Of Buildings and Beings: Making an Impact on the World

3 January 2022 — What goes into the designing of a building? Most laymen might consider the intended use of the building, as well as site characteristics, safety, durability, efficiency, and the comfort of occupants. However, Prof Chandra Sekhar, Programme Director of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Master of Science (Building Performance and Sustainability) (MSc BPS) programme, says building design must account for a varied mix of considerations related to buildings and the beings within.

Prof Sekhar, who has been in the built environment sector for more than 30 years, has seen how the industry and its professionals have had to evolve to keep pace with the growth of knowledge and understanding across various fields.

Prof Chandra Sekhar

Prof Chandra Sekhar

Pandemics, climate change, sustainability, and natural disasters such as floods and forest fires, and even the haze, have all impacted the thinking behind what makes a “good” building. Of late, it has begun to imply the adoption of an integrated approach to address multiple aspects, from construction and human requirements to environmental and sustainability issues.

Prof Sekhar brings up as an example air conditioning in buildings. “In the past, air conditioning in the tropics meant that the building we entered had to be cold—sometimes to the extreme. Today, our expectation is that air conditioning should provide comfort in all periods; warm or cold weather. It would also have to ensure adequate ventilation to achieve good Indoor Air Quality. We would need to achieve this in a more energy-efficient way, such that the people within the building are still provided equal comfort, but at a reduced energy consumption and impact on the overall environment.”

Hands-On Learning, Real World Experiences
Prof Sekhar strives to incorporate learning from various other fields into the MSc BPS programme, to provide students with the knowledge and understanding that they need to come up with better-rounded built environment solutions which  will meet the escalating expectations of an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. Thus Energy Efficiency, Human Health and Well-being, Digitalisation, Resiliency and Sustainability are important features that are integrated into the MSc BPS curriculum.


True to the theme in marrying sustainability with building performance, the NUS School of Design and Environment 4 (SDE4) is the first building in Southeast Asia to be awarded the stringent Zero Energy Certification by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), one of the world’s most prestigious sustainability organisations.

There are various pathways toward gaining the skills and knowledge required to succeed in the built environment and sustainability sector, including short courses. However, when it comes to developing an in-depth skillset, Prof Sekhar believes the best method is still hands-on learning.

“An important feature of the MSc BPS programme has to do with the skillset that graduates acquire, the ability to evaluate how good a building is, in terms of its performance. There are certain skillsets specifically targeted at these evaluations, and these come through the use of simulation tools.”

A key part of the MSc BPS programme is the module BPS5112 Green Building Integration and Evaluation Studio, which runs over Semesters 1 & 2. As part of the module, students are assigned group projects. Towards the end of the module, they present their work to a panel of invited judges who comprise established professionals from various areas of the built environment industry. These experts have shared feedback that the work produced by the students have been excellent, and can sometimes be comparable to the work of seasoned professionals.

Prof Sekhar stresses the importance of being able to translate classroom learning into real-world application. “For instance, our students take the BPS5112 studio-based module, which has them using the theoretical and practical aspects of building performance and detailed design development, bringing sustainable design concepts and elements to the forefront. It allows the use of building evaluation tools to diagnose some of the issues that occur as part of the design development process. Furthermore, in the other modules, they have opportunities to do measurements in actual building field studies and conduct evaluations of building performance in terms of energy consumption and indoor environmental quality performance. Data-driven modelling and analytics in the domain of Smart Buildings is yet another unique feature of project work in some of the modules.”


SDE4 has won multiple awards for its green design and architecture. Read more on the awards and accolades in this link

“These things would not be possible with short courses and online programmes,” Prof Sekhar explains. “It is a valuable opportunity offered by the MSc BPS programme that makes it stand above other programmes.”

Building on the Future
The quality of the NUS MSc BPS programme and its graduates is well-acknowledged not only by industry but also by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), which has placed NUS sixth in the world for Architecture & Built Environment in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021.

“It motivates us to achieve better performance for the coming years,” Prof Sekhar says of the programme’s reputation.

Designed to meet the needs of various types of professionals working in the built environment industry, the MSc BPS boasts relatively open admissions criteria. This makes sense, since students not only come from diverse backgrounds, but also go on to take up a wide range of roles in the industry after graduation. The built environment sector is one that changes frequently, and the people who work in this area must be able to combine the disciplines of advanced architecture, engineering and social sciences in order to adapt.

To stay abreast, the faculty for the MSc BPS programme continue to seek improvement in their professional and technical knowledge, their years of experience notwithstanding. They engage in professional activities and technical societies, conduct research, and publish their work in journals in the built environment domain. These activities keep the lecturers on their toes, and are an indicator of the levels of interest, personal commitment as well as passion among the staff that have earned the MSc BPS programme recognition as one of the world’s best.

At the heart of it, the MSc BPS programme trains built environment professionals who can synergise the needs of a building’s users and occupants, with the impact that it will inevitably have on the environment. While the sustainability of a building may not have a direct effect on the immediate needs of the people within, its importance to humanity and the world in the long term cannot be overstated. For this reason, the programme will continue to track the issues that humanity, not just individuals, will face in time to come—so that its graduates can design and maintain buildings that are not only high-performing, but also sustainable. As long as such buildings remain standing, they can perhaps play a role in saving the earth for future generations.

Photos of SDE4 were taken and provided by Rory Gardiner.

13 January 2022