Building Safety in Singapore #TakenForGranted
Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands draws in tourists from around the world, to take photographs of themselves against the vanishing edge of the pool, perched 55 stories high above the city.
Before this futuristic building came to define Singapore’s skyline, another hotel also played a part in shaping Singapore’s landscape — but in an entirely different way.
Hotel New World was only six stories high, but it collapsed in 1986, killing 33 people, in one of the worst post-war disasters in Singapore. The cause? Structural faults, shoddy design, and haphazard construction. Many columns and beams were unable to withstand the structural load, while maintenance was neglected, and defects ignored.
The catastrophe led to far-reaching reforms in Singapore’s building industry to enforce strict standards and regulations. At the opening of the 1989 International Conference on Case Histories in Structural Failures, then-Minister of State for National Development and Foreign Affairs Peter Sung said: “In Singapore, we are beginning a very significant era with the passing of the Building Control Act on 16 Feb 89.”
Before 1989, Singapore’s economic boom had exacerbated a poorly-regulated construction industry where unskilled workmen, untrained supervisors, and insufficient architects and engineers were pressured by developers to complete projects quickly. With the Building Control Act, the government could actively ensure potential disasters were averted: all buildings built in the 1970s were thoroughly checked for structural faults, with some of them declared unsound and evacuated for demolition. Legislation included the enforcement of building maintenance checks every five years, and for all structural designs to be counter-checked by multiple Accredited Checkers.
In 2020, the Building Control Act was further updated to include compulsory inspection for all buildings older than 20 years, and above 13 metres tall, every seven years by a professional engineer or registered architect. Any required repairs must also be carried out within a specific period. This compulsory inspection helps reduce the likelihood of rundown facades as buildings in Singapore age.
The Construction Quality Assessment System (CONQUAS), introduced in Singapore since 1989, is today an internationally-accepted benchmarking tool for quality — including in China, Hong Kong SAR, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and India. The safety of Singapore’s buildings is something blissfully #TakenForGranted by the crowds at Marina Bay Sands, or anywhere else in our city.