Urgent need to design a more sustainable future: SUTD forum

DPM Heng Swee Keat (centre) with panellists (from right) Professor Chong Tow Chong, Ms Roxanne Ong, Professor Nathalie de Vries, and moderator Tai Lee Siang at SUTD's Design Innovation Forum on May 26. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Design should be harnessed to create innovations for a happier and more sustainable world. This was the key message at the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s (SUTD) Design Innovation Forum 2023 on Friday.

This is the third year that the forum, held at the SUTD Auditorium, has been organised in partnership with The Straits Times.

Discussing the theme of Design For A Sustainable World, panellists highlighted how design can play a crucial role in creating sustainable solutions and shaping a better future.

In the light of the environmental challenges that the world is facing, such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity, future generations need innovative measures to create a sustainable world for them to live in.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the event’s guest of honour, said in his opening remarks that Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew tackled the issue of designing for sustainability long before it was a buzzword.

“One of Mr Lee’s consuming passions was about trees. We are one of the rare city-states to have such a high percentage of green cover,” said Mr Heng.

Mr Heng reminded the audience that Mr Lee placed great emphasis on greening Singapore and stressed that it is something we should continue to be committed to, because climate change is an existential challenge for Singapore.

Panel member and founding partner of Dutch architecture and urban design firm MVRDV, Professor Nathalie de Vries, spoke about the significance of sustainable design in architecture and urban planning, to make buildings less singular in function, more productive and more transformative.

This multiplicity in design makes buildings more resilient in the face of unknown challenges in the future.

“We want to understand what we are going towards, so we can help by imagining possible futures,” she said in response to a question about redesigning existing Asian cities which are densely populated and contribute to pollution.

In his keynote address, Professor Chong Tow Chong, president of SUTD, stressed the importance of institutes of higher learning (IHLs) to sustainability in Singapore.

IHLs are crucial as hubs for research and innovation in sustainable technology and solutions, he said. They are also key collaborators with industry partners, government agencies and organisations to develop and implement sustainable solutions.

With a focus on the circular economy where design plays a key role, SUTD’s sustainability concept map uses an interdisciplinary approach to provide education for sustainable action, he added.

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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.

The panel also addressed the need to embrace digitalisation and how advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) would change the economic landscape significantly.

Ms Roxanne Ong, senior vice-president of strategy, innovations and education at beauty brand Shiseido’s Digital Transformation Office, shared her experience in navigating the ever-evolving technological disruptions within the Shiseido ecosystem, and how the Japanese company capitalised on them.

Shiseido has been on a digital transformation journey since 2016 to revolutionise its customers’ decision-making journey. Ms Ong said the company is cognisant of the need to use technology mindfully.

“There is a colossal cost of carbon on the environment when it comes to information technology,” she said.

Ms Ong said that there is a need to recalculate the hype around AI and how far we should explore its possibilities in the light of the carbon emissions from using this technology.

In designing for a sustainable future, she advocated for the responsible pursuit of digital technologies that would make meaningful differences to our lives.

The forum concluded with an award presentation to the winners of the inaugural ArchiFuture Design Challenge. This challenge, which will be an annual design competition organised by SUTD’s Architecture and Sustainable Design Pillar, focuses on a new narrative for the future of Singapore city.

Participants were tasked to design a building, of about 2,000 sq m to 4,000 sq m, at any chosen site in Singapore, in response to this year’s theme.

Twenty teams participated in the secondary school and junior college category, and 33 teams participated in the polytechnic category.

The top winner in the secondary school and junior college category is The Pack FR, whose team members consist of Tang Shiyin from Hwa Chong Institution and Poh Hui Yee from Eunoia Junior College.

The top winner in the polytechnic category is Ng Choon Yee from Nanyang Polytechnic.

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