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HDB structural engineer is building smart homes for the nation

Photo Caption: Ms Gan Zi Qing works with architects, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers to design Build-To-Order (BTO) developments from scratch.

By Marianne Tan

Since she started working from home, Ms Gan Zi Qing, a civil and structural engineer with the Housing Development Board (HDB)’s Building & Research Institute (BRI), has had to get creative with how she communicates with her colleagues on projects, which often involve discussions that make reference to drawings and sketches.

“We have to find ways to convey these image-based ideas across (to one another),” she explains. “We have used PDF, PowerPoint, AutoCAD and other drawing and annotation tools to send these sketches.”

The disruptions took some getting used to, but navigating challenges is all in a day’s work.

As part of the team at BRI, Ms Gan works closely with people from different disciplines such as architects, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers to plan and design Build-To-Order (BTO) developments from scratch. 

Even in a field that relies heavily on technical knowledge, coordination and communication are key, especially in large-scale, multi-stakeholder projects like the Tengah Town BTO project she was most recently involved in.

“In order to be a good structural engineer, you need to know much more than the right way to do the calculations and analysis,” she says. “You also need to consider how your structures complement and affect the design of the other disciplines, and how to convey your ideas and requirements in a way that appeals to others.” 

Through these projects, design concepts such as an elevated green linkway and a central cooling system were brought to fruition in Tengah Town, touted to be Singapore’s first smart and sustainable town with green features and smart technologies.


Becoming a “good” engineer

It was during Ms Gan’s four-year civil engineering course at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, under the HDB Undergraduate Scholarship, where she gained a better appreciation of her field of study and its importance in the wider ecosystem.

She recounts the time when a professor reminded her and another student that he was there to “teach (them) to be good engineers, not to pass the exams”. “That incident made a deep impression and stuck with me throughout my time in university. It inspired me to change my mindset towards studying.”

This mindset is now serving her well as she works towards becoming a better engineer, regardless of the challenges that the pandemic has brought. 

“Working from home has been viable for some time now; all the tools that we are using have been around for a decade or so. I believe that in the future when new technology and new possibilities open up, we will be citing this Covid-19-induced progress as an example of how sometimes, we just need to take that leap of faith.”

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