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Aerotropolis: Learnings from the Jewel Changi

Mr Wong Heang Fine, Surbana Jurong Group CEO, was recently a keynote speaker at ISCA’s annual conference. Mr Wong shared insights into how Singapore has leveraged sustainable urban planning to drive high standards of living and a competitive economy. He also highlighted the concept of an aerotropolis – a city developed around an airport. In this article, he discusses the principles of sustainable infrastructure as well as lessons learnt and shared.

Key Principles of Sustainable Infrastructure 

The infrastructure sector is accelerating as governments invest in infrastructure to counteract sluggish economic growth. It’s our responsibility to ensure that infrastructure meets not only the functional requirements of today but also the social and economic values, and considerations of tomorrow.

Great infrastructure projects reflect three key principles, all of which are underpinned by environmental conditions:

Principle 1: Planning for communities: Contributing to a holistic living environment

Principle 2: Planning for a business ecology: Creating an environment attractive to investment and conducive to business

Principle 3: Strong governance and follow through: Government supParaiport, localization, driving efficiencies

Sustainable infrastructure projects do not stand alone. They must work with strong urban planning, vibrant research and development, and most importantly long-term government policies that can have a meaningful impact on improving the quality of life for people using the infrastructure.

A Paradigm Shift In The Aviation Industry 

More than half the world’s population now live in urban environments, and a large proportion of the world’s populations will be living in megacities. Air travel and airport hubs become important links in this network of cities. The global aviation industry is experiencing a paradigm shift, with airports evolving from a transportation hub to become an aerotropolis – a city built around an airport.

Perhaps one of the best-known examples of this is Changi Airport, the world’s most-awarded airport. This has been achieved through careful zoning and extremely detailed planning, integrating the airport development with that of the city to manage noise, traffic congestion and other impacts.

Surbana Jurong has played a pivotal role in the development and reclamation of the land which Changi Airport now sits on. In addition, terminal 4 building has just been completed and are heavily involved in the design of the new terminal 5 building.

Learning From the Jewel Changi 

Globally there is a shortage of airports, particularly in Asia and Australasia. At the same time, cities are by necessity becoming more and more compact, with available land an ever-scarcer resource.

This means that each square meter of land must be carefully planned and utilised efficiently. Every area must have economic, social and environmental value.

The recent S$1.7 billion Jewel development at Changi Airport is an excellent example of unlocking the value of land. An on-grade car park below the air traffic control tower was transformed into a mega entertainment and retail complex with five underground levels and 280 shops.

In addition to expanding the capacity of Changi Terminal 1 by an extra three million passengers a year, Jewel was designed to be an iconic sustainable building.


For example, the extensive greenery improves indoor air quality and is maintained through a very energy-efficient chiller plant system. The innovative air conditioning system uses state of the art technology to target the cooling of human-occupied zones.


In fact, Surbana Jurong was instrumental in helping the Contractor save significantly on the structural costs of the building by applying efficient design and value engineering.

Australian cities are experiencing unprecedented population growth, and the government has already recognised the role of airports in sustainable cities. More than $20 billion of investments are earmarked for Australian airports over the next 10 years, including the construction of Western Sydney Airport, a planned aerotropolis.

In addition to technical expertise, Surbana Jurong believe good political stamina, social infrastructure, environmental considerations and economic planning are essential to developing an air hub that can compete on the international stage and drive economic growth.