Of Machu Picchu, Inconvenient Truths and the Future of Sustainable Built Environments

An interview with Ar. Tai Lee Siang, Executive Director, Building and Construction Authority

An interview with Ar. Tai Lee Siang, Executive Director, Building and Construction Authority

We catch up with Ar. Tai Lee Siang to hear his views on the sustainability movement and how IBEC hopes to provide “Building KITs” to delegates.


1.      You are very passionate about green buildings and sustainable cities. In an interview with ST in 2016, you said that watching “An Inconvenient Truth” made your deeply realize the severity of climate change. Between then and now, do you feel that the world has made any significant progress in addressing climate change?

“An Inconvenient Truth” was released in 2006. I am not sure if anyone today still remember this awakening film. By 2016, the passion and political will reached a climax and led to the global agreement during COP21. There was consensus to bring global warming to within 1.5-2 degree Celsius. Unfortunately, the subsequent 3 years witnessed a see-saw battle between the advocates and the deniers. My own sense is that progress was random. In 2020, Covid-19 brought about a total shock to the global systems. While the pandemic is to be regretted, there was a sudden surge for greater sustainability and circularity. Perhaps the existential threat forces global citizens to rethink their survival and therefore sustainability. However, this surge must be sustained lest people forget once the pandemic ends. 

2.      With Covid-19, governments and industries are currently more focused on economic recovery as an immediate concern. What advice can you share with your peers to ensure that the agenda of green and sustainable built environment doesn’t get pushed to the back burners?

Despite Covid-19, I am heartened to see that businesses are increasingly concerned about global warming. More enterprises are joining the declaration toward a circular future. There is no lack of determination to race towards a greener future. However, determination must now be matched by knowledge acquisition. Moving forward, we need to accelerate research and innovations to achieve the know-how towards net zero. 

3.      Can you share with us a personal anecdote of a building or development that has left a deep impact on your personally, either positively or negatively?

In 2017, I visited Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city in Southern Peru. It was a city built on a mountain ridge at least 2000m above sea level. Although it was abandoned mysteriously, it demonstrated how a race of people put together their building knowledge to develop a sustainable city that provided protection, food and shelter in an integrated manner. Despite the forest invasion, the city is still intact today. This is an excellent example of how we should think about future sustainable developments.

Photo of me, my wife and friends on Machu Picchu, 2017


4.      What is your favourite hobby and what do you gain out of it?

I have a few favourite hobbies. One is jogging and another is writing. I love jogging because it is a good form of physical exercise without high costs. All you need is a pair of good running shoes and you can see the world outside your home. It is also one way to spend time with your loved ones without all the distraction of the digital devices that we are so used to today. Writing is not exactly a hobby but more of a habit. I love to record things that I have done to help me re-learn and remember the lessons I have learnt in life. I would encourage everyone to pick up this hobby or habit as it keeps our minds clear and sober.

5.      How have you coped with the challenges that Covid-19 brought on?

I am aware that Covid-19 brought a lot of hardships on people and businesses. While I too face the same challenges experienced by everyone such as SHN, WFH and Circuit Breaker, I tried to look at the “silver lining of the clouds”. I think Covid-19 has brought families closer together as they spend more time at home instead. Covid-19 has seen movements within a city reduced to minimum thus clearing up the roads of congestion and resulted in cleaner air quality. With travel time saved, people have more time to reflect, relax and recover. Overall, Covid-19 is a global disaster but also a great global reset.

6.      As Chairperson of the IBEW Steering Committee, what are the top 3 things you hope delegates of IBEC will walk away with?

IBEW is a special event that brings together players of the built environment sector to learn and discuss the future of the industry. Therefore, the top 3 things I hope delegates of IBEC will walk away with a “Building KIT” for the future. I wish to use each letter of the word “KIT” to represent an aspect of this takeaway. “K” stands for Knowledge. Knowledge in a fast and evolving world is king. IBEC seeks to present the latest trend and knowledge. “I” stands for inspiration. Built environment industry is a highly challenging one and everyone needs continual inspiration at IBEC. Finally, “T” stands for Technologies. The built environment sector must embrace the latest technologies such as digitalisation, automation and robotics in order to transform. I hope that everyone can pick up “KIT” from this year’s and future years’ conference.

7.      IBEW is now in its 3rd edition although its history spans longer than that through SGBW. What is your vision for IBEW in 5 years?

My wish for IBEW is that it will become a meeting place for all participants to freely share and brainstorm about the future of the built environment sector. Today’s IBEC is still largely a conference format where speeches and discussion take place on stage or virtual platform. I foresee that with digitalisation, such interaction can take place digitally anywhere with anyone. A new format could emerge where ideas and connections can be forged to bring about maximum collaboration and networking.


For more information about IBEW, visit www.ibew.sg


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