SINGAPORE - One of Singapore’s pioneer modern architects, Mr William Lim Siew Wai, died at the age of 90 in his home on Friday.
The man behind iconic buildings such as People’s Park Complex and Golden Mile Complex leaves his wife, Madam Lena Lim, who is in her 80s, son Lim Weiwen and daughter Lim Chiwen, both in their 50s. He has four grandchildren.
His son-in-law Michael Koh said Mr Lim died peacefully in his Holland Road apartment at about 9pm.
Mr Koh added that Mr Lim had grown weaker due to his age in the past few years. His health had further declined after a bout of Covid-19 in late 2022.
He had been cared for by his wife and children, as well as full-time caregivers.
In 2020, he gave The Straits Times a rare interview at his home, on the release of a 352-page monograph of his protege Mok Wei Wei, whose firm W Architects was featured by London-based publisher Thames & Hudson.
Mr Mok, who was mentored by Mr Lim during the seminal days of nation building from the early 1980s till about 2003, when Mr Lim retired, said that Mr Lim was a “visionary of modern architecture”.
“He was also an impresario who translated visions into reality,” said Mr Mok, 66.
Born in Hong Kong in 1932, Mr Lim was educated at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and Harvard University in the United States in the 1950s.
After completing his studies, he returned to Singapore in 1957 to start his architectural career. Throughout the past four decades, Mr Lim’s journey was described as a mirror of the post-independence architectural development of Singapore.
In 1960, Mr Lim established Malayan Architects Co-Partnership, one of Singapore’s earliest architectural practices.
Due to differences between the partners, Malayan Architects Co-partnership was dissolved in 1967.
In the same year, Mr Lim formed Design Partnership with pioneer architects Tay Kheng Soon and Koh Seow Chuan.
Mr Tay is an author and adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore. Mr Koh is the founder of one of the largest architectural practices in the world, DP Architects, with more than 900 architects globally.
Design Partnership was celebrated for introducing Brutalism – a kind of bare-bones architecture that steered clear of ornate details and featured textured concrete – to South-east Asia.
In 1972, Mr Lim was part of a team that came up with the design for one of the young city-state’s first modernist icons – People’s Park Complex – the first of its kind in South-east Asia and which became a model for other commercial developments.
He later worked as part of a team on the Woh Hup Complex project in 1974. It was renamed Golden Mile Complex in the 1980s.
In the mid-1970s, Design Partnership was restructured into DP Architects with the departure of Mr Tay.
Mr Lim left DP Architects in 1981 and formed William Lim Associates with Mr Mok, Mr Richard Ho and Mr Carl Larson.
Mr Ho is a multi-award-winning architect and architectural educator, while Mr Larson is known for his ground-breaking urban designs. When Mr Lim retired in 2003, Mr Mok renamed the firm W Architects.
Mr Lim was considered by many as one of the giants of modern architecture in Singapore.
Some of his most important works include St Andrew’s Junior College and Chapel (1978), Tampines North Community Centre (1989) and Marine Parade Community Club (1999).
A prolific author, he penned 13 books and co-wrote seven publications ranging in subjects from urban planning, architecture and socio-cultural reflections on modernity to social justice and cultural identities.
He was also a member of the Singapore Institute of Architects from 1958, and was editor of the institute’s journal Rumah, from its inaugural issue in 1960 until 1966.
Other than his professional career as an architect and author, Mr Lim also made significant contributions to culture and the arts, as well as civil society.
Dr Jack Lee, president of the Singapore Heritage Society, said Mr Lim’s death is a great loss to the society.
Mr Lim was the first president of the society, which was founded in April 1987 with the aim of alerting the Government and the public on the urgent need to conserve Singapore’s heritage.
“Mr Lim’s passing is also a great loss to Singapore,” said Dr Lee.