SJ coastal engineer makes history: Pioneer of poldering in Singapore awarded Dutch Knighthood

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(Above) Er Chia Way Seng was conferred the award “Ridder in de Orde van Orange-Nassau” on King’s Day of the Netherlands on 27 April.  In English, the award is known as “Knight in The Order of Orange-Nassau”. (Below) On behalf of the King of the Netherlands, Her Excellency Ms. Margriet Vonno, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, conferred the knighthood to Mr Chia.

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A pioneer of the transformative polder program in Singapore’s reclamation history has achieved the rare honour of being awarded Dutch knighthood. 

Engineer Chia Way Seng was awarded Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau, conferred on those with longstanding meritorious service to society on King’s Day, the Dutch National Day which fell on 27 April 2022. Mr. Chia was knighted in recognition of his contribution to raising awareness of the polder technique in reclaiming land from the sea. He is amongst 3,500 recipients of the Dutch knighthood worldwide.

Mr Chia is Director of Reclamation from Surbana Jurong Group’s Coastal Engineering team and is a veteran hydraulic engineer with over 30 years of experience in coastal engineering.

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(Above) Mr. Chia wearing the insignia of the Knight in The Order of Orange-Nassau that he received. The Order of Orange-Nassau is awarded for longstanding meritorious service to society, the State, or the Royal House of the Netherlands.

A ‘bridge’ between Singapore and the Netherlands

Mr Chia worked with Singapore’s Housing & Development Board (HDB) before joining Surbana Corporation in 2003 and was named Director of Reclamation in 2006. He has worked closely with HDB, as well as the Dutch advisors and contractors since the start of the polder program. He is currently an advisor to the coastal engineering team managing the polder construction in Pulau Tekong. 

Mr Chia’s knowledge, skills, and close ties with the Dutch over 20 years have helped to nurture a strong relationship and network between researchers, designers, consultants, and contractors involved in the complex project.

Mr Chia said, “I am part of a wider team and this award has taken me by surprise. The Dutch are very knowledgeable and focused and I am glad to have been a bridge between two cultures, contributing to an important part of Singapore’s nation-building.” 

He earned a master’s degree in hydraulic engineering from 1999 to 2001 at the renowned International Hydraulic Engineering Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, the largest international graduate water education facility in the world. 

A positive influence
Professor Emeritus Kees d’Angremond, an alumnus of the Delft Institute, nominated Mr. Chia for the award a year ago. He said “Way Seng has consistently assisted in bridging the cultural gap between the Dutch and the Singapore water world. In this way, he contributed not only to the acceptance of the polder concept in Singapore but also resolved many potential misunderstandings between all involved. Time and again he managed every newcomer in the polder project to feel at home in Singapore.”

Mr Loh Yan Hui, the CEO and Global Lead of SJ Aviation, who also worked with Mr. Chia on the polder project on Pulau Tekong, said that Mr. Chia has made significant contributions to the merging of Dutch and Singapore expertise in the field of polder design and hydraulic engineering. “My heartiest congratulations to Way Seng for being the first Singaporean to be conferred this prestigious royal honors!” he said.

Mr Seah Kim Huah, Surbana Jurong’s Deputy CEO, Infrastructure, who has worked with Way Seng for 35 years, said “Way Seng is ever helpful by nature and goes out of his way to bridge the differences in any arguments to come out with a win-win solution for all.” 

A project to build polders at Pulau Tekong is more than halfway complete and is scheduled to complete by the end of 2024. Polders are large tracts of lowland that are reclaimed from the sea by the construction of dykes or channels that prevent the lowland from coming into contact with the sea.

Read more on The Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau.

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