Vertical growth is where S'pore's future lies

Recent reports offer creative solutions to Singapore's land scarcity, ranging from offshore data centres (Building data centres at sea an idea worth floating; May 5) to high-productivity agriculture (Land to be released for new farms to raise food supply; May 12).

In both cases, the solution, I believe, is a high-rise one which will maximise the utility of smaller land parcels.

In the case of data centres, an offshore location presents a multitude of disadvantages.

Humid and salty ocean air would place additional burdens on these facilities' critical climate control systems.

Accessibility for maintenance and repairs would also be an issue, particularly as floating structures in seawater are more exposed to the elements and prone to corrosion.

Conversely, the usable floor area of any land-based data facility can be easily multiplied by adding additional levels.

A modestly-sized tower block of 150,000 sq ft can provide space roughly equivalent to the sprawling server farms seen abroad, with just a fraction of the footprint.

Due to its modular nature, server equipment can be configured to fit a vertical space. Supporting equipment, such as back-up power and air-conditioning, could be installed underground, on each floor, or on the roof.

The disadvantages associated with a floating platform are obvious.

This principle, likewise, applies to the proposed agricultural plots at Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah.

Even with technological advances in farming, a mere 60ha is unlikely to make a substantial difference to self-sufficiency in Singapore's food supply.

Vertical farming, a strategy which has been discussed many times in the past but never exploited to its fullest, would be an effective means of boosting arable land area without exceeding the physical dimensions of the plots.

Singapore may be limited in two dimensions, but as far as the third is concerned, the sky truly is the limit.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Vertical growth is where S'pore's future lies'. Print Edition | Subscribe