is steadfast. 

You are mobilising the NUS community to achieve a carbon neutral campus by 2030. Your faculty and students live and breathe sustainability – from building good habits like reducing waste, to inter-disciplinary studies that equip them to understand the different facets of climate change. Like most cities today, your campus is built-up and has buildings of different vintages and typologies. Taken together, NUS can serve as a living laboratory, leveraging in-house expertise to test and deploy green urban solutions. And these innovations will have relevance to the wider community, just as the three SDE buildings have shown.  

The new NUS Cities Centre will be an excellent platform to expand your impact beyond the campus, to offer innovative solutions to the region and the world. As a university-wide collaborative platform, it invites an even broader inter-disciplinary approach to urban sustainability and development. For example, it can draw on the expertise of research centres such as the Tropical Marine Science Institute and the Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, to drive a systems approach to understanding urban resilience. Equally important is the connection to government agencies and industry partners, including HDB, JTC, Keppel, SembCorp, and ST Engineering. These partnerships enable the co-design of cutting-age solutions, and the translation of research into reality. I look forward to our agencies and industry partners making the best use of and adding to the expertise gathered here. This inter-disciplinary, cross-sectoral approach will position NUS Cities well to offer sustainable urban solutions and grow capabilities, for Singapore and beyond. 


Let me conclude by congratulating NUS and the College of Design and Engineering on the launch of SDE 1 and 3. These buildings reflect NUS’ commitment to sustainability, and the possibilities we can unlock through an inter-disciplinary approach. I hope it will generate momentum within our built environment sector to green Singapore’s existing building stock, to meet our climate commitments. 

Together with the efforts under NUS Cities to inspire the next generation of researchers and practitioners, I am confident that NUS will catalyse new thinking and innovative solutions in urban sustainability and resilience, to benefit not just Singapore, but the region and the world. 

I look forward to celebrating the next milestone with you – all the best!