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BCA – Building A Future-Ready Nation

The BCA Undergraduate Scholarship offers young talents an opportunity to contribute to the development of our safe, high-quality and sustainable built environment. Kwa Chin Soon shares on how he helps to champion the mission of BCA.

Our built environment refers to the human-made space which encompasses buildings, parks and neighbourhoods where people live, work and play. The Building and Construction ­Authority (BCA)’s vision is to have a future-ready built environment for Singapore.  While maintaining the safety, sustainability and quality of our built environment, BCA strives to ensure that Singapore continues to be recognised as a unique and distinctive global city.  This is achieved with the help of BCA’s team of civil engineering experts, which includes the geotechnical engineers.

Geotechnical engineers are experts in the behaviour of earth materials and their interaction with man-made elements such as ­foundations, flatwork and pipelines. Their work extends to evaluating the suitability of potential construction sites, assessing the ease with which soil can be excavated and ascertaining if materials at a site can support construction activities.

Kwa Chin Soon is one of BCA’s ­geotechnical engineers. He chose to take up the BCA Scholarship to pursue his desired course of study and apply his theoretical knowledge in his ­career thereafter. ‘BCA regulates the construction industry and plays a huge role in leading and transforming Singapore’s built environment. In addition to applying my theoretical knowledge in BCA, I also wish to make a difference to Singapore’s built environment,’ says Chin Soon.

Chin Soon’s interest in civil engineering intensified when he moved into a developing town at the age of 15. He witnessed the con-struction of Compass Point and LRT tracks from what used to be bare land. He tells us, ‘My interest in creating and transforming Singapore’s landscape from just bare land has been developing since young. My father was a carpenter and I often saw him creating large furniture from simple materials. This propelled me towards a profession in civil engineering.’

Today, Chin Soon’s job as a senior ­engineer in the Deep Excavation and ­Geotechnical Department sees him ensuring that both normal and geotechnical building works comply with high standards of safety. He explains that the challenges in processing geotechnical building works include preventing damages that these works cause to adjacent structures, a complex task considering the dense nature of Singapore’s built environment. He prevents such issues by carrying out active monitoring and frequent site inspections to identify tell-tale signs that could lead to potential problems.
He elaborates on his work scope, ‘Each project requires different construction work processes. These can range from a 10-metre deep excavation and a slope stability calculation to tunnelling for an MRT ­project. As Singapore’s ground conditions vary spatially, good geological information is ­extremely important to ensure the design safety and quality.’

Chin Soon’s most memorable experience in BCA was when he travelled to Norway with another government agency on a study trip, to observe Norway’s underground rock caverns used as facilities. ‘It was indeed an eye-opening experience. We visited the Gjøvik Olympic Cavern Hall which is the largest public cavern hall in the world, and also got to interact with top professionals and academia in the rock mechanism and geology field,’ Chin Soon reminisces.

Chin Soon’s adventures began even ­before he started working in BCA. While studying at NUS, BCA enabled him to ­participate in an overseas exchange ­programme in Sweden’s Lund University where he learned about the structural ­design and urban sustainability of Sweden’s built environment. He also embarked on several independent studies which include topics like sheet pile design, rock joint discontinuity assessment and the comparison of steel design between different structural codes.

One of his achievements as an undergraduate was to help his team come in first place amongst 42 other international teams in an international earthquake modelling competition held in Taiwan.
He shares, ‘My BCA Scholarship gave me a great sense of purpose when I was studying. In fact, my desire to represent NUS in the earthquake engineering ­challenge was sparked by the motivation to ­apply the knowledge I gained through my ­independent studies!’

Chin Soon acknowledges that with a denser built environment, there is a need to find new solutions. He believes that ­developing an underground city will help alleviate the problem of land scarcity in ­Singapore.

He elaborates, ‘Developing a city underground is definitely a feasible option. This option will also become more attractive as the opportunity cost of land use above the ground becomes higher. However, we would have to take into account more than just the engineering challenges. Our perspectives, social interactions and lifestyle when working in an underground city would be quite different and take a lot of getting used to.’

With that said, Chin Soon advises ­aspiring scholars to work towards determining the aspect of the built environment to which they want to apply their technical knowledge. He concludes, ‘The aspiring scholars must understand the role BCA plays in Singapore, and think about where his passion lies in this industry, in order to convince the interviewers. For instance, the applicant should have given thought if he wants to do Architecture, Sustainable Design or Civil Engineering.’

Kwa Chin Soon
BCA Local Undergraduate Scholarship
Age: 31
Now: Senior Engineer, Deep Excavation & Geotechnical Department
Attained: Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) and Master of Social Science in Applied ­Economics from NUS; Master of Engineering in Geotechnology from Massachusetts ­Institute of Technology, USA
From: Victoria JC