Challenge the norm: How Arup won the inaugural BE Transformation Award

18 Nov 2022


Think industrial estate and drab buildings and grimy surroundings usually spring to mind. The new Woodlands North Coast, however, is anything but.

Located in the heart of Woodlands Regional Centre, the scenic waterfront precinct about double the size of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, was planned as a mixed-use estate that will meet the nation’s manufacturing and industrial needs. When it is completed in phases in the next 15 years, it will also feature new homes, offices and lifestyle amenities.

Such transformations in the built environment are close to the heart of Er Tan Yoong Heng, Singapore Country Leader of global design and engineering consultancy Arup, which helped to conceptualise the masterplan of Woodlands North Coast.

Using cutting-edge design and digital tools, his team provided the engineering expertise for the project’s two major developments, 1 North Coast and 7 North Coast, which have already been completed as part of the initial phases of the Woodlands North Coast masterplan. Their innovation and ingenuity won their project team the BCA’s inaugural Built Environment Transformation Award, which recognises projects that set the benchmark in areas like digitalisation and productivity. 1 and 7 North Coast, one of four winners, trumped in the Industrial Buildings category.

To Er Tan, being transformative requires two things: questioning the norm and forging deep collaboration with partners who are not afraid to challenge ideas. “It’s a journey together to transform, and winning this award inspires us to continue collaborating with clients and partners to build competencies together,” he said.


Choosing the material for the two structures – the nine-storey 1 North Coast and eight-storey 7 North Coast – proved the biggest challenge for Er Tan and his team.

Instead of going for the most cost-effective method, “we took extra effort to understand which material would be optimal based on their uses and range of loads”, he explained. For example, a steel main structure might be better for high loads such as heavy machinery, even though a concrete one might be more cost effective. Another key consideration was the material’s carbon impact.

Digital design studies were conducted using the Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) process to ascertain which was the most suitable material. For example, load combination and beam sizes could be adjusted sequentially to achieve the best material mix. The tech tools were also used to analyse things like wind flow and sun direction to help the team decide where to locate the buildings for optimum energy efficiency.

“The digital tools helped us to be more productive and more informed when briefing the client, JTC,” said Er Tan.

6T6A2842_02 (1)Er. Tan Yoong Heng, Singapore Country Leader and Director, Arup

In the end, based on the studies and their respective uses, a steel frame was selected for 1 North Coast, based on the loading of the building as well as to reduce on-site labour.

However, the structure for 7 North Coast comprises mainly precast concrete framing elements as it was considered the most efficient solution due to factors such as permitted structural depth. In addition, the process is also carbon-friendly and reduces on-site work too by fabricating the elements in a factory setting.


Clearly, Arup does not take the path of least resistance. Besides being hardwired to question the status quo, Er Tan believes that finding partners “who can challenge you” is also crucial in this journey of transformation.

“You need to have diversity in thought,” he said. “Sometimes, the client challenges us on our ideas and we also challenge them back – it is a good process to create a better outcome.” Internally, Arup also engages overseas experts to cast a fresh pair of eyes on its projects.

Besides 1 & 7 North Coast, Arup also worked with architecture firm Aedas on the wider Woodlands North Coast masterplan concept which the buildings were a part of. Er Tan said the partnership helped to inject fresh ideas, such as keeping heavy vehicle traffic underground for a car-lite precinct and having an estate-wide operation centre to optimise utilities and other key functions.

“It’s great fun to work together with them on many projects such as Marina Bay Sands and the Thomson-East Coast Line,” said Er Tan, adding that the two companies have collaborated for more than 15 years. “Such long-term partnerships are good for the industry. The built environment ecosystem is quite complex and segregated at times. In-depth integration, innovative collaborations and having trusted relationships will benefit not just the project team but create better products for clients and users.”

Technology, of course, made collaboration easier. For instance, the Common Data Environment digital platform allows various stakeholders – from architects and builders to facilities managers – to view the project in detail and in real time. “You can see straight away if there are any clashes, and there’s no need to do double work as changes are made simultaneously,” said Er Tan.

Looking ahead, he sees transformation opportunities in two big areas: “Sustainability is everything, digitalisation is everywhere.” But he is adamant that talk of transformation should be backed by substance. “You can set high decarbonisation targets but you must have the capabilities to meet them. In this transformation journey, we need to acknowledge gaps where we must upskill so we can channel our energy to the right place to make tangible outcomes.”


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.