While working as an architect in the United Kingdom (UK) 20 years ago, Mr Richard Chien-Ming Kuppusamy once spent two weeks painstakingly drawing patterns for a floor tile layout in CAD.
But when the interior designer decided to change the location of the floor patterns’ expansion joints, the entire pattern had to be re-drawn. Just like that, two weeks of work went down the drain.
“Today, we would automate this process by writing a computational algorithm to set out that pattern. What used to take two weeks can now be done in a matter of minutes,” said Mr Kuppusamy, who returned to Singapore in 2012 and is now the Head of Lendlease Digital Asia, a business unit of the Sydney-headquartered international real estate group that is creating a digital platform to transform how buildings are built.
As a self-proclaimed “nerd” who has always been fascinated by technology, his role no doubt suits him. He was part of the pioneer cohort of architects in the UK to use Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the mid 2000s – a technology that uses 3D parametric modelling to simulate building projects in the design stage to reduce costly changes during construction.
“I made the pivot to being a digital leader with an architecture background rather than an architect that was digital,” he explained.
Now, instead of designing buildings, he develops technologies and digital solutions that enable Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), an approach that integrates work processes by connecting stakeholders of the same project.
IDD is a critical part of Integrated Planning and Design (IPD) that factors in design considerations for a building’s entire life cycle to optimise resources, one of three areas covered by Singapore’s refreshed Built Environment Industry Transformation Map (ITM).
Launched in September 2022, the refreshed ITM will further enable BIM and IDD specialists like Mr Kuppusamy to thrive and contribute to digitalisation efforts in the Built Environment (BE) sector.
HOME-GROWN SOLUTIONS, INDUSTRY-WIDE IMPACT
Mr Kuppusamy is determined to change how the industry works. “We always hear that the BE industry is the least digitised; we’re one step above agriculture and hunting,” he said.
With this in mind, he helped to set up an end-to-end digital platform called Lendlease Podium in September 2020. The Podium platform enables property developers and designers to easily access data and insights for greater productivity and cost savings.
Podium has two main products. The first is Podium Property Insights (PPI), an asset management tool. The PPI workplace edition launched in Asia in September 2022, leverages user satisfaction to design better workplaces.
The other is Podium for Development, an up-and-coming digital cloud-based construction platform that connects and brings forward suppliers and manufacturers to the designers and property developers upstream in order to enable better decision making in the procurement of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA). This enables higher productivity, safer construction, and more sustainable buildings.
This platform is revolutionary as it addresses a gap in the current BE ecosystem: interoperability. Various stakeholders typically use different standards, competing software, and file formats, preventing effective collaboration.
“Podium for Development comes in to address the ‘I’ in IDD,” said Mr Kuppusamy, referring to the word “integrated”.
For instance, designers and architects, who are often detached from the actual construction process, will now be provided with data ranging from the types of construction materials available in the market to how parts can be joined together during construction. This way, they can assess the feasibility of their designs and building costs.
On the other end, the platform also allows clients and developers to make more informed decisions before embarking on projects – which is helpful to Lendlease as an integrated developer.
“We understand financial investments, good placemaking and design, construction and asset/property management,” said Mr Kuppusamy.
INJECTING FRESH TALENT INTO BE
To continue building on this digital future, finding the right talent is crucial.
When Lendlease Digital Asia was formed in 2020, the company recruited 70 employees from various backgrounds to form a multi-disciplinary, cross-industry team, including next-generation leaders like Mr Loh Jun Han, a Computational Designer who leads a group of architects and engineers to develop design automation and DfMA solutions.
Mr Loh, 29, had a background in Facilities Management and Mechanical Engineering, but what caught Mr Kuppusamy’s eye was his “X-factor” – specifically his passion for learning. He had mastered software development and programming languages on his own.
To develop a steady pipeline of talent, Lendlease introduced a two-year Digital Graduate Programme in 2021.
Successful applicants from diverse fields like science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design will go through rotations across the BE sector, experiencing various aspects via stints as designers, engineers and more.
At the end of the programme, they are offered a permanent job based on their passion and expertise.
The first intake of 11 fresh graduates from local universities will graduate from the programme next year.
“I hope that we are growing the right kind of talent for the right purposes,” said Mr Kuppusamy, whose vision is for BE professionals to “build cities that we want to live, play and work in”. “If we can do that in a more sustainable and digital way, even better.”
In line with the BE ITM, BCA is offering programmes and resources to attract new talents as well as support the development of existing BE professionals. Interested firms and individuals can refer to the toolkit on programmes to support BE firms’ talent and skills needs here.