Singapore unveils new green building 'skylab' for the tropics

The BCA Skylab is the first high-rise revolving laboratory for the tropics meant to enable the testing of sustainable building technologies.

The BCA Skylab. The Skylab and Academic Tower were launched this month by Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong. Video: Straits Times, YouTube

Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority has opened the doors of its new $4.5 million BCA Skylab - a high-rise rotatable lab for the tropics that is billed as the first of its kind in the world.

Speaking at the launch of the research centre, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the facility “will play an important role in our environmental sustainability drive”. 

The BCA Skylabs unique rotating feature means it can simulate different building orientations and test technologies under real world conditions, he added.

Wan Man Pun, assistant professor and principal investigator, Nanyang Technological University, who will be involved in the first research project at the new facility, said the lab will allow “test-bedding of multiple technologies and interactions between technologies, which will provide new insights to building sciences research”. 

The 360-degree revolving laboratory is developed in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, a similar rotating lab renowned for its building energy efficiency research.

BCA SkyLab is built on the rooftop of the new Academic Tower, inaugurated on the same day, at the existing BCA Academy in the country’s Thomson area. The academy is the education and research arm of BCA. 

BCA said students and built environment professionals can now enjoy an enhanced learning experience at the Academic Tower, where they will receive first-hand experience on how a building interacts with the residents – designing for requirements of human beings.

PM Lee added that apart from building physical buildings, it was important for the country to develop the skills and capabilities of professionals to improve the productivity and safety of the green buildings.

John Keung, chief executive officer, BCA, noted in a statement that the built environment is not only about developing “hardware, technologies and facilities”. 

It’s about “building capability in our people forms the core in changing the way we build, and we have to innovate to position our built environment practitioners and future talents ahead of the game,” he shared.

Keung also noted that the BCA Skylab is “one of the most innovative projects” to achieve technology breakthroughs for green buildings.

The lab features plug-and-play capabilities for testing different energy efficient technologies, on its own or in an integrated system, in actual weather conditions. 

An entire rotation of the 132 square metres Skylab takes 30 minutes. With 200 sensors, across two identical cells for comparison testing, researchers get to experiment with cutting edge green building technologies.

New technology is installed in the test cell, and the reference cell will be a copy of a regular room. The sensors, then, measure and monitor energy variations and indoor temperature, among other conditions. This comparative data will allow researchers to the track the changes and make necessary improvements.

Keung added that with the new facility, it is the country’s aim to “have positive-energy low-rise, zero-energy medium-rise and super low-energy high-rise buildings in the tropics”.

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