Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Credit: Timothy Hursley

+ Development cycles in cities like Singapore and London are converging in the face of different factors that speed up and slow down projects.

Having lived and worked in both Singapore and London, I’ve experienced first-hand the very different pace of projects inside and outside Asia – and the benefits and drawbacks this brings.

Should cities like Singapore be building more slowly? Should cities like London be building faster? I think the answer to both is a cautious “yes” and I believe this is what will happen as development cycles converge.

First, let’s look at an example of the different rates of development. In London, The Leadenhall Building (also known as The Cheesegrater) took more than nine years from inception to completion. But in Singapore, Marina Bay Sands includes three towers and took just under four years.

What explains the difference? For one thing, developments in Singapore are often kick-started by government land sales. These come with clearly defined parcels of land and planning guidance, and sometimes strict deadlines for the completion of development.

I think it’s also fair to say that until recently buildings in places like Singapore and Hong Kong have often been expected to last only a few decades as increasing the density of development in central business districts was uppermost in the cities’ priorities.

Now that development is about as dense as it can be, the emphasis has shifted to increasing the design life of buildings and ensuring they’re flexible for the future. Longer design lives have long been an aspect of building designs in London, adaptability to the future has been a concern for many years. Combined with the increased importance of sustainability, this leads to a more complex design – and so a longer design phase.

Global corporations also want assurances that their office buildings in different parts of the world will offer the same standards of security, the same quality of internal environment and common maintenance and infrastructure regimes.

Over my 12 years in Singapore there was an increasing feeling, I think, that communities didn’t want the city landscape to change so quickly. This leads to a more responsive and considered planning process.

So I think development cycles in Singapore will slow down to respond to these important drivers. In London, I believe they’re speeding up. Even in the last couple of months, I’ve seen project programmes becoming more aggressive.

One reason is that developers are simply asking design teams to move through architectural design stages faster. Another is earlier contractor involvement, with contractors taking on less detailed designs. This mirrors the way design-and-build is used to speed up cycles in Asia. But it also carries risks for designers and engineers who are legally responsible for the design. 

Ultimately, however, if you can improve development cycles then the overall accommodation offered by a city improves and helps keep it fresh.