Why It Matters

Future of HDB construction

The use of Lego-like technology in construction is set to become more pervasive.

The Housing Board announced last week that from 2019, all rooms in one-third of new HDB flats launched will be prefabricated as a whole. Rooms will be built in their entirety in factories, shipped over to sites and then stacked like building blocks.

They will come with finishes such as floor tiles, window frames, flooring and a coat of paint.

This is the latest push by the Government, which has long touted prefabrication as the answer to Singapore's productivity laggard - the construction sector - where it has been used in some form since the 1980s. Granted, it is still not the cheapest method just yet. Costs are expected to rise by 1 per cent for such prefabricated bathrooms and 8 per cent for such rooms per project, though the hope is that they could go down in future.

In the short run at least, the technology is also unlikely to cut down construction time by much.

But it comes with two upsides.

One, better quality control which, in recent years, has been a bugbear among owners who take to social media to air their grievances. The idea is that the units can be inspected in a factory before being installed. The method also requires fewer joints, potentially minimising the number of defects.

Two, fewer workers will be needed over time. The prefabricated rooms and bathrooms could improve project productivity by 50 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. As Singapore's largest developer, the HDB wants to - and should - lead by example. It has set a goal to boost its productivity by 25 per cent in 2020, compared with 2010 levels.

Other measures include a pact it inked with the Nanyang Technological University last week to create a central database to manage automated processes in the construction industry.

All these efforts may help elevate jobs in the built environment sector, by requiring a higher level of skills and reducing the physical demands of the job. And one day, the sector could attract more Singaporeans than there currently are.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'Future of HDB construction'. Print Edition | Subscribe