The skies cleared on a rainy, humid morning in Singapore on Wednesday for the opening of the SkyLab, a new 4.5 million Singapore dollar ($3.17 million) research laboratory atop the high-rise headquarters of the city-state’s Building Construction Authority (BCA). The rotatable facility, which is 132 square meters (1,421 square feet) and is outfitted with more than 200 sensors, is the first of its kind in the region and is designed to test building systems’ performance in the tropics. It is modeled after a similar facility at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), in California, the Facility for Low Energy Experiments in Buildings (FLEXLab), which runs comparable tests in and for a more moderate climate. (ARCHITECT was invited by the BCA to attend the opening event.)
“LBNL and FLEXLab can represent and test under the climate zones for all the continental U.S. but we are latitude-constrained: We can’t move north or south,” Cindy Regnier, FLEXLab executive manager who worked with the BCA team on the SkyLab, told ARCHITECT last year. “The rotating test bed is unique in that we can simulate a little bit of that but not to the same degree. We can’t change the outdoor environment. So what we have here is a great partnership between studies that are related to the U.S. climates and then the hot, tropical, humid climate at a different latitude, which is much more challenging.”
The SkyLab test bed sits on a 16-meter-diameter (52.5-foot-diameter) platform that is fully rotatable for performing experiments at different orientations and eliminating the need for multiple, static facings. Inside, two twin compartments measuring 40 meters square (430.5 feet square) each simulate an office environment for testing and benchmarking plug-and-play products and systems, including facades, solar-shading, HVAC, daylighting, electric lighting, and building controls.
So far, the SkyLab’s research schedule is booked through the end of 2018. The first project in the system is being conducted jointly by the BCA, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and LBNL to investigate the energy efficiency of key façade, HVAC, daylighting, and electric lighting technologies in application in the tropics.
Also in the pipeline are tests of active chilled beam technology and a brushless DC fan coil unit for cooling, thermochromic glazing, and the use of cool-surface technology to mitigate urban heat island effect. Research partners include: NTU, Quantum Automation, Automated Lifestyle, National Instruments, Fläkt Woods, Daikin Airconditioning, and Lutron Electronics.
Situated atop a high-rise in the densely constructed, 277-square-mile city-state, the SkyLab hopes to test building products and systems that will be used toward Singapore's efforts to green its new and existing building stock. In 2005, the BCA launched its Green Mark building rating system, which functions much like LEED but focuses on managing the use of mechanical cooling in a region that experiences a hot, humid climate year-round as well as implementing passive-design strategies such as natural ventilation, east-west building-axis orientation, and daylighting, in Singapore and throughout the tropics and sub-tropics.
So far, nearly one-third of the city-state's total gross floor area—more than 83 million square meters—is certified under the Green Mark scheme and subject to annual post-occupancy energy audits. The BCA intends to convert or build more than 80 percent of its current and new building stock to Green Mark minimum standards by 2030. Part of that effort includes developing and implementing sustainable design strategies to create positive-energy low-rises (most are existing buildings, not new, and are up to four stories in height), zero-energy mid-rises (seven to 12 stories, and a mark that the BCA has yet to achieve), and low-energy high-rises (more than 12 stories and perhaps the most significant of the three building types given Singapore's population density).
"We really got the public sector to walk the walk," BCA CEO John Keung said in a press conference with journalists this week, citing his administration's work to implement Green Mark in public buildings with a mix of legislation and incentives to motivate private developers to follow suit.
Read ARCHITECT’s additional coverage of the SkyLab here.