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Making cities more liveable and resilient

Singapore and Switzerland are cooperating on a project called the Singapore-ETH Centre, which offers opportunities for research in urban planning.

Multidisciplinary team of researchers at the Singapore-ETH Centre engaging in a problem-framing exercise to make infrastructure systems more resilient.

IN the area of science, Singapore and Switzerland are collaborating on an interesting project with over 100 researchers looking into making future cities more liveable and having resilient systems.

The two countries are cooperating on a project called the Singapore-ETH Centre, which was set up in 2010 and is located in Singapore. The Centre was established by ETH Zurich - the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology - in partnership with the National Research Foundation of Singapore, as part of the NRF's Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) programme. The Singapore centre is ETH Zurich's first and only research centre outside Switzerland.

"The Singapore-ETH Centre offers great opportunities for innovative research related to the future of cities. Energy efficient heating technologies has been researched on in Zurich and adopted for energy efficient cooling technologies for the tropics. Concepts of active mobility are being explored in Singapore in collaboration with local government agencies, among many other collaborative projects," Peter Edwards, director of Singapore-ETH Centre, told The Business Times.

A multidisciplinary and multicultural team of over 100 researchers work at the centre on two interesting programmes: The Future Cities Laboratory and the Future Resilient Systems, to make future cities more sustainable and more liveable and to make interconnected infrastructure systems more robust and resilient, respectively.

Working closely with government agencies, industry and academic partners, researchers in the two programmes seek to translate knowledge to action.

The Singapore-ETH Centre also recently initiated the Swiss Technology Impact Platform (STIP) to link research to industry.

A recent research project of the centre is the 3for2 beyond efficiency project. It seeks to set up a new paradigm for achieving space, material, and energy savings in buildings, in collaboration with Siemens Building Technologies and the United World College South East Asia (UWCSEA) in Singapore.

In hot and humid Singapore, where air-conditioning is almost a necessity, buildings consume about 50 per cent of total electricity production, of which 70 per cent is for air conditioning. Furthermore, in new commercial buildings, up to one-third of the enclosed volume is typically occupied by technical systems and structural elements, mostly dedicated to ductwork and related components of conventional air-conditioning systems.

The 3for2 concept aims to bring down energy consumption by 40 per cent, while ultimately reducing the amount of building materials and space needed to accommodate air-conditioning services.

A team of engineers, architects, computer scientists, and physicists from the Future Cities Laboratory and ETH Zurich collaborated with researchers from Princeton University, proposing a miniaturised solution to air-conditioning based on the implementation of water-based chilled ceilings with decentralised ventilation systems. In partnership with Siemens Building Technologies and the UWCSEA, a pilot of the 3for2 concept was implemented at a 550 square metre site in a new administration building at the UWCSEA in Singapore.

Then there is the "Reclaiming Backlanes" project to increase energy performance and redesign back lanes of shop houses into vibrant and productive spaces for retail, dining and leisure. What if back lanes were far from the state they are in today and become lively chatter and laughter places replacing the heat and noise of air-conditioning condensers and foul smells from trash bins?

The centre says that its Reclaiming Backlanes project presents design visions for future development of shop-house neighbourhoods, reprogramming back lanes into viable and high-quality common spaces, while improving energy efficiency of shophouses by up to 50 per cent. These visions mark the convergence of studies in energy efficiency, pedestrian movement, historic building stock analysis and urban diversity by a multidisciplinary team at the Future Cities Laboratory.

Another interesting project is the active mobility projects, including Walkability studies to make Singapore's city centre more conducive for walking, in collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Singapore is gradually progressing towards an urban environment that promotes active mobility such as walking and cycling. Aligned with this aspiration, a collaboration between Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Centre and the URA explored what people value when walking in Singapore's dense city centre and tropical climate, to enable planners to plan for better walkability.

Incorporating sidewalk characteristics with observed behaviour of pedestrians and surveys, a "Walkability index" is created to inform strategies for improving walkability in the city centre and beyond.

The centre says that a new strand of research is also underway at the Future Cities Laboratory, focusing on cycling in the tropics. Individuals are immersed in a virtual world with active streets and traffic to determine the kinds of street designs that are perceived as safe and comfortable for cycling. These findings can then help the design of future streets and potentially the redesign of existing roads.

Another fascinating project being handled by the centre is the MATSim Singapore tool to model the traffic flow in Singapore to inform urban and transport planning, in collaboration with the URA and the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

MATSim (Multi-Agent Transport Simulation) Singapore is developed by the Future Cities Laboratory of the Singapore-ETH Centre, in collaboration with the LTA and the URA to answer various transport and urban planning-related questions. Built on the open-source software MATSim, a synthetic population of Singapore is built to allow the simulation of travel patterns of individuals in Singapore based on their activities at different times of the day. This enables an in-depth understanding of the interaction and interdependency of land use, travel demand, transport supply, and travel behaviour.

The centre says that the agent-based modelling tool brings the potential to improve the analysis of Singapore's daily commuter travel patterns and behaviour to better evaluate existing transport systems, future infrastructural development, and policy measures.

Specifically, the applications of MATSim Singapore range from predicting ridership and reliability of new public transport services to assessing the potential of modern urban transport solutions such as cycling, car-sharing, and autonomous vehicles. It also allows planners to assess the transport impact of new mixed-used urban developments, and compute detailed accessibility measures at the level of individual buildings.

To increase productivity and alleviate the shortage of skilled labour in construction in Singapore, the centre has an ongoing project for mobile robotic tiling. The fact that onsite construction work is still dependent on manual labour puts a strain on the existing shortage of skilled workers. Since tiling is the predominant surface treatment and high-rise construction with repetitive floor plans is the norm, Singapore is particularly suited for the application of robotic solutions in construction. Tiling work, in particular, is a well-defined sub-domain of construction with clear interfaces that can easily be singled out. Further, it is a repetitive task and features no complex joinery.

The centre says that its mobile robotic tiling project at the Future Cities Laboratory aims to realise an automated tiling process which acts as a proof of concept for the feasibility of applying a mobile robotic system for planning and executing onsite tiling work, based on quality, time and costs. Robotic systems, combined with intelligent control software, offer the dexterity and flexibility needed for construction work and can be a feasible solution to increase productivity. They also combine the benefits of automation, such as consistent quality, durability, and sustainability and an overall facilitation of building production, with the adaptability and flexibility needed for construction work.

The Singapore-ETH Centre is also linking research and industry through the STIP. The platform aims to link innovative ideas developed at the centre with industry and to strengthen synergies between researchers, firms, technologies, products and best practices with the ultimate goal to add value and capture value for Singapore.

STIP has engaged over 20 Swiss companies that offer solutions in areas such as smart buildings, clean technology and the needs of an ageing society designed for Singapore and other emerging South-east Asian markets, in the context of an ageing society and a knowledge economy.

Collectively, the group offers solutions and best practices that have been successfully applied in Switzerland and which led to a significant increase in productivity there.

The second STIP meeting on July 1 covered topics including how SMEs can participate in a sabbatical in Singapore in close proximity to the centre; collaborative research with Singapore-ETH Centre and other research centres in Singapore; possible study tours to Singapore; match-making opportunities for Swiss SMEs looking for Singaporean partners; and, finally, the idea of having a demonstration project in Singapore.

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