Staying cool with Singapore

Rapid industrialization along with urbanization is a leading cause of global warming. Construction materials like concrete, asphalt, glass trap or reflect more heat from the sun than trees. This is called the Urban Heat Island Effect and it explains why cities are often 3 degrees Celsius hotter than other areas. It is becoming a huge health risk to humans as heatwaves kill more people than any other weather event.

This is why the government of Singapore is funding a group of researchers called “Cooling Singapore” to use BIM as a means of study in order to better mitigate this Urban Heat Island effect. By combining everything they’ve learned into a digital tool using Linked Data technology, they hope that this will soon be applied all over the world, starting with Singapore. This equator city regularly sees a temperature difference of over 7 degrees Celcius between the city and the countryside. The effect is due mostly to the city structure, being a more developed country with many high-rise buildings, all tightly packed into a small island, strengthening the effect. 

Thanks to the benefits of Linked Data and BIM, researchers were able to create an extremely accurate heat map of the city. Even down to how much heat individual cars are releasing to the environment and how much of that heat is absorbed by vegetation. A map is a crucial tool for their efforts to better understand and alleviate hotspots around the city. 

The Singaporean government is taking drastic steps to reduce the Urban Heat effect, a prime example of this is The Gardens by the Bay. It is a huge 101-hectare complex, in it houses the ecosystem of 1.5 million plants from all around the world. The Garden itself is a magnificent feat of engineering with 18 giant steel and concrete trees towering over the whole ecological community. But it often overshadows the real technological marvel lying underneath, which is keeping it at a cool 24 degrees Celsius. Under the basement of all the blooming flowers lies the most complex central cooling system in the world, which not only cools The Garden by the Bay but also The Marina Bay Sans, along with 2 dozen nearby towers. It uses a large central plant that cools water, which is then pumped into outdoor banks, residential towers, exhibition centers, shopping malls,… One of the biggest advantages of using this system is that it can save over 40% in electricity usage, compared to your traditional air conditioning system. Which is equivalent to removing 10,000 cars off the road. 

The researchers of Cooling Singapore are always looking for design solutions that reduce our need for cool air in the first place. While the benefits of trees have been obvious for centuries, yet, the process of planting them efficiently has been met with many setbacks, it mostly boils down to one question: “Where can we put trees so that it would maximize the shading effect while leaving room for other infrastructures?”. Most cities often just put vegetation on the ground floor in the form of parks; this is considered an inefficient way of reducing the Urban Heat Island effect as the cooling potential of trees is confined to one space. Singapore’s solution is to build the trees along the facades of buildings. They’ve run countless simulations on BIM softwares and discovered that this, along with strategically-placed parks, is the most efficient way of mitigating the warming effect. This is why you often see buildings in Singapore that have trees growing on their walls. With the tree’s natural evaporating process, it can cool both the tenants inside the building and people around them. Not to mention, as the emission of CO2 from cars on the street rises, the vegetation can capture this and release oxygen, hampering the global warming effect. 

Singapore was able to make itself cool by combining both new technologies and applying them to centuries old common knowledge of vegetation. The result speaks for itself as Singapore is ranked as one of the lowest carbon-emitting countries in terms of CO2 per dollar GDP. The government of Singapore is looking to share this new tool with other countries, with the hope that one day, we could reach carbon neutrality. 


Reference: Bloomberg


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