Benchmarking Study and Establishment of Guidelines for Underground Space Planning illustration; Benchmarking Study and Establishment of Guidelines for Underground Space Planning illustration;

Benchmarking Study and Establishment of Guidelines for Underground Space Planning, Singapore

Optimising underground space in land-scarce Singapore

To meet the many and growing needs of Singapore’s urban environment, planners are taking a closer look at ways to develop underground spaces to overcome the issue of land scarcity. Led by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the objective is to ensure the efficient and coordinated use of its finite and valuable underground resource. In the process of moving infrastructure below, above-ground land can be freed up for people-centric activities such as housing, community uses and greenery.

Arup was commissioned by the URA in 2014 to conduct a global benchmarking study to explore international best practices in underground space planning and management. We led a team comprising architects, economists, cost consultants and academics and delivered the project over two years and in three phases. The team compared Singapore’s use of underground space against a number of cities; established guidelines to optimise underground development; and proposed a format for Singapore’s underground masterplan. This study has provided key recommendations on the country’s strategic framework and decisions on its future use of underground spaces.

Download a summary of our study here.

Project Summary


10 detailed guidelines on underground space planning and management

28total number of locations assessed in this study

10major cities benchmarked

Understanding the global subterranean landscape

In the first phase of the study, Arup quantitatively and qualitatively assessed locations around the world recognised for their extensive developments in underground space planning, management and implementation. For the comparative study, the team benchmarked Singapore against 10 cities including Beijing, Helsinki, Hong Kong, London, Montréal, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo.

Benchmarking Study and Establishment of Guidelines for Underground Space Planning illustration Benchmarking Study and Establishment of Guidelines for Underground Space Planning illustration
Arup benchmarked Singapore against cities recognised as world leaders in underground development.

Focussing on four key areas – basements and Underground Pedestrian Networks (UPNs), caverns, utility plant and infrastructure networks – our team identified international best practices and understood the needs of various stakeholders in the built environment such as planners and developers. This determined gaps and needs in Singapore’s current practices. It also informed the team’s detailed recommendations on the way the city-state plans, manages and develops its subterranean spaces in the future. 

It was a privilege to lead this international study on underground development. Based on global best practices, we were able to uncover and refine the planning, management and use of underground space in Singapore. These lessons also served and facilitated a conversation on the way different stakeholders can come together to better manage and utilise this valuable resource. ”

Tan Yoong Heng Singapore Office Leader

Impacting Singapore’s future underground masterplan

The study identified key areas for effective underground land-use planning, and areas that required further investigation. One recommendation we made was to create and maintain a central data bank of complete, accurate and up-to-date information covering geology and existing and proposed underground development. This would reduce the uncertainty around subterranean planning, management and construction for stakeholders. Like in Tokyo and Montréal, strengthening Public-Private-Partnerships can also encourage the built environment industry to take on underground projects despite higher costs and risks involved.


This was an exciting project to work on because of its scope and scale, and its potential impact on future development in Singapore. While challenging with the number of stakeholders involved, collaborating with diverse teams across industries and academia was also a highlight of the project and really enriched the outcomes of the study. ”

Peter Stones portrait Peter Stones

Findings from the study were also foundational to developing an underground masterplan for detailed district planning guiding large scale and plot-specific developments. As a next step in Singapore’s development of subterranean spaces, the URA aims to release an underground masterplan for pilot areas in 2019. These enhanced planning and management strategies to build below the ground offers exciting opportunities to improve the quality of Singapore’s future living environment.