Event highlights

Words of Wisdom from veteran architects

08 Jul 2015  •  10 min read

Architects Chan Soo Khian, Kerry Hill and Richard Rogers took a reprieve from appraising the nominees for President’s Design Award 2015, to present to a full-house audience at the URA Centre on 1 July, their perspectives on the state of architecture. Here’re some of their most incisive, insightful and memorable quotes…

CHAN SOO KHIAN, Principal, SCDA Architects (Singapore)

On the importance of learning architecture history:
“After many years of practice, I realised the most important touchstone for architecture is classicism, as a point of reference for typology and history. My teachers at Yale gave me a firm grounding in classicism. When I teach at the National University of Singapore, I share this reference point with the architecture students.”

On practising architecture in Singapore:
“In Singapore, you can perfect form, invent your own algorithm, make your own references.”

On working on architecture projects in New York City:
“The urban planning in New York is based on light, air and sky. It’s so complex that we engage zoning attorneys and lawyers. Each site is unique.”

KERRY HILL, Principal, Kerry Hill Architects Pte Ltd (Singapore)

On learning from the past to inform the future:
“The marvellous Confucius saying: ‘The future is only the past again, through a different gate.’ We are always talking about the past. The past confirms the future. That is the underlying message for the way we approach our work. Not to replicate, not to step back into the past, but to ‘contemporarize’ our view of it, without destroying the cultural conditions of the place. We have one foot in the past, one foot in the future, and together, we try to move forward.”

On living in a multi-faceted world and its influence on architecture:
“If coconut palms were the only trees in the world, if dogs were the only animals in the world, and if people were all the same race and colour, the world would be a very bland place. The same for architecture.”

RICHARD ROGERS, Partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (London)

On the architecture practice:
“Urban design, landscaping, sociology, engineering and building construction are all ingredients of architecture. My suggestion is for architecture practice to be more like medicine: one practises for a couple of years in all the fields I mentioned, before specializing.”

On road pricing:
“Congestion tax – we learnt from you.”

On Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, opened in 1977:
“We [Rogers and Renzo Piano] were very young. I don’t think we quite knew what we were doing. I do believe that our naivety had some advantage, that we made the impossible possible. We had terrible media review, not a single piece of good media, except for one, from The New York Times. God bless the reviewer’s heart. Everyone else hated it.”

On Lloyd’s of London building, completed in 1986:
“Pompidou fights the environment around it. For Lloyd’s, we tried not to. It was one of the tallest buildings in the city at the time. Not one building related to it exists now. That puts some questions on dealing with the relationship between a building and its environment – of course, you must – but you must also realise that most of what exists in the environment might disappear, sometimes within a very short time. We need to be aware that we cannot freeze time.”

On colour:
“I enjoy colour. There is a stereotype – less here than in my part of the world – that if an architect doesn’t wear black, he’s not considered a ‘real’ architect.”

On airport architecture:
“Airports have become shopping centres – with wings.”

On architects’ responsibility:
“We live in a market world. The real danger is to marginalise the architect, to slowly push him to become a decorator. In the traditional definition, ‘architect’ means ‘make’. The architect is responsible for improving the environment.”

UP NEXT: Words of wisdom from esteemed designers, all jurors of President’s Design Award 2015, presented at a public forum.


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