Former NUS architecture professor Norman Edwards dies, aged 87

Professor Norman Edwards, an associate professor and academic head at the National University of Singapore in the 1980s, died of natural causes on Feb 9 in Kew, London.
Professor Norman Edwards, an associate professor and academic head at the National University of Singapore in the 1980s, died of natural causes on Feb 9 in Kew, London.PHOTO: FAMILY OF NORMAN EDWARDS

SINGAPORE - Professor Norman Edwards, a significant contributor to Singapore's urban history, has died at the age of 87.

The architecture expert, an associate professor and academic head at the National University of Singapore in the 1980s, died of natural causes on Feb 9 in Kew, London.

During his nine years in Singapore, the Australian contributed several articles on urban planning to the now-defunct Singapore Monitor newspaper.

In one of his articles from 1985, he wrote: "A modern image (of the city) is both inevitable and appropriate, but unless we believe that anything new is necessarily good, we should look critically at the quality of the built-up environment which is taking shape around us...

"Indeed, while Singapore has been strenuously imitating so-called Western forms of architecture - modern glossy, glassy tower blocks, huge air-conditioned atrium spaces - the West has largely gone the other way - it is preserving its older buildings."

The late Prof Edwards, who grew up as an only child in Sydney during World War II, studied architecture at Sydney University.

He completed a master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) before working for several prestigious contemporary architectural firms, with several pioneers of modern architecture, including Walter Gropius, Richard Neutra, and Moshe Safdie. He also taught at many international universities including the University of Sydney, MIT and Taiwan's Tunghai University.

The father of four is the author of The Singapore House And Residential Life, 1819-1939 (1990), which was reprinted last year, and co-wrote Singapore: A Guide To Buildings, Streets, Places (1988) with Peter Keys. His last completed book, Modern Architecture, The Human World, has not been published yet.

Veteran Singaporean tour guide Geraldene Lowe-Ismail, 79, who helped him with Singapore: A Guide To Buildings, Streets, Places, was a friend and knew him for more than three decades.

She says: "He was very curious about the backgrounds of so many different people and why the different races lived in different ways. He asked me so many questions about everything."

He is survived by his wife, artist Robyn Edwards, and their children.

Daughter Gisele Edwards, an aerialist, musician and theatre-maker, told The Straits Times on Monday (March 12) that her father "went very easily". "He was talking with my mother over lunch, and he just passed," she said.

Ms Edwards remembers her father as passionate about his work but also a family man.

She said he was "quite strict", and "always admired and reminded us of Asian family values and Confucianism".

She added: "He instilled in me, among many things... a conviction in one's passion, a way of seeing the world, a love of Bauhaus, of jazz, an appreciation for space, form and a pleasure in one's physical environment. "

A private family funeral was held last month and a memorial will take place in Kew on Saturday.