With its population of 5.6 million expected to grow steadily in the coming years, space-starved Singapore has expanded not just towards the sea and the sky but also beneath the grounds as planners are now looking underground seeking new areas for growth.
While the country has already built an underground highway and state-of-the-art air-conditioning system, it is now looking to house more facilities beneath the surface in order to optimize land use above it.
“We need to consider options for putting critical infrastructure underground,” said Abhineet Kaul, a Singapore-based public sector specialist at consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
“We have an increasing need for industrial, commercial, residential and green space on land in Singapore.”
According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which created the development plan, three-dimensional technology will be used to produce subterranean maps, with three pilot areas targeted initially.
Subterranean space in Singapore?
Singapore’s main method of expansion has been land reclamation from the sea. This has increased the country’s area by more than a quarter to 720 square kilometers, with most growth happening since independence in 1965.
But this method has become more expensive as it moved to deeper waters, while countries that used to sell sand to Singapore have stopped exports due to environment-related concerns.
Green activists are protesting that unregulated sand mining erodes beaches and riverbanks which in turn has affected wildlife and removed natural barriers leading to floods, while dredging the seabed can damage ecosystems.
On the contrary, moving facilities underground has advantages beyond saving space, as it would reduce the use of air-conditioning that could save energy in Singapore’s tropical climate.
Still, building underground in Singapore poses several challenges – construction is difficult beneath an already urbanized environment while new projects will compete for space with existing subterranean facilities.
Hu Jian, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the Nanyang Technological University said, “Underground construction normally involves the blasting of rocks and if it’s in the downtown area, you will not be able to use blasting.”
“Next frontier but not the final frontier”
One of the most ambitious underground projects so far in Singapore is a system that pumps chilled water through pipes to cool buildings around the city-state’s popular waterfront district of Marina Bay.
Buildings which use the centralized system – rather than relying entirely on their own air-conditioners – have reduced energy consumption by about 40%, said Foo Yang Kwang, chief engineer of Singapore District Cooling, SP Group, which is behind the project.
Reduced energy use has slashed buildings’ annual carbon dioxide emissions by 34,500 tonnes, which is equivalent to taking 10,000 cars off the road, he said.
Other current subterranean facilities in Singapore include Southeast Asia’s longest underground expressway, measuring 12 kilometers, the metro train, an ammunition depot and rock caverns beneath the seabed which are used to store oil.
NTU, one of the city’s top institutes of higher education, is considering building labs and even classrooms underground, according to Chu.
He said though shifting things underground is just one way of coping as Singapore grows: “It is the next frontier, but not the final frontier.
“I am confident that we will be able to figure out other ways to create new space.” -/TISG