After being named as a ‘Designer of the Year’ in the President’s Design Award 2012, pioneering Singaporean architect Tan Cheng Siong shares insights into his five-decade-long career.
18 December, 2012
At the age of 75, Singaporean architecture veteran Tan Cheng Siong is still practicing with passion and energy.
Pandan Valley – the first condominium in Singapore
Since the 1960s, he has pioneered residential typologies in Singapore. His iconic projects include Pearl Bank Apartments and the Pandan Valley Condominium.
Later, upon the invitation of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone’s Planning Committee, he took his knowledge and experience to China. He had been travelling there since the 1980s with the intention of understanding the country’s urban condition.
Currently based in Shenzhen, he is now known as China’s ‘Father of Luxury Housing’.
Conrad Garden – the first super high-rise condominium in China
Tan founded Archynamics Architects in 1967 and Archurban Architects Planners in 1974. He remains the principal of the latter today.
In the words of the President’s Design Award (PDA) jury, Tan “has made many deep imprints on Singapore’s residential architecture.” His design for the Pearl Bank Apartments is today considered a beacon of Singapore’s super high-rise, high-density housing. His creation of community spaces for residents of the Pandan Valley Condominium is also considered a ‘first’ in the condominium housing typology.
Said the PDA jury, “His unwavering pursuit of architectural excellence makes him a role model for younger generations.”
Tan answered a few questions for Indesignlive.asia on the occasion of his win.
Jindu Han Palace – award-winning luxury residences with villas, fronting the Yangtze River
Archurban was the first Singaporean architecture firm to begin practicing in China (in 1994). What are some of the ways in which practicing in China differs now from your early days there?
Twenty years ago they were ‘open’ but had little to say. Ten years later they were still ‘open’, but then they liked to say something. Now they are also ‘open’ but they want all the say.
What are you most proud of with regard to your work in China?
My office and I introduced condominium housing and modern landscape design to China. We have been recognised as an innovative, responsible design office. We are known as the ‘Father of Luxury Housing’.
West Pearl China – Urban Office / Housing / Shopping Oasis
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced working in China?
Employing good local staff, selecting a reliable local design institute to team up with, and getting local clients to honour contracts. However, we have been lucky.
What, in your view, makes a good living environment? Are the factors the same now as when you first began doing residential work?
Architects design to serve the functional needs of the users. Architecture is also art and culture, and therefore must achieve values beyond the mundane and the practical. Today, people are more sophisticated, cities are maturing, better designs are needed, and therefore, architecture must connect all. In the past, everything was simpler to satisfy.
Pearlbank Apartments – the first super high-rise condominium in Singapore
Please reflect on the response of the industry and the public to Pearl Bank Apartments at the time of its completion. How have views of the building developed over time?
The architecture of a building is seldom understood unless explained. When completed, the public looked at it with awe and curiosity, but the initiated local and overseas professionals came to study and to learn from it. By and by, Pearl Bank became an icon and only the speculators and profiteers wanted to enbloc it.
What are some of the ‘lessons’ or insights gained from your early projects that you have carried with you through your career?
Housing architecture is the product of the modern urban era. Cities became very crowded, which raised many economic, social and health issues. Newly independent Singapore in the ’60s needed a stable workforce to man a planned city; hence low-cost housing was launched. At the people’s level, family, community and neighbourhood needs called for humanistic designs.
The lessons learnt in those early years have guided my whole career. The high standard set in public housing, super high-rise and condominium living has already been undermined by inflated market forces. There is a need to re-educate ourselves on the importance of a good built environment in urban living values.
Eco Office Terrace – “hanging gardens symbolise our aspiration for ecology”
What are your main concerns for the industry at the moment?
Singapore grew with low-cost housing, public housing, asset housing, super high-rise and condominiums. We cannot remain stagnant; a new housing value system is needed for Singapore to go forward. We have been milking the old formula dry.
What are you busy with right now?
A new architecture that allows buildings, cities and people to age and rejuvenate symbiotically. Shoe-boxes and enbloc is sending the wrong message to citizens and to city living!
Photos courtesy of Archurban.
Archurban Architects Planners
President’s Design Award 2012
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