Insights on Built Environment

By Chloe Mak

Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.

On 15 November 2022, Advisory hosted Discover+: Built Environment, the 65th edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:

  • Ar. Colin Chew (Moderator), Senior Lecturer at BCA Academy
  • James Ng, Deputy Director, Business Strategy and Development SMM, Surbana Jurong
  • Er. Ng Beow Suan, Executive Director, AECOM
  • Er. Sharron Ng, Director, ECAS Consultants
  • Yong Kwang Tan, General Manager, Pintary Foundations

Below are some key points shared during the session:

As an architect, one of the biggest misconceptions is that you must be able to draw really well. It is an advantage since you can express yourself better, but it is not entirely necessary since there are now computer tools to help. One essential but unexpected subject would be mathematics as you need to calculate things like angles and building height.

Another misconception would be long working hours and that built environment work can be easily made redundant. In the past, a supervisor may have had long working hours. Over time, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has stepped in to restrict noisy work timings to 7 pm, although minor works may continue up to 10 pm. Increasingly, companies are moving towards a culture of work-life balance to retain fresh blood. For example, workers grouped in pairs have flexible shifts which they can rotate amongst themselves so that they have time to do things outside of work. Technology has made it optional for workers to be physically onsite to complete their work. Ultimately, it depends on how much you prioritise work-life balance against experience. 

In other built environment fields, many people think the work could be more exciting, but every day can bring new challenges. Depending on the company’s culture, you may get an overseas posting with companies, or partake in bonding activities. 

Lastly, the perception that females are at a disadvantage is simply untrue. Passion and interest, not gender, should be a consideration when deciding what field you should enter. In this day and age, gender should not be a major stumbling block. Your experience and knowledge gained are your own; no one can take that away from you. 

Digitalisation has certainly shaped the industry in various ways. The current trend is ABCD: artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud/edge computing, and data analytics. All these are used or will be used to collect data and make buildings, and the building process, more efficient. 

The introduction of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) has reduced the time taken for the building process. More time is spent coordinating and making decisions before actually building the structure, rather than changing-as-you-build. Its efficacy also depends on how you use the data collected and improve it accordingly.

Beams are built virtually to identify any problems before being built in real life, with the contractor coordinating the building online and walking the client through this process. Beam modelling helps to optimise the design and calculate beam weight and shape, but it has to be done properly as it affects a lot of subsequent work. 

Certain areas of the built environment sector such as facilities management may not have as much technology implemented yet. However, various projects are in progress, such as monitoring construction through computer programmes instead of making physical visits to the site to measure the piles. 

For facilities management specifically, one such programme is the smart integrated facilities management, in line with BCA’s push for the industry to change from traditional facilities management to an integrated management model. The digitalisation of facility management such as using a lightweight beam model helps to digitalise construction and operations. 

Smart sensors and other technology can be integrated for easy inspection, while robotics can be employed to do tasks like washing floors. They can also collect data over the computerised management system that analyses multiple projects and decides the efficiency of technology in the workforce. 

For these to work, there is a need for a unified platform or command centre to manage all this technology and a smarter integration platform that is open-sourced so that everyone can benefit from it. 

Lastly, technology can be used to make our buildings a lot more green and sustainable. Some ways this can happen include passive building, which is deciding where the building should face. This can help to reduce the amount of energy required to light up the building or keep it cool or hot. Mechanical and electrical engineers will have to consider how to install aircon and other facilities, while IT-savvy people are required to generate and churn out blueprints to combine the elements. Ultimately, it is not just about using less air-conditioner and water, but how everything comes together and using technology to capture the amount of energy saved and record it for analysis. 

Even if you have no prior experience in university learning mass-engineered timber, you will not be disadvantaged if you are trained in the thought processes. As an engineer, as long as you understand basic mechanics, you can pick up anything. It is also crucial to not be shy in asking for anything, seek out solutions proactively and persevere. 

The main difference between them is the physical size of the projects they are in charge of. 

Urban planners are in charge of large areas of land. They affect the growth of the country as they decide the infrastructure and where they should go in Singapore. The process involves many people, and some factors to take into consideration include economic growth opportunities, Singapore’s reputation, and the implications of doing so. 

Architects on the other hand are in charge of designing the buildings and parks that urban planners decide on. Landscape architects specifically design the surroundings of a building or park.

Moving down the scale, interior designers are in charge of a house’s layout, while industrial designers design everyday objects like mice and chairs. 

Ultimately, no one job is better than the other, and they are all complementary to one another. 

You need to look at the main factors that discourage people from choosing to enter the sector. This may be due to misconceptions such as the job being dirty, low-paying and male-dominated. In reality, the pay can be quite comfortable and reasonable, but compared to certain industries it may be lesser. 

To counter this, those in the sector can clear up misconceptions and showcase the attraction of their individual careers. For example, facilities management is a stable job with great career progression. There is a strong element of progressive learning involved as well, and a belief in making changes for the future through the use of technology. 

Ultimately, you have to know what job you are looking for and whether you have a passion for it, as there is always a job with a better salary. While the use of technology can help to shorten the process and save time for those involved, it boils down to you working hard for what you want and going through the process.

There is no shortcut to success. Everything needs to be done step by step, and if you cannot do the small things, you will be unable to do the big things as well. Besides, learning is a never-ending process that does not stop when you finish school, as what you learn today can be used tomorrow. In essence, monetary gain is less important than the knowledge gained. 

This sector requires passion to appreciate what the real-life impacts of your work are, and not be afraid to get your hands dirty. There is more focus on environmental sustainability, and there is a lot of on-the-job training. 

For those who wish to be certified in the field, BCA Academy has a work-study diploma that will be launched next April. After 1.5 years of studying, there will be a 12-month internship programme and another 12 months as a staff. SIT also has built environment courses. To find out more, you can reach out on BCA’s website, Telegram or Instagram pages.