Becoming one with Nature

14 Sep 2019


It was an invaluable experience working on this project. It really simulated a real-life building project. As someone from an electrical engineering background, I’ve learnt how architects think. 


Imagine working in a building situated at the edge of an island that is home to a wide variety of fauna and flora. Beyond the wide expanse of windows are the sunlight dappled waves of the Johor Strait whose water’s edge nearly reaches your building’s doorstep. Stepping out of your office, you feel a gentle breeze sweeping across the open atriums that form the nexus of the building. From below, come the sounds of nature-lovers as they make their way strolling and cycling across the coastal walkway that runs through the ground floor of the building.

If the teams at the International Building Design Competition 2019 had their way, that will be exactly what the lucky denizens of their proposed co-working environment will experience. That was because the site chosen for the competition brief was on Coney Island, an ecologically sustainable park rich in biodiversity located at the northern end of Singapore.

The competition invited participation from tertiary student teams all over the world. True to Coney Island’s status as an ecological haven, this year’s competition theme was “Touching our earth lightly”. 


Taking human bias out of the equation

Staying close to the brief of a sustainable building concept that is both co-working space for millennials as well as an incubation hub for start-ups, the top three entries were from teams fielded by local institutions.    

The Zookeepers, a combined team from Singapore Polytechnic (SP) and National University of Singapore (NUS), walked away with the top prize of $10,000. Asked about their team’s winning formula, team member Teo Ren Jie noted that working across multiple disciplines, the team’s strength was in using technology to address differences and help make better decisions.

He said, “Usually in a multi-disciplinary team, everyone will bring their own preferences and habits of thought. Our team’s strength was how we used software and workflow processes to reduce bias in our design decisions. This minimised design conflicts and allowed us to come up with a better, more robust building design”.

2nd-prize-singapore-polytechnic-ideal 3rd-prize-singapore-polytechnic-impact

Deriving inspiration from nature

For the runner-up teams, both from SP, their inspirations were derived from the rustic beauty of the site itself. Team IMPACT conducted on-site interviews with Coney Island park users and arrived at a design ideology revolving around the elements of sun, sand, sea and forest. Similarly inspired, Team iDEAL’s reconnaissance trips to the island translated into a design which responded to the unique requirements of the terrain.

Adhering to the principles of green building design where resources are used effectively and processes kept efficient, the participating teams explored ways to minimise waste and incorporate natural light, ventilation and solar energy in their proposals.

Timber harvested from the site was repurposed for use into the building itself, while the existing promenade was extended and integrated into the building. Spaces within the building were kept flexible to allow them to cater to different uses.   

Greatest takeaways

The greatest takeaway from the competition, as many of the teams would attest to, is the opportunity to collaborate. As Team iDEAL’s representative Joseph Ong shared, “Through this project, we learnt to value the different perspectives from different disciplines, tapping on each other’s strengths and learning from the other person. That’s the beauty of working in a transdisciplinary team – it allowed us to cross boundaries and help each other out.”

Team IMPACT member Sean Yeo, who has since graduated and will be enrolling in NUS, summed it up: “It was an invaluable experience working on this project. It really simulated a real-life building project. As someone from an electrical engineering background, I’ve learnt how architects think.

About the International Building Design Competition

The International Building Design Competition 2019 was co-organised by the Building and Construction Authority and Singapore Polytechnic, and held in conjunction with the International Built Environment Week. The competition was sponsored by Teambuild Engineering & Construction Pte Ltd.

This year’s competition saw a total of 21 entries from various tertiary institutions. For the first time, several of the teams were cross-country collaborations. One of these teams – made up of students from Nanyang Polytechnic, Chaoyang University of Technology and National United University (both from Taiwan) – "Achieved a merit award in the competition".


The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) champions the development and transformation of the built environment sector, in order to improve Singapore’s living environment. BCA oversees areas such as safety, quality, inclusiveness, sustainability and productivity, all of which, together with our stakeholders and partners, help to achieve our mission to transform the Built Environment sector and shape a liveable and smart built environment for Singapore.