Memories of catching insects and playing with his neighbour's ducks while growing up in a kampung inspired architect Siew Man Kok to participate in the Housing Board's design competition for Bidadari Estate.
"I wanted to find out the challenges in designing public housing and see whether I could contribute to improving the public housing environment," said the 53-year-old.
He started out by thinking out of the box. For example, even though a new park had been planned in the centre of the estate, he proposed a design plan that integrated the housing blocks and roads into the existing park in the former cemetery - allowing for mature trees and the natural terrain to be preserved.
The chairman and founding director of MKPL Architects was honoured last night with Singapore's highest design accolade, a Designer of the Year nod at the President's Design Awards.
Mr Siew has also developed semi-detached houses in Eastwood Drive in Bedok and worked on a shophouse project in Cuff Road for the Singapore Gujarati Bhavan in Serangoon. Jurors noted that despite the wide spectrum of his projects, he is "sensitive to the social, cultural and tropical context of his works, which he explores with passion, rigour and commitment".
Mr Siew said: "I'm very happy and honoured. But more than that, I'm encouraged by the young talent in Singapore today. I hope they keep doing great, innovative things even though they're battling a much tougher industry today compared to the one I was in 20 years ago."
The other two recipients of Designer of the Year were sculptor and landscape artist Colin K. Okashimo, 57, of Colin K Okashimo and Associates, and principal designer of Tierra Design, Franklin Po, 69.
The trio received their awards last night from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana.
The annual awards were started a decade ago by the DesignSingapore Council of the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to recognise the achievements of people who make a difference to the lives of Singaporeans and the global community.
Thirteen design projects were also honoured. They included the world's first innovative face mask with microventilators, the newly opened National Gallery Singapore and The Oliv condominium in Balmoral, which has dramatic green sky terraces.
Fourteen jurors from seven countries, including Singapore, assessed 111 nominations before making the final selection.
URA chief Ng Lang said of the 13 Design of the Year awards, of which three are architectural projects: "Their projects are unique to Singapore and reflective of our rich and multi-layered history and culture."
A free exhibition showcasing the designers and their projects will be held at the National Gallery Singapore from Monday to Jan 3; at the URA Centre from Jan 5 to 31; and at the National Design Centre from Feb 2 to 29 .