Prioritise sustainability and innovation for now and future, urge SUTD design forum speakers

SUTD wants its students to be responsible and ethical designers who can make a positive impact on both the society and environment, said SUTD president Chong Tow Chong. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE – Leaders from different sectors such as architecture and urban planning, consumer goods and academia on Friday stressed the urgency of sustainability and innovation to improve the lives of people not only now but also for the future.

The key speakers at the third Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) Design Innovation Forum were Professor Chong Tow Chong, president of SUTD; Professor Nathalie de Vries, founding partner of Dutch architecture and urban planning firm MVRDV; and Ms Roxanne Ong, senior vice-president of strategy, innovations and education at Japanese beauty brand Shiseido’s Digital Transformation Office.

They were addressing an audience of more than 450 students, alumni and design professionals as well as almost 2,000 viewers who tuned in from around the world via Zoom videoconferencing.

Prof de Vries said that MVRDV is currently working on a proposal to manage rising sea levels by “working with water, and not against it”.

The old approach to developing waterfront cities using walls to keep the ocean at bay is no longer an option in an era of rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

“The idea is to allow coastal developments to coexist with rising levels of seawater and not work against it,” said Prof de Vries, 57, who is also professor of architectural design at the Faculty of Architecture at Delft University of Technology in Delft, the Netherlands.

In one of her presentations, she showed her firm’s urban design proposal in collaboration with Vancouver-based landscape architects PWL Partnership for the Sea2City project for the waterfront city of False Creek in Vancouver, Canada.

Instead of building walls to keep the ocean at bay, a Sea Level Rise Catalogue was drawn up showing how townhouses can be redesigned to be more flood-adaptive, while inland developments can help bolster the city’s flood resilience by incorporating porous ground coverings and rainwater buffers.

Ms Ong spoke about how Shiseido is keeping nimble and customer-focused through emerging technologies such as data, artificial intelligence (AI) and Web 3.0 to serve digitally savvy consumers looking for a personalised, omnichannel experience.

“Shiseido, which has been on a digital transformation journey since 2016, has moved its beauty demonstrations from behind the counter to front and centre of the customer’s smartphone camera,” said the 47-year-old Singaporean of the 151-year-old beauty brand, which has offices in more than 120 countries. She has nearly 30 years of experience in digital technology.

This more sustainable innovation is borderless and dispenses with hands-on interactions, which can be unhygienic, she said.

“Digital technology has allowed us to reimagine the online shopping experience to be more human-centred and three-dimensional,” she added. The brand has roped in virtual reality (VR) specialists and data engineers to create an immersive shopping experience both in the real world and in the metaverse that educates as well as entertains.

“One hundred and fifty-one years later, digital technology enables us to deliver on our mission to bring beauty innovations for a better world.”

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The theme for Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Design Innovation Forum was Design for a Sustainable World. Panellists highlighted how design can play a crucial role in creating sustainable solutions and shaping a better future.

Prof Chong said that SUTD’s new Sustainability by Design minor programme, launched in March 2023, will equip new undergraduates with the knowledge and tools on sustainability in engineering, architecture and urban planning, with a view to human-centric design.

“We want SUTD students to be responsible and ethical designers who can make a positive impact on both the society and environment,” said Prof Chong, 69.

One of the members of the audience at the SUTD Auditorium in the Upper Changi campus was alumnus Jovin Lim, 25, who said the speakers demonstrated how sustainability and innovation work in real life.

“Although the forum was about innovative sustainable design approaches, I felt the greatest takeaway was not simply the design approaches but the way the practitioners are applying these concepts in the real world for the betterment of people across the globe,” said Mr Lim, who is now a design technologist with a global architectural group based in Singapore.

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