Engineering Homes of Tomorrow

Engineering Homes of Tomorrow

The growth of public housing in Singapore requires people who think many steps ahead. Always curious and determined when it comes to solving problems, HDB Scholar Lim Zhongyan relishes the challenge of building new generation housing as an engineer with the Housing and Development Board.

“In front of you are three light switches. Only one turns on the light downstairs. From where you stand, you cannot see the light and it makes no sound. You must determine which switch operates the light, but you can only go downstairs to check the light once. How do you figure out which switch activates the light?”

Since I was young, I have been intrigued by puzzles and brainteasers like this. I was also very interested in how the things around me worked. However, the use of the Internet was not as ubiquitous back then, and one could not just google the answer (which you probably might have done when thinking of the question above). There were nights when I refused to sleep until my curiosity was satisfied.

Considering my inclination to think outside of the box to solve problems, coupled with the fact that I like to tinker with things, it is perhaps no wonder that I decided to pursue Engineering in university. I picked Mechanical Engineering as it was the broadest field of Engineering, and I believed that it would give me the widest exposure and equip me with useful skills and knowledge for my future career.

I also made the decision to apply for the HDB Undergraduate Scholarship. You may ask, why HDB? The reason is simple. The intricacies of HDB’s work intrigued me. Travelling around Singapore, I would see public housing in almost every part of the island. Given the scale of work that HDB does, the organisation’s impact goes beyond the hard infrastructure to touch the lives of our residents.

Fast forward a few years, I am currently working at HDB’s Building & Research Institute, which was set up in September 2009 to spearhead Research & Development (R&D) efforts in building and environmental sustainability. Despite building more than 1 million flats and housing an entire nation, HDB does not rest on its laurels. We are always looking at what we can do better to build new generation housing and smart, sustainable towns. I share this belief that we are only limited by what we can imagine. And that is what excites me and drives me at work!

As an R&D engineer with HDB, I look at the range of challenges faced by the organisation and undertake R&D efforts to implement innovative urban solutions to create a more eco-friendly and higher quality living environment. These urban solutions are first carefully tested in our Master Laboratory (Centre of Building Research @ Woodlands) and Living Laboratories (e.g. Punggol and Yuhua). Upon successful testing and positive feedback from stakeholders, these solutions are then finally rolled out for wide-scale implementation in HDB estates across the island. The satisfaction that one can feel then is akin to seeing your art piece being featured in an exhibition gallery, albeit on a very large scale! The knowledge that my work can impact the lives of so many residents makes the hard work all the more worthwhile.

In Singapore’s effort to build a Smart Nation, HDB leads in the creation of a Smart Urban Habitat, leveraging smart technologies to create a more liveable, sustainable, and safe living environment for HDB residents. Since becoming a part of this journey, my work has evolved to include harnessing the power of data and state-of-the-art technologies, such as 3D Geographic Information Systems and Urban Analytics, to identify special patterns and trends of the urban environment. Armed with these insights, we are able to further improve the way we plan and develop our estates.

However, things are not always simple or smooth-sailing. There will be challenges, and when it seems easier to just give up and move on, this famous quote would come to my mind:

‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.’ – Thomas Edison

The never-say-die attitude must live strongly in an engineer doing R&D. One needs to be creative and have the determination to forge on to see a seeded idea grow and be successfully implemented. It is thus crucial to be resilient, to be adaptable, and to be open and receptive to ideas.

It also helps that I had support and advice from various mentors (including many unofficial ones!) since I started work in HDB. The warmth and support that I continue to receive from colleagues also make HDB feel like my second home. As they say – teamwork makes the dream work!

Choosing to take up the HDB scholarship has opened up new possibilities for me. If you are considering a scholarship like I was, here’s what I propose – first, determine what you are interested in and what you are looking for in a career. Then, consider who you want to help and the kind of impact you wish to make. If you conclude that you are up to the challenge of contributing to Singapore’s public housing legacy, and look forward to gaining enriching experiences that come with the job, the HDB scholarship is for you. Trust me, I am an HDB engineer.

HDB Undergraduate Scholarship
Attained: Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore
Now: Senior Engineer, Building & Research Institute, Housing and Development Board
From: Anglo-Chinese Junior College