Consolidating six existing sites, the future Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) campus in the Punggol Digital District (PDD) uniting education and enterprise will accommodate 12,000 students – nearly twice its current combined capacity. All buildings will meet BCA Green Mark Platinum standards, with two of them slated to achieve Super Low Energy status. As PDD master planner, WOHA Architects is also building JTC’s Business Parks there and SIT’s Plot 1 encompassing academic blocks, a library and link bridges, while RSP Architects Planners & Engineers designed Plot 2, which houses the administration building, additional academic blocks, an auditorium, food court and multi-purpose hall. Set in an existing secondary forest within PDD, Plot 1 proposes a “Campus-in-a-Park” identity in which academic blocks are organized as a series of buildings centered around a 1.7-hectare forest courtyard that becomes an accessible community park, ensuring that learning, interaction, recreation and rejuvenation come together, whereas Plot 2 directly faces the waterfront and Coney Island with its coastal forests, grasslands, mangroves and woodlands, allowing biodiversity to thrive.
A much-needed green lung for Punggol – one of Singapore’s densest towns – the park is a stepping stone for wildlife making its way from the Punggol Waterway to Coney Island and beyond, and an ecological corridor is designed to link Plot 1 to Plot 2. SIT has conducted various community outreach programs since 2017 to create a borderless campus without gates and fences that facilitates the free movement of people and community interaction. As the public may roam freely on the lower levels, other students in the Punggol New Town or anyone seeking a conducive studying space may make use of publicly-accessible study areas. The design capitalizes on the site’s undulating terrain to create two public ground levels separating vehicles from pedestrians for a car-light campus, therefore promoting the use of public transport and bicycles. The park is interspersed by public thoroughfares that are breezy and well shaded by the blocks above, and the lush greenery is extended vertically through communal planters, green walls, sky terraces and roof gardens in both plots.
As part of the district’s Collaboration Loop interconnecting SIT’s Plot 1 and JTC’s Business Parks to encourage exchange between industry partners and students, Canopy Walk link bridges, combined with informal study and social pods overlooking the treetops, provide mid-level, sheltered connectivity between blocks. They are expressed by corrugated metal cladding and broad horizontal overhangs for shade, natural ventilation and rain protection, which recall vernacular rubber factories, thereby hinting at the site’s history as a former rubber plantation. Suen Wee Kwok, Executive Director (Singapore) of RSP, says, “Being co-located with the industrialists within PDD creates a platform to facilitate closer collaboration between industry and academia for innovation to take place. 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 also offers a shorter commute to work, study and play. SIT becomes part of the solution to decentralize the city center to reduce commuting, and a greater identity can be built around new towns.” Productivity features include precast façades and structural systems for the academic blocks and structural steel for the long span bridges. In addition to common building materials like concrete and steel for the campus buildings, Plot 2’s canteen will be constructed using green Mass Engineered Timber.
Alina Yeo, Director of WOHA, notes, “Sustainability has to go beyond a checklist mentality of simply ticking boxes to fulfill BCA’s Green Mark criteria. The city is a network of systems (e.g. mobility, energy, food, water, waste, urban greenery, biodiversity, public spaces, etc.), and every development presents an opportunity to plug in and positively contribute to the larger whole and be a catalyst for change. It is not enough to simply ‘do less harm’; we need to aspire to ‘do more good’. The common threads of WOHA’s projects are the remediation of the environment, the rejuvenation of cities/districts/neighborhoods and the restoration of the community/human spirit through design.” 10,000 sqm of rooftop solar panels campus-wide harness renewable energy to power Plot 1’s Multi-Energy Micro-Grid (MEMG), making it Southeast Asia’s first university to have such a network, which will supplement the campus’ power supply, therefore decreasing overall reliance on the main utility grid and contributing to its aim of self-sustainability in the long run. Estimated energy generated is 1,200 MWh annually. The MEMG will eventually integrate gas, electricity and thermal energy into a unified smart energy network that can operate independently from the national grid in emergencies. Chan Wing Leong, Deputy President (Campus Development) & Chief Investment Officer of SIT, comments, “By working on the micro-grid, SIT’s students and professors will have the opportunity to help shape the ‘smart grid of tomorrow’.”
Balancing technology and user experience, RSP uses smart tech such as Passive Displacement Ventilation that relies on natural convection of heat transfer without the need for mechanical fans to circulate the air conditioning to cool a large space like the multi-purpose hall, which is expected to achieve more than 40 % energy savings. To ensure that students can congregate comfortably in study areas, CFD simulations are carried out to determine the cross-ventilation. The rest of the buildings on both plots targets 30 % energy savings by implementing optimized building orientation; high-performance façade design; enhanced daylight penetration; naturally-ventilated social spaces with high thermal comfort; shading; materials to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect that in turn reduces the heat load of air-conditioned spaces; an efficient district cooling system; high-efficiency LED lights; campus-wide smart sensors to collect occupancy, daylight and temperature data to be fed into an Integrated Building Management System for the optimum building environment; a food waste management system; and rainwater harvesting.
Asked if a building has to give up something to pay for solar panels or high energy-savings methods, Suen replies, “There are no trade-offs spatially to achieving energy-saving targets. 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 it brings.” Chan points out that rooftop spaces that would otherwise have been unusable will house photovoltaic panels instead. Yeo describes the concessions involved in incorporating energy efficiency: “The capital cost to implement certain strategies and the potential need of training to implement new technologies. High-energy savings measures are not always design driven, and there can be a potential trade-off between functionality, performance and design.”
Although WOHA had submitted a proposal for both plots, it only won for Plot 1 containing most of the district infrastructure and connections/interfaces. This was because as with any major procurement exercise, SIT sought out proposals from various parties, and having two sites for construction presented the opportunity to appoint two different architectural firms. Chan explains, “WOHA and RSP responded in their own ways to each of the plots’ needs well to be appointed. Combined, we will have a fit-for-purpose designed campus that meets our expectations of user experience and architectural quality. WOHA’s concept of enveloping the library and academic blocks around an existing tropical rainforest that would be the community park was both sensitive and refreshing. RSP’s treatment of the Campus Court responded well to the sense of place at the waterfront. Sustainability and energy savings in design were important considerations. Of course, the bidding process took into account low carbon considerations as well to have a very green campus, and both firms were very good at coming out with designs to match. The campus is our commitment to achieve full sustainability in a park-like environment, yet co-existing as a proper campus for learning alongside industry and community in Punggol.”