Sunday, December 29, 2013

Engineer floats chilli crab restaurant idea

Dec 29, 2013

By Chang Ai-lien Senior Correspondent

Civil engineer Wang Chien Ming was feasting on a steaming plate of chilli crab when he was inspired to build a floating crab restaurant.

Professor Wang, 56, who is the director of the engineering science and global engineering programmes at the National University of Singapore, is an expert in Very Large Floating Structures (VLFS) - a structural technology that includes the platform used in National Day Parade performances.

Describing his plans, he suggested that "it would be an act of global positioning since Singapore is world-famous for its chilli crab".

VLFS, characterised by their size and flexibility on water, harness the buoyancy of water to support themselves, and are unaffected by the water's depth or the nature of the seabed. They are also faster and cheaper to build compared with traditional land reclamation, and can be moved or dismantled with relative ease.

Although the science of such construction has ramped up only over the last 10 years or so, many such structures are already in place worldwide. Prof Wang's name is synonymous with VLFS technology in the region and he was the consultant for the Marina Bay floating platform.

He has collaborated with architects to draw up a blue print of the floating crab restaurant, complete with a claw-like extension into the sea that will serve as a mooring area for boats. Other features include a ramp linking the eatery to shore, function rooms and outdoor green areas.

With a gross floor area of 2,770 sq m (or the size of almost half a football pitch) and a seating capacity of 1,100, he believes that it could be the world's largest floating restaurant. He is now looking for investors.

Some notable examples of VLFS include a large floating ferry pier in Hiroshima, Japan; floating restaurants, convention and exhibition centres on the Han River in the South Korean capital Seoul; floating oil storage bases in Shirashima and Kamigoto in Japan; Norway's 1.2km Nordhordland Bridge, which lies over a 500m-deep fjord; and Seattle's Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge which, at 2.3km, is believed to be the world's longest floating bridge.

Prof Wang's studies have also shown that it is feasible to build floating petrol kiosks for ships at sea, and workers' quarters as high as six storeys. He believes that such options offer an attractive solution in land-scarce Singapore.

"There is a limit to land reclamation, especially since the process is getting more and more expensive due to lack of fill materials and large water depths," he said.

Structures such as a floating workers' dormitory would be very large, so people living there would hardly feel the motion of the waves, just like being on a very large ship moored in the harbour, he noted.

While going underground is viable for storage - such as the Jurong caverns for storing oil, VLFS could be ideal for residential and recreational purposes, he added.

"You can float anything, from flats, factories and container terminals to hotels and floating gardens. You can actually create an entire island using VLFS technology, and I believe this will be the next frontier for land-scarce Singapore," he noted.

"And the best part? You can dismantle it and move it anywhere you want."

Singapore is ideal for such projects as its seas are calm and it has the technology and skilled workforce to build such structures, he said.

Creative juices seem to be stimulated by Singapore's iconic chilli crab dish.

For instance, it was earlier reported that a safe, non-invasive method of surgery, using a new robotic device, was thought up by two professors here over a feast of chilli crab.

Agreeing, Prof Wang said: "It's only fitting that this dish inspires invention since it was dreamt up here too.

"As for the floating restaurant, the technology is there. We just need to implement it."

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