Life is hard work and sweat, says pioneer architect

Dr Hong hopes his biography, Dare To Be Different: The Albert Hong Story, will pass on his values to young readers of the book.
Dr Hong hopes his biography, Dare To Be Different: The Albert Hong Story, will pass on his values to young readers of the book.

As a pioneering Singaporean architect, Dr Albert Hong's long career is filled with triumphs and accolades. Yet the stories he is keenest to tell, in his autobiography launched yesterday, are from his youth: his childhood during the Japanese Occupation, and his university days in Birmingham.

"It's a book for young people," Dr Hong, chairman of RSP Architects Planners and Engineers, told The Straits Times. His message: life is "hard work and sweat".

Dare To Be Different: The Albert Hong Story is a biography of his professional life, accompanied by photographs, from black-and- white scenes of pre-independence Singapore, through the sepia of his university days, to glossy shots of iconic RSP projects.

Dr Hong joined the firm - then known as Raglan Squire and Partners - in 1964, and became its first local partner the following year.

He rose within the firm and profession, becoming the president of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) from 1973 to 1976, serving on the board of the Housing Board, and receiving the Public Service Star award twice. In 2014, he was named the SIA's First Patron.

From foreign governments, he has received the Panglima Negara Bintang Sarawak from Malaysia and The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from Britain.

Yet Dr Hong is known not just for his professional contributions, but also for his business acumen - a rare dual role which partly inspired the book's title.

He was named the Businessman of the Year in the 1994 Singapore Business Awards. From just 16 or so staff when he joined, RSP now has 1,400, and has expanded to markets such as India and Dubai.

Such commitment is another value that the grandfather of two hopes to convey to young readers of his book.

"They should not be like a rolling stone," he advised. Instead: "You find the firm that you like, stick to it, and build it up."

At last night's book launch at Goodwood Park Hotel, guest of honour Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong praised the "straight-from-the-heart account, without embellishment".

"I would characterise Albert as a successful entrepreneurial architect, with a strong social conscience and sound values, generous and open, warm and reliable friend," he said.

• Published by World Scientific Publishing, the 156-page book is now available in bookstores at $74.50 (before GST).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'Life is hard work and sweat, says pioneer architect'. Print Edition | Subscribe