THURSDAY, 26 MAY 2011 (Session 11)

Mr Tan Kay Yong
Chairman, Singapore Polytechnic Board of Governors,

Mr Tan Hang Cheong
Principal, Singapore Polytechnic,

Distinguished Guests,

Parents and Graduands,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


    t is my pleasure to join all of you here at Singapore Polytechnic’s 51st Graduation Ceremony. Today, we celebrate the achievements of the 2011 graduands from the School of Architecture and the Built Environment -- my warmest congratulations to you on reaching this significant milestone in your lives.

  1. Earlier this year, Singapore came out tops in an Asian Green City Index jointly developed by Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit. Ranked as Asia’s greenest metropolis, Singapore was recognised for having managed our urban growth and development in a way that balances rapid economic and population growth with a high quality of life for Singaporeans and commitment to caring for our environment.

  2. This is a far cry from the sixties, when we faced problems associated with rapid urbanisation: overcrowding, water shortage, inadequate sanitation, polluted rivers and floods.

  3. But as we continue to develop and grow, there are new challenges to meet. Our population has grown rapidly in the last few years, stretching our transport and infrastructure system. As we become more urbanised, it also becomes harder to retain greenery and the natural environment. And of course, there is the challenge of climate change which will be costly to mitigate and adapt to.

  4. How do we address these challenges? There are difficult and very often costly tradeoffs. We have done reasonably well so far in coming up with creative and often unique solutions to our problems. The challenge will become even harder in the years to come. But at the same time, these problems represent great opportunities to create and innovate.

  5. Let me use the Marina Barrage and ABC Waters programme to explain how we have turned problems into opportunities.

  6. In the early days, the Singapore and Kallang Rivers were like sewers, smelly, dirty and devoid of aquatic life. A 10 year programme was put in place to resettle the squatters, put in a proper sanitation system, clean up the rivers and restore aquatic life. 

  7. But we still grappled with flooding in city areas like Shenton Way, Chinatown and yes, Orchard Road, especially when we had a combination of high tide and heavy rain.

  8.  The engineering solution was to build a dam at the mouth of the Marina Channel. So with the rivers cleaned up and the technology potentially available to treat the water, the decision was made to build a barrage, turning the Marina Bay area into a freshwater reservoir.

  9. Today, with the Marina Barrage, we have created a reservoir right in the heart of the city. The barrage also helps alleviate flooding in the low-lying city areas, and provides a recreational hotspot for people to enjoy all kinds of activities. Going beyond its utilitarian function, we designed the barrage pump house to be an urban icon and an attractive park that has attracted more than 2 million people since its opening. People go there for picnics, to take wedding pictures against the city skyline, enjoy water activities like kayaking and sailing, and to fly kites day or night. And within the Marina Bay area, you can enjoy the scenic waterfront, walk along the river and fish or boat too. 

  10. This shows that Singapore’s challenges can be tackled creatively with innovative design solutions that also provide wonderful new opportunities to enhance our dense urban environment and improve our quality of life.

  11. The Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme is another example which was initiated in 2006 to creatively transform our network of drains, canals and reservoirs, while still serving their functional purposes of water storage and drainage.

  12. When planning for these projects, we take into account factors such as land use plans, demographics, and hydrology as well as historical and cultural considerations.  We also seek feedback from the community to develop and implement projects which meet their needs. Fifteen projects including Alexandra Canal, Lorong Halus Wetland and Sengkang Floating Wetland have since been opened, creating new and vibrant spaces for people to enjoy community bonding and recreation. And over the next 10-15 years, more than 100 locations have also been identified for project implementation.

  13. The ABC Waters programme is also about turning problems into opportunities. With two-thirds of our island becoming water catchment, the challenge is on how we continue to keep our waters clean. We thus introduced the ABC Waters design guidelines to encourage public agencies and private developers to incorporate ABC Waters design features (made up of plants and soil media) to detain and treat the rainwater runoff at their developments islandwide. This helps cleaner water flow into our drains and canals and eventually our reservoirs.

  14. The ABC Waters guidelines will however, only come to life when the industry embraces this concept in their designs. To this end, we have been collaborating with professional bodies and educational institutions, including SP to offer “ABC Waters Design Guidelines” in the curriculum.  ABC Waters thus require not just architecture or engineering work but also good design and multi-disciplinary teams to transform what would otherwise be utilitarian structures into beautiful environments that integrate seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.

  15. We have moved beyond ensuring that we have enough water as a resource to seeing it as an environmental asset that enhances the city and also increasingly, as an economic asset. Our investments in water solutions over the years have created a thriving cluster of local and international water companies that provide various services to the region, and Singapore has earmarked water as a key growth sector. Exciting ongoing projects include the Siemen’s electrochemical desalination project and the Biomimicry of Natural Desalination Processes which aim to lower energy consumption for desalination.

  16. Singapore has also successfully hosted the Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) for the past 3 years, bringing policymakers, industry leaders, experts and practitioners together on a global platform for water solutions.

  17. Singapore Polytechnic students have been actively involved as student ambassadors of the Water Week. Over 420 students contributed to the success of the past three Water Weeks, and another 200 will be supporting the upcoming Water Week, making it a vital platform for students to gain experience while learning more about our precious water resource. I am happy that many of you were inspired to continue championing the water cause after being involved in the Water Week, and some of you have even started volunteering as Marina Barrage Ambassadors to share blue messages with visitors. You may be surprised to know that many of your seniors/alumni are also working in various roles within PUB – in fact, nearly half of PUB’s diploma holders are Singapore Poly graduates! 

  18. Singapore Polytechnic is also a valued Friend of Water. It is an adopter of Marina Reservoir, and has been organising the Singapore International Water Festival (SIWF) since 2009 in addition to its other contributions towards water. This dedication to the water and environmental cause was underscored when  SP received the Watermark Award in 2008, and went on to become the first Polytechnic to be awarded the President’s Award for the Environment last year.


  1. We are at an exciting moment in history as we face the new challenges of rapid urbanization and climate change which will impose severe stress on our ability to use resources like water effectively. With the right training, skills and knowledge, there will be many opportunities for you to do something creative, to address some of these issues. 

  2. This is the SP spirit of “Berhidmat Dengan Keahlian,” meaning “To Serve with Skill”. I understand SP has embarked on plans to strengthen its holistic model of education and has boosted its curriculum with design thinking to enhance the SP Learning Experience and nurture the T-shaped graduate, one who is “Life Ready, Work Ready, and World Ready.” 

  3. One student from your school exemplifies the change that SP has impacted her. After Natasha recovered from a major illness in her junior college days, she decided to join Singapore Polytechnic Architecture course. Singapore Polytechnic brought out the best in her and taught her discipline, leadership and most importantly, passion. She has a purpose now and its thanks largely to Singapore Polytechnic.

  4. Another recent graduate, Cathleen Cheong Mun Ngah, from the class of 2008 in Civil and Structural Engineering is currently pursuing her Bachelor in Civil Engineering at the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. Despite coming from a humble financial background, she had a dream of having an Ivy-League education. She persevered and received an MIT Scholarship to pursue her dream and credits her success to the rigorous training she received at SP. 

  5. I am sure there are many more stories like Natasha and Cathleen.  I believe each one of you graduating today would have your own unique story and defining moments to look back and cherish.

  6. Congratulations once again on your graduation, and I wish you success in your future endeavours.

  7. Thank you.