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WSP Executive Director discusses underground space maximization

WSP Executive Director discusses underground space maximization

 December 02, 2021

Cheryl Zi Du Lee, WSP Executive Director of Transport & Infrastructure in Singapore discusses key considerations and possibilities for developing and maximizing use of underground space.

In a highly informative Q&A article, Cheryl highlights the benefits and opportunities of better managing underground space and how it's essential for realizing the full potential of underground development. Cheryl describes how the government of Singapore is using Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies to capture and integrate data for visualization and advanced analyses for future development. 

Key considerations to set a sustainable course

Discussing the importance of the underground space, Cheryl said, "Developing underground space is important to sustainably support growth in a land-scarce country like Singapore. Over the years, land reclamation was applied to create usable land for Changi Airport, Jurong Island and Tuas Port.

"Traditionally, land reclamation efforts require infilling with sand. The drawback of this method is that it is unsustainable in the long term due to both the impact on the surrounding ecosystems and the global shortage of sand. Singapore has since adopted the Dutch polder1 concept as a more cost-effective method with less environmental impacts on surrounding marine ecosystems."

Cheryl goes on to highlight the benefits of utilizing the space, stating, "This will help reduce overbuilding, which results in surface congestion, and free up surface land for livable uses, such as housing, more green spaces and parks in what is already a metropolis with dense green areas.

"The efficient use of underground space can thereby support preservation of natural resources, promote sustainable development and improve urban environments. Also important, our underground systems are designed to anticipate and protect from the effects of climate change."  

How to realize the full potential of underground space 

WSP develops underground space

Citing the need for effective planning to be the starting point for the process, Cheryl explains that effective use of underground space requires the Singapore government to develop comprehensive regulations. With integrated master planning essential, this requires coordination and inclusion of government and private stakeholders, and the public - especially to properly link underground infrastructure to existing surface infrastructure.

With cost also being a major factor, Cheryl says, "It is difficult to overstate the value of planning properly for the use of underground space—considering the social, environmental and economic impacts of use.  It is also important that governments and institutional leaders possess the financial capacities to fund underground construction.

"Feasibility studies and cost-benefit analysis help to identify major cost and time savings, as well as areas where productivity can be enhanced during the construction phases."

Looking ahead to a sustainable future 

WSP executives

With the pandemic changing how people live their lives, Cheryl looks at what urban communities want from their places, with safety and healthier environments being paramount. She says, "The overall underground ventilation system could be improved to reduce the spread of viruses and airborne contaminants. All common touch points and common area surfaces should be coated with a self-disinfecting coating."

Going forward, Cheryl is also placing emphasis on how to maximize the value and usage of these underground spaces. She continued, "For example, an underground farm can be designed with a secondary purpose by functioning as a public park; underground carparks can also be utilized as driving schools or for recreational purposes such as a go-cart track; facilities to accommodate large capacities—theatres, concert halls or sports arenas—can be located underground, freeing up more land aboveground." 

Of course, sustainability is a key factor when implementing and strategising for any new urban development. Summizing the project, Cheryl states, "Although we have some regulations in place for underground development, considering the objectives of the recent COP26 [2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference], the big question is, How can we do more with underground space and advance toward net-zero carbon emissions?"

Read the full article here.

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