Speech by President of Singapore Institute of Architects, Mr Theodore Chan

29 Aug 2012

Professor Chong Tow Chong

Distinguished guests

Fellow architects

A very good morning to you and thank you SUTD for organising and inviting SIA to this momentous occasion; the signing of the MOU between SIA and SUTD.

I say momentous because in many ways, the signing of this MOU is a ‘homecoming’ of sorts for us at SIA, for as early as in the 1990’s, SIA (through the foresight of our then-council led by past president and Gold Medallist Architect, Mr Tay Kheng Soon) had mooted the idea for a 2nd architectural school to the authorities.A school that would give an alternative approach to architectural education and champion the importance of technology in architectural design. And here we are, some 20 odd years later, signing this MOU with such a school.

The advent of IT in architectural practice, while it has created tremendous leaps in productivity and design, has not been without ill side effects. One such ill side effect is that it has somewhat removed the tactile intuition in design (very much present in hand-sketching of ideas, that were ever present in the union of mind and pencil of the designer.Those of us from that generation of designers know exactly what I mean). So while the computer has empowered architects to visualise and illustrate the most complex of forms never dreamt of before…(and I sometimes wonder if the architects are designing the forms or has the computer taken over our design sensibilities) it has also seduced many a young designer architect-wannabe into thinking that architecture is primarily about form-making.If we let this trend go unchecked, our noble profession of Architect Master-Builder is in danger of being relegated to that of graphic design. It’s time we remind ourselves of the other 90% of our craft that makes us master-builders, technology and practice… the stuff that turns design dreams into reality, and not nightmares.

Here, I am reminded of a conversation I had with one of the lead design architects of Japan’s Shimizu Corporation in a recent visit to their new Tokyo HQ building (if ever in Tokyo, I encourage you to visit this building… a poetic testimony to sustainable architectural design and beauty). He told me that the Japanese have a very high regard for making things and crafting objects. You are a craftsman first, then a designer… it’s never the other way round… and this philosophy is the key reason why the Japanese have a high regard for their architectural and construction industry and excel in both. 

So in this respect, SIA, in keeping with SUTD’s ethos of cross-discipline training, hopes that through its programmes with SUTD, will infuse a much needed sense and appreciation for realism in architecture among their undergraduates, sow seeds of understanding and appreciation of practice, design craftsmanship and technology in design, in their pursuit of excellence in architecture, sustainable design and the built-environment. 

SIA will endeavour to mentor SUTD students through our joint professional courses and internship programmes, which we intend to make palatable for young enquiring minds, so that the rigour of practice, technology and craftsmanship will be appreciated by them as an integral part of architectural education, with the aim of empowering them to be industry-ready. Ultimately making a meaningful contribution to society at large, for only when beauty and technology co-exists in harmony, will a true art-science evolve into a true architecture.

So I encourage all ASD students to reach out to the SIA as much as we reach out to you, engage us, take the time and effort to take part in our programmes. I assure you, you will not regret it.You are important to us because you are the future, you are the succession, you are the continuance of architecture in Singapore.

It leaves now to thank two individuals from SUTD, who helped initiate this alliance, Bee Lok and Thomas, fellow architects, thank you.Without your passion, introduction and intervention, this momentous occasion would not be possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all.