Three emerging young architects to watch

The Sunday Times speaks to three of the 20 rising young architects whose works are being showcased by the URA

A childcare centre with colourful features that look straight out of a children's storybook. A public cemetery park in China with serene contemplation pavilions. A community hub that integrates a host of civic, community, sports, arts and lifestyle facilities under one roof.

These works, which display a strong sense of environmental and social consciousness, are just some of the creative projects by Singapore's emerging architects.

You can check them out at an ongoing exhibition at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Centre.

Called 20 Under 45: The Third Edition, the exhibition - as well as an accompanying publication - showcases the works of 20 of the best architects registered in Singapore who are under the age of 45.

An initiative under the URA, this is the third edition of both the exhibition and publication. The inaugural edition was launched in 2004 and the second one was held in 2010.

Ms Fun Siew Leng, chief urban designer of the URA and chairman of the 20 Under 45: The Third Edition selection panel, says the current edition features a "diverse range of portfolios and project complexities" that are spread across both public and private developments, including residences, commercial and institutional buildings, bus stops, bridges and even a zoo.


  • WHERE: Level 1 The URA Centre, 45 Maxwell Road

    WHEN: Until Jan 31, 9am to 5pm (Mondays to Saturdays)


In comparison, the inaugural 20 Under 45 exhibition and publication in 2004 featured mainly local residential buildings, with some institutional and commercial developments.

The Sunday Times profiles three of the 20 architects from the latest batch of 20 Under 45, as well as their best works.



Director in DP Architects

Good architecture is more than form, it can bring people together - that has been a principle guiding Mr Seah Chee Huang's socially minded projects for the past few years.


His works aim to connect communities, often by placing different communal spaces side by side. The multi-functional Our Tampines Hub is an example.

The development, which officially launched last year, is home to a hawker centre, a town square that doubles as a 5,000-seat football stadium and a rooftop jogging track.

Another of his projects which stresses social interaction is GoodLife! Makan, an open-concept kitchen in Marine Terrace that was repurposed from a void deck in 2015. Run by voluntary welfare organisation Montfort Care, the centre reaches out to seniors who live alone by encouraging them to share recipes, cook and eat together.

GoodLife! Makan, an open-concept kitchen in Marine Terrace repurposed from a void deck, reaches out to seniors who live alone by encouraging them to share recipes, cook and eat together. PHOTO: DP ARCHITECTS

Bright interiors - with different colours to differentiate zones - as well as full-height glass doors, create an open and inviting compound.

Mr Seah says: "Architecture, when driven by clear purpose, can be a powerful vehicle to effect positive social changes, shape minds and behaviours, and purposefully impact the everyday life of our community."

Like many Singaporeans, he grew up in a public housing estate and with different communities - which informed his interest in the social impact of architecture.

He attained both his bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture at the National University of Singapore. He joined DP Architects in 2003 after completing his post-graduate studies. He is married with three children.

Although DP Architects may be known for iconic buildings such as Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay and Resorts World Sentosa, it also has several smaller social responsibility initiatives.

The year-long Project Bus Stop, which Mr Seah both conceptualised and spearheaded, was one of them.

It was a prototype bus stop at Jurong East Central with features such as free Wi-Fi, mobile phone charging points, bicycle parking and even a swing. The concept was developed in partnership with several government agencies.

Mr Seah says: "This project has demonstrated how through further imagination, daily sights, sounds and objects in our city can be transformed to enrich our social spaces and experiences."

More social and community-centric projects are in the pipeline for him this year.

Together with his team, he will be working on an integrated sports and community hub in Sembawang, a regional sports centre, as well as on rejuvenating a few of the community clubs here.

As part of the firm's corporate social responsibility programme, he will also design a new workplace for youth charity Heartware Network.



Associate director at RSP Architects

The Henderson Waves bridge, with its dramatic, undulating form, was the work of local architect Lawrence Ler when he was still a greenhorn.

The bridge, which was completed in March 2008, was co-designed in 2004 by Mr Ler, then a fresh graduate from the prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London, and his tutor there, Mr George Liaropoulos-Legendre.

They had entered an international competition in collaboration with RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, which had given Mr Ler a scholarship to study at AA.

Their team eventually won the competition to build the bridge.

That was the "turning point" in his career, says Mr Ler, who is married with two children. "The project was very successful and it anchored my belief that I should be an architect for the people."

Designing to serve the community is a common enough claim for architects, but his resume walks the talk. His portfolio comprises community-centric spaces such as a school, a church and a nursing home.

One of his earliest projects is the eco-friendly ITE campus in Ang Mo Kio. Completed in 2012, the development houses the ITE Headquarters and ITE College Central.

The ITE campus in Ang Mo Kio has a 30m-tall green wall that serves as a heat buffer. PHOTO: PATRICK BINGHAM-HALL

The complex features a continuous overhead canopy, which shelters students and staff while allowing natural daylight in. Solar panels installed on the roofs generate electrical power. The campus also has a green wall that stands at 30m tall and covers 5,600 sq m. One of the largest installations of plants in Singapore, it serves as a heat buffer.

The building received the BCA Green Mark Platinum Award from the Building & Construction Authority, the highest honour for an environmentally friendly building here.

In 2015, Mr Ler headed the project to build a new facility in Bishan for nursing home Lions Home for the Elders.

While nursing homes may evoke the image of a cold and clinical facility, this one has generous pockets of greenery and spaces that encourage interaction. Instead of a communal garden shared by all residents, every floor of the six-storey building has a sun-lit garden filled with plants and flowers - a refreshing sight for residents when they come out from their wards.

Inclusiveness was also part of the design ethos of the Church of the Transfiguration in Punggol, which Mr Ler and his team finished in March last year.

A landscaped public forecourt in front of the five-storey Catholic church allows people from the neighbourhood to enter. Its main sanctuary is raised a floor up to free up the ground plane, which creates a naturally ventilated and sheltered community space for gatherings and activities.

On his slate this year is another religious building, the Catholic Archdiocesan Centre in Upper Thomson Road, as well as renovations to the National Archives of Singapore building.

His team comprises mainly young architects in their mid-20s, whom he hopes to train to be socially and environmentally conscious.

"With the right vision and values, I believe the next generation will do even better," he says.



Director of Lekker Architects

In the three years that Lekker Architects has been in business, it has already built up an impressive resume.

Co-owned by husband-and-wife team Joshua Comaroff, 44, and Ong Ker Shing, it has won prestigious accolades including the President's Design Award in 2015, as well as the biggest architecture prize at the OUE Artling ArchiPavilion Design Competition. The latter is a competition organised by The Artling, a Singapore-based art consultancy, and the Singapore Institute of Architects.

The firm was also commissioned by the Lien Foundation to write a book on 10 unusual sites for pre-schools in Singapore. The book featured its own pre-school designs.

Ms Ong, who graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2002, had a varied career before becoming a certified architect in 2011.

She has written books, run design store Strangelets (which has since closed), sells jars of chilli sauce under the label Two Rabbits Smoky Chilli with her brother, and also co-founded multi-disciplinary design consultancy Lekker Design with her husband before their co-ownership of Lekker Architects.

Perhaps because of her diverse interests, the firm's projects have great variety, ranging from a childcare centre in Singapore to a cemetery park in China.

Lekker's design for childcare centre The Caterpillar's Cove at Jurong East won the acclaimed President's Design Award in 2015. The centre features custom-designed furniture, spaces for imaginative play, an outdoor sandplay area and columns re-cast to resemble trees.

The Caterpillar’s Cove won the President’s Design Award in 2015. PHOTO: DARREN SOH

Ms Ong, who has three children between the ages of one and nine, says she and her husband drew upon their own experiences as parents with young children to come up with a design that would inspire imagination and creativity.

Another project in the educational realm is the Yale-NUS campus landscape, which, taking five years to complete, is "one of the largest and longest projects" the firm has undertaken to date, she says.

The brief was to create an identity for the campus through its landscape. "We were importing an American liberal arts college typology into South-east Asia," she says.

Their design was based on the idea of a campus in a garden and a campus of gardens, where each garden focuses on different plant types. The concept embodies the idea of freedom, growth and change.

Beyond Singapore's shores, she also spearheaded a Cemetery Park project in Nanjing, China. The public park around a private cemetery was developed for a Singaporean businessman of Chinese origins and completed in 2015.

The graves are covered in long grasses and surrounded by wildflowers and cypress gardens, and the park's features include path systems, a stone basin that was converted into a small lake, as well as inviting contemplation pavilions that resemble countryside houses.

"The Cemetery Park is a space that talks about time - about lifetimes, seasons and continuity among people in a certain place," she says.

She terms this year "the year of ageing" as her firm will be handling several projects to do with the ageing population here.

"We tend to be interested in projects that do more than just function - we like them to speak to people in a more profound way, to speak emotively about important stages or experiences in life," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'Emerging architects to watch'. Subscribe