NUS launches its first building cluster targeting net-zero and a new interdisciplinary centre, boosting Singapore’s capabilities for sustainability leadership

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has unveiled new initiatives to further advance the sustainability goals of the University and the nation, in the form of its first building cluster targeting net-zero - comprising two newly completed adaptive reuse projects and SDE4, which was recently accorded the Building Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark (GM) 2021 in Operation Platinum Positive Energy Award - and a new centre that aims to develop innovative solutions for sustainable, resilient and liveable cities.

These initiatives were launched today by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.  

Built in the 1970s, SDE1 and SDE3 are among the oldest buildings on NUS Kent Ridge Campus. These two buildings were designed by the NUS College of Design and Engineering (NUS CDE) in collaboration with CPG Consultants through an academia-industry collaboration launched in 2015, to transform the usable space and to incorporate innovative building features for improved energy efficiency and comfort. The two buildings have a combined gross floor area of around 24,000 square metres, and are equipped with studios, workshops, research centres, offices, learning spaces, as well as public and social spaces.

Noting that what NUS has done with SDE1 and SDE3 has great potential to be applied in Singapore and beyond, Mr Heng said, “SDE1 and SDE3 offer lessons on how such rejuvenation can be done to meet new needs while improving carbon performance… This is a highly commendable effort that the built environment sector can learn from.”

NUS Cities, which is based in NUS CDE and helmed by Professor Khoo Teng Chye as its Director, aspires to be an interdisciplinary centre that draws upon the wealth of expertise across NUS to offer university-wide education and research programmes that will improve the planning, management and governance of high-density, high-growth, sustainable, resilient and liveable cities.

NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye said, “We are very pleased to reaffirm NUS’ deep commitment to shaping the future of sustainability and climate action in an impactful way, through the launch of the first building cluster on campus aiming for net-zero - comprising SDE1 and SDE3 which are our first adaptive reuse projects on campus targeting net-zero energy and our existing net-positive energy building SDE 4 - as well as NUS Cities which is a strategic initiative to harness our diverse expertise and strong partnerships for the University to play a key role in urban systems education and research.”

“The race to net-zero is not a sprint, but a marathon that requires grit, careful planning, preparation and optimism. We will continue to integrate and scale NUS’ work in research, education, operations and engagement to further promote environmental awareness and action on campus grounds and beyond. We are making good progress and we can definitely do more. I am confident that NUS’ vibrant community of innovative researchers, dedicated staff and enthusiastic students can make significant contributions towards Singapore’s long-term net zero emissions aspiration,” Prof Tan added.

One key approach of NUS’ sustainability strategy involves using its expansive campus grounds as a living laboratory to test-bed institution-led technologies and create innovative learning experiences for its students. SDE1 and SDE3 are compelling case studies showcasing the application of adaptive reuse interventions to optimise existing structures to meet new performance goals and at the same time preserving the buildings’ embodied carbon. These buildings are also open and accessible for faculty and students to learn from and teach from.

Professor Aaron Thean, Dean of the NUS College of Design and Engineering, said, “Sustainability is a key enabler for the knowledge and game-changing solutions that we create at the NUS College of Design and Engineering. The rejuvenation of SDE1 and SDE3 can increase awareness of technology, design, environment and sustainability in our students and graduates. This project also represents the next benchmark for renovation and sustainability for built environment in the future. In addition, we are proud to host NUS Cities, which will adopt a multidisciplinary, inclusive and collaborative approach to tackling complex urban challenges.”

SDE1 and SDE3: Breathing new life into old buildings, reaping environmental benefits

The reuse of SDE1 and SDE3 provides significant savings in terms of cost and carbon emissions. As the buildings are in good structural condition, the cost of renovating the buildings is substantially lower than demolishing it and constructing a new building. Furthermore, the embodied carbon footprint of SDE1 and SDE3 is estimated to be lower than a third of a similar new construction. The building’s total energy consumption is projected to be one-third of pre-renovation levels, directly reducing future carbon emissions.

The renovation of SDE1 and SDE3 was directed by the goal of creating spaces of inspiring architectural quality while simultaneously designing a building that operates on a low-energy-demand basis. The building envelope and interior are designed to respond to the tropical climate, combatting the sun, keeping out the rain, harnessing the wind and capturing natural light.

Please refer to Annex 1 for more information on the unique features of the two buildings. SDE1 and SDE3 are seamlessly integrated with SDE4 to form the first building cluster aiming for net-zero on NUS Kent Ridge campus.  

NUS Cities: Creating a community and synergies for sustainable, resilient, and liveable cities

NUS has established NUS Cities, as a unique interdisciplinary and multifunctional centre to pioneer a systems approach for the discovery of holistic and innovative solutions to improve the governance, planning and management of cities.

Based in the NUS CDE, the centre will bring together innovative researchers and seasoned practitioners from diverse fields such as engineering, physics, public policy, architecture, and medicine. In its first phase, it will finetune its current educational offerings and expand them to provide a more complete spectrum of programmes to both undergraduate and graduate students. It will also pursue research and deliver advisory services in cities and urban solutions.

“The new centre, NUS Cities, will be an excellent platform to expand (NUS’) 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… This inter-disciplinary, cross-sectoral approach will position NUS Cities well to offer sustainable urban solutions and grow capabilities, for Singapore and beyond,” Mr Heng added.

Please refer to Annex 2 for more details on the centre’s activities organised under the three pillars of Education, Research and Advisory Services.

In conjunction with the launch of NUS Cities, the centre hosted an inaugural lecture by Professor Alexander Zehnder, who is a member of the NUS Cities Panel of Advisors and a world-renowned environmental expert.

Carbon Symposium: Tackling the challenges of carbon neutrality

Earlier today, some 200 academics, researchers, industry personnel and policymakers from Singapore and around the region attended the Carbon Symposium for the Built Environment organised by NUS CDE to reflect and explore research, design, and technology solutions to tackle the challenges of carbon neutrality.

A book entitled Renovating Carbon, published by NUS CDE, was also launched at the symposium. Based on the architectural work of SDE1 and SDE3, the book examines the importance of adaptive reuse for low or zero carbon developments.