Environmental News Archive

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Sand ban a wake-up call for industry: architects

By Farah Abdul Rahim, Channel NewsAsia
30 January 2007 2142 hrs

SINGAPORE : The recent Indonesian ban on the sale of sand to Singapore has been an effective wake-up call for the industry, say architects.

Sustainable construction and alternative materials are now the buzzwords.

The Singapore Institute of Architects has also proposed a million-dollar research programme to look into solutions.

400,000 tonnes of sand from a regional country arrived at Jurong Port on Monday, just a week after Indonesia, the main supplier of sand to Singapore, banned all sand exports.

Architects say over-reliance on traditional sources and materials is due to a lack of research into sustainable construction now.

Tai Lee Siang, Council Member, Singapore Institute of Architects, said, "It does mean that what is really the new material that builders architects can depend on? There is a lack of research in the industry, even from the institute's point of view. We noticed that because of the good growth.

"There is a lack of research to anticipate problems to prepare for rainy days, so we want to embark on a research programme, we want the industry players to spend more on research to prepare ourselves, as sustainability issues are very great and environmental changes very great and all these will impact how we build."

Architect Tay Kheng Soon, who has been one of the key voices for sustainable development in Singapore, agrees that more needs to be done.

Tay Kheng Soon, Architect, Akitek Tenggara, said, "It is a great opportunity to rethink our building systems. Any change that happens has to be driven by certain forces - the sand ban is one of them, but the big question is really sustainable development."

And many ideas are already being explored - like those by architect Jeremy Chan, who is looking at dry wall construction and triangular steel frames to reduce the amount of steel used.

He said, "Our industry is very used to using reinforced concrete in most of our construction, so this kind of really throws us into the deep end to think of a totally new way to conceptualising architecture and maximising a different material and expressing it in a different way."

Architect Mak Hon Yue has done an experiment on seacrete or sea concrete - which is an alternative to concrete.

Seacrete can be grown by passing an electric current through sea water to build up minerals and eliminates the need for sand.

He said, "There must be a culture of looking at alternative materials which is not really apparent in Singapore. And without that culture, we can't move ahead, we can't begin to develop alternatives if people are not interested in it, or they can't find commercial value in it, they won't pursue it, and I think that's very important.

"The reason why seacrete is not widely used, talked about is because people have yet to see the commercial viability of it - it's definitely sustainable - it's just to get people to see the commercial viability of it."

And the potential for seacrete is huge.

Mr Tay said, "In about 10 years, If you start now, theoretically, you could have a gigantic floating platform out there, outside Pasir Panjang and we could use it for our new seaport or resorts or whatever. We can live without sand."

The Building & Construction Authority has already come out to encourage the industry to adopt new construction materials and methods, while the proposed research programme by the Singapore Institute of Architects will also go some way to reduce the dependence on imported raw materials like sand. - CNA/ms