PM Lee Hsien Loong at opening of BCA Skylab and Academic Tower

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 20 July 2016

PM Lee Hsien Loong at opening of BCA Skylab and Academic Tower on 20 July 2016.


Mr Lee Fook Sun, Chairman, Building and Construction Authority (BCA)

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very happy to join you this morning to open the BCA SkyLab and its Academic Tower. Singapore has undergone a tremendous transformation since independence. It started off with rural kampongs, many of them squatters, and overcrowded urban slums, transformed over the years into a vibrant city with world-class infrastructure. In the early years, we built housing and essential infrastructure, to meet basic needs and support a growing population – roads, houses and utilities.

As our economy developed, our building activities grew in scale and complexity. Now, we also pay attention to environmental sustainability and to the productivity of the construction industry. We have the Green Mark scheme developed by BCA as a standard for green buildings which has since been adopted by 80 cities around the world. Today, about one third of our buildings are green which makes us one of the greenest cities globally. Our target is to reach 50 percent of our buildings by 2020 and 80 percent of our buildings by 2030. It is an ambitious target but we are getting there. 

The BCA SkyLab that we are opening today will play an important role in our environmental sustainability drive. We built it in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California which is renowned for its research and development in building energy efficiency. It is a first of its kind in the world – a high-rise rotatable lab for the tropics. The lab is on a turntable so it can rotate to simulate different building orientations and to test technologies under real world conditions. It is plug-and-play so you can put in different systems to mimic the layout of an actual building. For example, air-cooling, sun-shading, lighting, usage of the room inside and then test out air flow, temperature and energy consumption. It is a place where academia and industry come together. National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore University of Technology and Design and Temasek Polytechnic are all collaborating with BCA and the industry. If successful, these ideas can be commercialised and can help us achieve our green building goals. The lab has garnered a lot of interest. In fact, it has garnered so much interest that it is fully booked till end 2018!

We now are getting state-of-the-art hardware, but we also need to upgrade our software – how we build and how efficiently we build. Whether we are productive, whether we are building safely, whether our products are of high quality. We have some way to go in terms of productivity. Our construction methods are still labour-intensive and time-consuming. Today, we have 350,000 foreign construction workers. It is not sustainable to keep relying heavily on low-skilled manpower. BCA is working at this. It is driving adoption of more productive construction technology. For example, using the approach of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly and using Building Information Modelling (BIM) systems. You can study, simulate and build it like Lego. You can manufacture structures off-site in an automated setting, and then bring on-site to assemble pieces together efficiently, safely and productively.

PM Lee Hsien Loong at opening of BCA Skylab and Academic Tower on 20 Jul 2016 (MCI Photo by Chwee)

We are gradually making progress. Our construction productivity has been increasing in the recent years by about 1.3 percent a year over the last seven years since 2009. We must continue to do better because we have many more projects but we have people constrains. The more productive we are, the better our architects, contractors, technicians and construction workers can put effort and produce results instead of generating work which then have to be reworked, which is expensive and unproductive. At the same time we must do better in terms of workplace safety. We still have far too many workplace incidents, accidents and fatalities, including in the construction sector.

We have been focusing on this over the last decade. Our numbers have been improving. Per 100,000 workers, the fatality rate has come down. In 2004, it was nearly 5 fatalities per 100,000 workers per year. Now, we have brought it down more than half to 1.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers per year. Specifically this is an issue for the construction industry because the construction industry is still a major contributor for fatalities and major injuries. The number of non-fatal major workplace injuries have come down but the number of fatalities in recent years have remained about the same. Overall, we have got to do better. This year the number of fatalities have gone up and MOM is monitoring this carefully and will step up its efforts to improve workplace safety. We need the help from the industry. From contractors to builders, to architects and designers, they must design safely and execute the plan safely and responsibly. Every life lost is too many. When we push for higher productivity, it cannot be at the expense of safety.

To improve productivity and safety, we have to focus on upgrading and developing the skills and competencies of our people. We need professionals who understand our needs deeply, and who have mastery of their skills. I am glad BCA has been focusing on developing our workforce and talent keeping the curriculum up to date with the latest technologies. Recently, they introduced new Specialist Diploma programmes in the construction technologies which I mentioned earlier – Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, Virtual Design and Construction and Lean Construction. This Academic Tower which we are opening will give education and training a boost. It emphasises the need to design for human beings and their requirements. This Tower is a living lab developed for students to experience first-hand how a building “interacts” with its occupants. For example, students can view the exposed piping and ducting, and learn how live mechanical and engineering systems work. It also incorporates Universal Design features – wider steps so the elderly can use a quad stick for support when they go up and down the stairs, braille and tactile information on handrails to help the visually impaired to find their way around and lower handrails for children to use the steps. 

These are important aspects because ultimately, our buildings are more than bricks and mortar. They reflect the ethos of our society – efficient, practical and forward-looking. A society which wants an environmentally sustainable and safe urban environment to live in. A society where we care for one another, are sensitive to each other’s needs, and aspire to be inclusive and to bring everybody along in our journey. Then we can have good buildings – well built, efficiently built, and safely built, meeting human needs, showing off a modern city – to be an element of the endearing home that all of us share. I congratulate BCA on the opening of the SkyLab and the Academic Tower once again. Make good use of this and show Singapore what you can do. Thank you.