MediaCorp Channel News Asia

FUTURE SPACE - a special 2-part programme on urban planning that featured the Underground Ammunition Facility (UAF) as an innovative solution to optimise land in Singapore

The transcripts of the news reporting are included below Broadcast on 17 November 2001 - 10.30 pm

In July, the Defence Science & Technology Agency unveilled the Underground Ammunition Facility or UAF – the first of its kind here.

Built beneath a disused quarry in Mandai, the UAF represents a major milestone in civil engineering. The facility consists of a extensive network of 100-metre long chambers like this one. Excavated from granite dating back some 220 million years, geologists say that nearly one third of Singapore rests on a major granite formation considered ideal for underground construction.

But while the potential for such projects is enormous, it remains largely untapped. One reason: the hefty price tag that comes with it. The UAF costs an estimated $36 million*, some 15% more if it was built above ground. But according to developers, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

BG Pang Hee Hon, MINDEF

“This facility will allows us the kind of space to do the sorting of ammunition as well as the stacking of ammunition in the right configuration. So that when it reaches the soldiers on the ground, there is no need for them to do all those tedious sorting themselves. This is very different from an aboveground facility in the sense that this underground facility is of an integrated design, from how to receive the ammunition, store the ammunition, and ultimately how to distribute the ammunition."

In addition, the geological and engineering lessons leant from the UAF project has proven to be extremely valuable on a national scale.

Guah Eng Hock, Project Engineer, DSTA

"I think that with the successful development of the UAF, we have actually built up the in-country capability in cavern design and construction. We have definitely proven that it is possible to go underground."

In terms of land use, building the facility underground has allowed the defence ministry to free up the land for other use.

Lim Chee Hiong, Deputy Director, DSTA

“The savings in land was achieved and we did achieve a land savings of 300 hectares of land, which is about 400 football fields or about half the size of Pasir Ris New Town. “

Leading the way for other underground facilities

The success of the UAF has sparked interest in other organisations to build more underground facilities. One of them is JTC Corporation.

Lee Soon Eng, Director, Specialised Parks Devt, JTC Corporation

“We are looking at building underground caverns, particularly for oil storage. In Jurong Island, we are conducting some studies together with the universities like NTU to see and explore the underground use of Jurong Island. Currently, we have a big tank at the surface storing such liquids. If we are able to store this below ground, we can free up a lot of space. Not to mention the safety aspects of storing chemicals and oil underground. There is a lot of potential there. Besides storing such liquids, we can also explore into the future to have storage of historical materials, amentities such as restaurants and even production space.

The Environment ministry is also proposing to build an underground sewage system, to replace 6 ground level treatment plants. When approved, the project will free 290 hectares of land, more than half of Ang Mo Kio Town. And don’t be surprised if the next concert you attend is in an underground concert hall. Enclosed spaces such as caverns offer superior acoustics that makes such concert halls a popular feature in some European and American cities.

Changing the people's mindsets of underground developments

Although more underground facilities are likely to be built in the next few years, experts say demand will be tampered.

Michael Goh, Director, Physical Planning, URA

“We have an untapped resource there but there is a cost to it. And it is not popular for certain uses. For example, it may be difficult to put residential underground because there is a lack of windows and sunlight.”

As expected, many Singaporeans aren’t too excited about the prospect of living in underground homes.

Although sunlight and fresh air may be hard to come by in underground environment today, the design and technology is expected to change all that in time. The real challenge will be more likely to changing people’s mindsets.

Guah Eng Hock, Project Engineer, DSTA

“We need to do a little bit of education and convincing people that underground environment is almost the same as when you are shopping in basements. You know you are also underground with all the confined space around you. There is not much of a difference in this aspect. “

DSTA note : * The $36 million refers to the cost of excavation.

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