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The Pioneer Club: 'When you've an opportunity to improve your life, grab it', says Alan Choe

The Straits Times begins a new series today, The Pioneer Club, featuring Singaporean pioneers who made contributions in different fields.

Published on Apr 12, 2014 6:00 PM

If you have ever wondered why the first HDB flats looked the way they did, or how Sentosa-as-resort-isle came into being, Alan Choe is the man responsible. The now 83-year-old was HDB's first architect-planner and founder of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. He recalls those trailblazing times, and how hardship during the war helped give him the drive to succeed at his task. But he tells Goh Chin Lian he worries that today's generation, who have not experienced hardship, lack his generation's derring-do.

How were you brought up?

My father passed away when I was one. My mother, a seamstress, looked after four children.

When I was 12, the Japanese invaded. They looked to us as future recruits for their young army. (Fortunately) I worked at a coconut oil mill. Oil was an essential commodity.

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Background story

From one-man urban renewal unit to master architect

Mr Alan Choe Fook Cheong, 83, joined the Housing and Development Board in 1962 as its first architect-planner.

He designed Toa Payoh new town and led urban renewal in the city centre, initially as a one-man urban renewal unit. It was the precursor to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore, which he founded in 1974. He was its first general manager.

He oversaw the earlier sales of state-owned sites in the city centre such as People's Park Complex and hotels along Havelock Road, Shenton Way, Golden Mile area in Beach Road, Golden Shoe and International Plaza. The influx of private developers led to new buildings, and tourism and commercial activities that fuelled Singapore's economic development.

He sat on many boards, including those of the former Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and Sentosa Development Corporation, both for 30 years.

He laid out the masterplan for and developed Sentosa, where he was its chairman from 1985 to 2001.

In 2001, he received top National Day honours, The Distinguished Service Order, for his "impressive contributions to Singapore's urban development and Sentosa's transformation".

The former Raffles Institution student studied architecture in Australia, obtaining three tertiary qualifications in six years: a fellowship diploma in architecture from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, a Bachelor of Architecture and a postgraduate diploma in town and regional planning, both from the University of Melbourne.

His foray into private practice included being senior partner at RSP Architects Planners & Engineers from 1978 to 1996.

He has four sons in their 50s and a daughter aged 28, and six grandchildren.