Chris Tan on Jewel Changi Airport

29 Jul 2019

Chris Tan, Director, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, shares with Southeast Asia Building (SEAB) the design approach, construction challenges and green features of Jewel Changi Airport

SEAB: The Jewel Changi Airport (Jewel) has finally opened after over four years of design and construction. As an architect who was directly involved in the Jewel, can you briefly share with us your experience of working on the project?

CHRIS: It is indeed an honour for RSP to be the executive architect and civil & structural engineer for an iconic project like Jewel which has captured the attention of the world. To successfully complete the project within the stipulated time frame, witness the plans come to fruition, and see the communities – whether locals or foreigners, young or old – enjoying the spaces which we have played a part in creating, have been truly rewarding.

Jewel is an architecture marvel with one-of-its-kind design features, hence its challenges are also atypical. Achieving the complex geometry of the curved roof and continuous diagrid structure of the facade which is made of more than 9,000 pieces of glass panels, about 18,000 pieces of steel beams and over 6,000 steel nodes is an architecture and engineering feat in itself.

SEAB: The Jewel is designed by a consortium comprising of Safdie Architects, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers and Benoy. What role did RSP play in the project?

CHRIS: RSP is the executive architect and civil & structural engineer for Jewel. The role encompasses the statutory, contractual, and design development efforts, working in collaboration with Safdie Architects. We were also entrusted to administer the building contract between the client and main contractor.

RSP’s vigilant planning of partial TOP phases as well as the support and commitment from the team has contributed to the timely completion of Jewel. Construction of Jewel impacts airport operations and the road network in the vicinity of Jewel; hence the project cannot be completed in one simple phase, but in 15 phases. The partial TOP phases were required to minimise disruption to airport operations during construction. RSP also planned the roadmap for the various clearances and timeline for authorities’ inspections.

To establish the benchmark for quality and workmanship control, RSP required the contractors to construct full-scale mock-ups of key design elements off site. It was done to establish the visual intent, quality and workmanship of the contractors, and to give them first-hand experience of how to put things together.

A key success factor for the completion of Jewel was the close collaboration with the client, consultants and contractors over the duration of the project and the commitment to deliver their best for Jewel.

To achieve the design vision of Jewel, RSP worked collaboratively with the other consultants as a team to resolve challenges and provide solutions which are both aesthetic driven as well as practical and safe. This meant active consultations with authorities and continuous discussions with Safdie Architects for compliant and integrated solutions.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) was also an invaluable tool to successfully completing Jewel, and the entire project team was committed to using BIM from the outset.

SEAB: What are the green or sustainable features of the Jewel?

CHRIS: The extensive greenery and vertical green walls are prominent features of Jewel, and echo Singapore’s ‘city in a garden’ reputation. The total amount of space devoted to landscaping in Jewel measures some 21,100 square metres.

Jewel’s facade is made of high performance, triple Low-E architectural glass with the dual ability to transmit light to enable the vast landscaping in Jewel to thrive, and reduce heat to ensure sustainable cooling of the complex’s interior. Each piece of glass has a 16-mm air gap to insulate against external noise emitted from aircraft.

Rainwater funneled into the Rain Vortex is harvested for building services and landscape irrigation systems – another sustainable feature of Jewel.