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How are scientists designing more sustainable neighbourhoods for the future?

How are scientists designing more sustainable neighbourhoods for the future?

Our research findings are helping architects design better buildings and civil engineers select suitable building materials. Ultimately, we are creating better living experiences for residents.

Did you know that the construction of Marina Bay Sands required the use of environmental modelling due to the unorthodox nature and shape of the iconic building’s structure? City planners and architects made use of A*STAR scientists’ advances in environmental modelling to study the feasibility of their designs in the face of strong winds and other environmental hazards.

How can environmental modelling empower urban developers to envision changes to Singapore’s landscape in the long-term? Dr Poh Hee Joo, Senior Research Scientist in the Fluid Dynamics Department of the Institute for High Performance Computing (IHPC), explains how his research at A*STAR will shape Singapore’s urban landscape in the long-term.

“Environmental modelling is a technology that utilises computer algorithms to predict the distribution of geographic spaces using mathematical formulas. Layers of data can be input on a single geographical area, from climate to variables such as soil type, geologic history of the land and even human or wildlife traffic.This allows policymakers to study the impact of specific policies in the real world without wasting precious resources.Of course, we still need to visit and physically observe the space we modelled, but this helps cut down on precious man-hours. We can simulate weather patterns, energy use and even predict the impact of pollution from its onset to its end. This helps us to make informed decisions on the ways in which we can improve our quality of life,” explains Dr Poh.

How does environmental modelling help city planners?

Structures with unique shapes and complex compositions typically need intensive environmental modelling, as planners would need to study the feasibility of their designs in the face of environmental hazards.

The upcoming Tengah New Town is an example of neighbourhoods which are test-beds of environmental modelling to trial the feasibility of innovations like solar panels and rainwater harvesting. This will ultimately benefit the residents of these precincts by bringing about more sustainable neighbourhoods whilst reducing the stress on the environment. Such eco-friendly initiatives are not localised to select neighbourhoods alone. According to Dr Poh, the project aims to maintain a broader focus on creating a more liveable society. Developed in collaboration with A*STAR’s Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), the Housing Development Board (HDB) is now using a modelling platform that integrates the urban planning and design process with environmental simulation techniques.Known as the Integrated Environmental Modeller (IEM), this data-driven platform uses 3D city models to simulate the interaction of urban micro-climatic conditions such as wind flow, temperature fluctuations and solar irradiance with one another; as well as their combined effects on the surrounding urban landscape.

Climate-sensitive urban planning can now be achieved using IEM. “I am glad that our findings are helping architects design better buildings and civil engineers select suitable building materials.

Ultimately, we are creating better living experiences for residents,” Dr Poh affirms.

Towards a utopian future?

Ever wondered how Singapore’s landscape will transform further into the future? Given Singapore’s spatial limitations, it is important for policies to preserve the environment whilst bringing about a more sustainable society. Ultimately, the reliance on Smart Technology has benefitted Singapore immensely and the city is now able to adequately anticipate the unintended consequences of urban development decisions and policies; and how to best circumvent them.

Be part of the urban revolution

So how can students and science enthusiasts be part of this exciting revolution in urban development? Dr Poh provides some advice for individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in this field:

“If you are interested in pursuing environmental modelling, I suggest exploring domains such as mathematics, geography and engineering; as these are the main areas of expertise that go into creating environmental modelling software.”


Dr Poh Hee Joo is currently the Senior Research Scientist in the Fluid Dynamics Department of IHPC, as well as an Adjunct Assistant Professor to the Mechanical Engineering and Building Department of NUS. Dr Poh is also a lecturer for the BCA Green Mark Professional course module for the CFD Airflow Modelling for Green Buildings, and even an external assessor for the BCA Green Mark projects. He has over 20 years work experience in CFD research and consultancy jobs and has personally been involved in more than 70 CFD projects, mainly focusing on system design and building ventilation simulation works.