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  Business Times 11 Sep 07
The green route to en bloc redevelopment
Demolition is wasteful and not environmentally friendly, says Hillcrest MD
By Arthur Sim

THE property boom here prompted Hong Kong- based Hillcrest Capital to buy the 34-unit Anderson Green in February for $112 million in February.

But instead of tearing it down to build a new condo, it will gut it, then reuse the existing structure.

Hillcrest managing director Lyon Lau says: 'It is not environmentally friendly to demolish a perfectly fine building only to rebuild something similar.

'Although the concept of alteration and addition might be new to Singapore, in Hong Kong it has been practised widely.'

More than 160 residential buildings have been sold en bloc for redevelopment here in the past two years, but many are still structurally sound.

Architect Tai Lee Siang, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), says: 'Buildings are designed to stand for as long as the materials they are built of allow them to stand. This can be hundreds of years or less than a week - think of cardboard houses.'

Most of the buildings that have been sold are about 20 years' old, but the sites they sit on can house bigger and taller projects, so it makes business sense to demolish them.

Anderson Green, which will be relaunched for sale as 21 Anderson, is already built up to its maximum potential, so strictly speaking the decision to not demolish was not completely for the love of the environment.

But perhaps what is really not sustainable are periodic increases in plot ratios.

The National University of Singapore's Assistant Professor Hee Limin (Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment) says: 'In a way our planning system encourages this redevelopment.'

According to her, it's a shame that economic forces 'control' the landscape.

And these economic forces do not take all factors into consideration.

There is also a cost implication in the 'embodied energy' in buildings, she says. This refers not only to the energy it uses once it is up and running, but the resources exhausted to build and possibly recycling it.

The study of a 'life cycle' of a building is still relatively new.

But considering US National Institute of Standards and Technology figures, which reveal that building construction consumes 40 per cent of the raw stone, gravel and sand used and 25 per cent of the virgin timber used worldwide each year, the price of a new building is actually considerably higher.

City Developments Ltd (CDL) recently won the Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark Platinum award and is probably the greenest developer in Singapore.

Its general manager Eddie Wong concedes: 'While there are negative environmental and social impacts from en bloc redevelopment, we must also be mindful of the tremendous positive effects of such redevelopment'.

He highlights a reduction in long-term energy consumption through more energy-efficient buildings.

CDL does recycle some building debris, but recycling or reusing a whole building is a different matter.

The most environmentally friendly solution would be to not demolish buildings at all, but 'economic forces' are not likely to support this.

Pioneer architect Tay Kheng Soon of Akitek Tenggara says the simplest solution would be to allow the transfer of development rights.

'Owners of a site that has been given increased plot ratio should be able to sell to a developer who wants higher plot ratio on another site. This would also require a masterplan that allows for plot ratio increases above those pegged at a certain level. All in all, it requires a more sophisticated planning process than the present one.'

Other ways suggested by Mr Tay include rating existing buildings based on heritage.

'The lower the rating, the more demolition is permitted. Correspondingly, a higher-rated property will enjoy a property tax rebate to balance out the benefits.'

SIA's Mr Tai adds: 'The attitude of keeping and maximising the value of old buildings for urban renewal requires a complete change of mindset. This is not always possible as it is human nature to yearn for growth, change and improvement.'

The Building and Construction Authority is encouraging the use of recycled materials in construction. It promotes the use of Eco-concrete made from recycled material used in pilot projects for non-structural works such as pavement slabs in housing estates, linkways and park connectors.

Related articles on Singapore: green buildings
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