This article is part of a series featuring the winners of the inaugural iBuildSG Distinguished Fellow award.
Six Built Environment sector leaders, whose professions straddle across academia, architects, builders, engineers and developers, have been conferred the title of iBuildSG Distinguished Fellow. Appointment as a Distinguished Fellow is the highest level of recognition given to senior Built Environment (BE) leaders under the iBuildSG Leadership Engagement and Development (LEAD) Framework for their leadership and immense contributions to the BE sector.
To Mr Chia Ngiang Hong, a developer’s legacy goes beyond the buildings and infrastructures it leaves behind. It is also about the foundation it lays for the future.
When the Group General Manager of City Developments Limited (CDL) launched the 66-storey Republic Plaza in 1996, the office complex was not only the tallest building in Singapore at the time, it also redefined the Central Business District’s skyline.
Since then, it has undergone regular upgrading in green features, including the major retrofitting of chiller plants and installation of energy-efficient lighting systems.
In 2005, it was among the first batch of buildings to receive the Green Mark Gold award by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA). It also snagged BCA’s highest Green Mark Platinum rating in 2012.
After 39 years with CDL, Mr Chia’s work ethic and design philosophy remains just as green: He believes a clean and sustainable built environment is the way forward.
A case in point: One of his recent projects, the New Futura condominium at Leonie Hill Road, won the 2020 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Asia Pacific Award for Excellence, the development community’s most prestigious awards in the region. Built in 2018, the development was chosen ahead of 19 finalists for its forward-looking approach to sustainability and design.
New Futura condominium, Credit: City Developments Limited
“I would like to be remembered as a responsible developer, someone future generations can be proud of,” said Mr Chia.
“Maybe (the idea of sustainability) is still a bit intangible at this point, but in time to come, people will realise its importance and remember CDL as a responsible developer who pushes for a sustainable and healthy environment for Singapore.”
Innovate to recreate
Mr Chia, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Estate Management Honours degree in 1977 from the National University of Singapore, joined CDL in 1981 as a Manager. He moved swiftly up the ranks and is currently an Executive Committee member, overseeing portfolios such as the company’s property development division.
As Group GM, he drives CDL’s branding through progressive business strategies and policies. He was very much involved in pioneering the concept of branded residences here. These include luxury developments like the St Regis Singapore Residences and the Residences at W Singapore at Sentosa Cove.
He is also a key member of the Projects and Facility Management team behind prestigious and innovative developments like the South Beach Residences, Boulevard 88 and Tree House.
He is passionate about innovation and new ideas for the built environment, encouraging CDL’s in-house Innovation Department to continually source for breakthroughs and creative solutions for the sector.
These include collaborations with start-ups for AI-powered real-estate management and the creation of sustainable paints and advanced building materials.
Mr Chia is certain that innovation and technology will help the industry swiftly get back on its feet post-COVID-19. For example, property technology has empowered realtors to secure deals through virtual marketing during the circuit breaker period and it is likely to continue as a regular important marketing tool after the pandemic.
Another important area is in innovative building materials, such as those with antimicrobial and antibacterial properties which improve hygiene standards to promote healthy living. Such solutions will help to advance and future-proof the industry.
“We will continue to work closely with the government, stimulate multi-stakeholder dialogues and explore solutions that assist the sector overcome many current challenging hurdles and steer it towards a speedier recovery,” he said.
Redas, set, go
As President of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (REDAS), he works closely with other developers to promote a better, healthier and sustainable built environment with greater innovation, adaptability and flexibility.
He advocates close collaboration and partnership with the government. On Singapore’s success despite its tiny size, he shared: “Political leadership is very important. Our leaders have set a clear vision for Singapore and all stakeholders, both private and public like the BCA and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), work hard together to bring this vision to reality.”
“You need to work hand in glove with one another, as a coordinated entity, to produce effective outcomes and I think we have done quite well in this aspect.”
For Mr Chia, buildings are more than just bricks and mortar – designed and built well, they can also help create a better and resilient future and leave a legacy for future generations.