Building and Construction Authority (BCA)
Features | National development

Ensuring The Quality
Of Singapore’s Built

The BCA Undergraduate Scholarship offers young talents an opportunity to contribute to the development of our safe, high-quality and sustainable built environment. We talk to BCA Scholar Kwa Chin Soon to gain insights into his geotechnical role and how he helps to champion the mission of BCA.

Our built environment refers to the human-made space which encompasses buildings, parks and neighbourhoods where people live, work and play. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA)'s vision is to have a future-ready built environment for Singapore. While maintaining the safety, sustainability and quality of our built environment, BCA strives to ensure that Singapore continues to be recognised as a unique and distinctive global city. This is achieved with the help of BCA’s team of civil engineering experts, which includes the Geotechnical Engineers.

Geotechnical engineers are experts in the behaviour of earth materials and their interaction with man-made elements such as foundations, flatwork and pipelines. Their work extends to evaluating the suitability of potential construction sites, assessing the ease with which soil can be excavated and ascertaining if materials at a site can support construction activities.

Kwa Chin Soon is one of BCA’s geotechnical engineers. He is also a BCA Local Undergraduate Scholar. Chin Soon chose to take up the scholarship with BCA because it gave him the opportunity to pursue his desired course of study and apply his theoretical knowledge in his career thereafter. “As the authority of our built environment, BCA regulates the industry and plays a huge role in leading and transforming Singapore’s built environment. In addition to applying my theoretical knowledge in BCA, I was largely attracted by the prospect of making a difference to Singapore’s built environment,” says Chin Soon.

Building a career

Chin Soon’s interest in civil engineering intensified when he moved into a developing town at the age of 15. He witnessed the construction of Compass Point and LRT tracks from what used to be bare land and was inspired to be a part of the creation and transformation of Singapore’s landscape. He tells us, “My interest in creating and transforming Singapore’s landscape from just bare land was ignited when I was young. My father was a carpenter and I often saw him creating large furniture from simple materials. This propelled me towards a profession in civil engineering.”

Today, Chin Soon’s job as a Senior Engineer in the Deep Excavation and Geotechnical Department sees him ensuring that both normal and geotechnical building works comply with high standards of safety. He explains that the challenges in processing Geotechnical Building Works include preventing damages that these works cause to adjacent structures, a complex task considering the dense nature of Singapore’s built environment. He prevents such issues by carrying out active monitoring and frequent site inspections to identify tell-tale signs that could lead to potential problems.

Kwa Chin Soon
BCA Local Undergraduate Scholar

Designation: Senior Engineer, Deep Excavation &
Geotechnical Department

Studied: Master of Engineering in Geotechnology,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US

Master of Social Science in Applied Economics,
National University of Singapore

Bachelor of Engineering (Civil),
National University of Singapore

He elaborates on his work scope, “Each project requires different construction work processes. These can range from a 10 metre deep excavation and a slope stability calculation to tunneling for an MRT project.

“As Singapore’s ground conditions vary spatially, good geological information is extremely important to ensure the design safety and quality for Singapore’s built environment.”

Bountiful experiences

Chin Soon’s most memorable experience in BCA was when he travelled to Norway with another government agency on a study trip, to observe Norway’s underground rock caverns used for various facilities. “It was indeed an eye-opening experience. We visited the Gjøvik Olympic Cavern Hall which is the largest public cavern hall in the world, and also got to interact with top professionals and academia in the rock mechanism and geology field,” Chin Soon reminisces.

In fact, with the BCA scholarship, Chin Soon’s adventures begun even before he started working in BCA. During his undergraduate years at the National University of Singapore (NUS), he participated in an overseas exchange programme in Sweden’s Lund University where he learned about the structural design and urban sustainability of Sweden’s built environment. He also embarked on several independent studies which include topics like sheet pile design, rock joint discontinuity assessment and the comparison of steel design between different structural codes.

One of his achievements as an undergraduate was to help his team come in first place amongst 42 other international teams in the Introducing and Demonstrating Earthquake Engineering Research’s (IDEERS) Earthquake Engineering Challenge. This was an International Earthquake modelling competition held in Taiwan.

"We visited the Gjøvik Olympic Cavern Hall which is the largest public cavern hall in the world, and also got to interact with top professionals and academia in the rock mechanism and geology field."

He shares, “My BCA scholarship gave me a great sense of purpose when I was studying. In fact, my desire to represent NUS in the earthquake engineering challenge was sparked by the motivation to apply the knowledge I gained through my independent studies!”

Following aspirations

Chin Soon acknowledges that with an evolving built environment, there is a need to constantly move forward. He believes that developing an underground city will help alleviate the problem of land scarcity in Singapore.

He elaborates, “Developing a city underground is definitely a feasible option, considering that Singapore will be able to achieve optimal land use and a solution to land scarcity. This option will also become more attractive as the opportunity cost of land use above the ground becomes higher.

“However, we would have to take into account more than just the engineering challenges. Our perspectives, social interactions and lifestyle when working in an underground city would be quite different and take a lot of getting used to.”

With that said, Chin Soon advises aspiring scholars to work towards determining the aspect of the built environment to which they want to apply their technical knowledge. He concludes, “Aspiring scholars must understand the role BCA plays in the wider built environment, and think about which aspect of the built environment their passion truly lies in order to stand out from the competition.”