NTU to explore space options underground

It invites experts to come up with ideas for main campus in Jurong
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 3 Oct 12;

NANYANG Technological University has launched a research project to find out how to make use of its underground space.

Last week, it put out a call for help on an "underground space masterplan" for its sprawling Jurong campus.

It wants a team of geologists, architects and engineers to come up with ideas for a shallower, "deep basement" level, and for deeper underground space.

In its call for proposals, which closes next Tuesday, NTU said that the team would have eight months to produce a design of the underground blueprint.

This should include "2-D and 3-D planning and drawings in enough detail that the component parts in underground space can be easily understood by NTU", it said.

The design should also take into account existing buildings on campus and show "the pass ways from the surface to the underground structures".

Covering 200ha - about the size of 450 football fields - the university campus occupies about 0.2 per cent of Singapore's land.

When asked by The Straits Times about its call for proposals, the university declined to comment on the research project and its ideas for the space beneath its grounds. A spokesman would say only that "all available details are in (the) public document put out... to call for quotations from interested parties".

In 1999, a study commissioned by the Government and NTU found that at least part of the ground beneath NTU could be turned into rock caverns.

These could each hold "four levels at 3m spacing, plus an upper fifth level that can be utilised for technical installations".

They could be used for "car parking, offices, laboratories and libraries, and by combining two storey heights, they can accommodate lecture theatres and cinemas", the report said.

But Dr Ng Tiong Guan, 44, an executive director at civil and geotechnical consulting firm GeoEng Consultants, said a key challenge would be to minimise impact to existing buildings.

He said: "Digging under an existing building would undermine its foundations. You would have to transfer the load of the building to somewhere else."

Another crucial issue would be how to control the movement of groundwater so nearby buildings are not affected by the ground adjusting itself to the loss of water.

There are also fire safety concerns. In August, the Singapore Civil Defence Force sent a memo to engineering and architect associations here to set out new fire safety requirements for mega underground developments.

The measures included at least two exit shafts for each development, and protected corridors on each floor with fire-resistant walls and doors. It added: "As this kind of development is new, there may be areas we have not foreseen as possible fire safety concerns."

Besides NTU, other groups are also studying how to make better use of subterranean space.

The interest stems from Singapore's limited options for expansion, said Building and Construction Authority (BCA) chief executive John Keung in an interview with The Straits Times last month. He said: "You can build up, but there is a limit, because we have airports. You can reclaim, but there is also a limit, as you need to keep fairways and anchorages for your port."

The BCA set up the Singapore Geological Office in 2010 to carry out soil studies for future underground planning.

The Ministry of National Development is also exploring whether facilities such as reservoirs, power plants and landfills can be built underground to save land. A report is due at the end of next year.