Approach city design with the mind of a scientist

Meet Dr Liu Thai Ker, an 85-year-old architect and the Father of Urban Planning in Singapore.
He is not just an architect planner but also an artist who travels the world, capturing the essence of cities through his sketches of historical buildings. During his 23-year civil service career, Dr Liu served as Chief Architect and CEO at the Housing and Development Board, contributing significantly to Singapore’s public housing and the ‘Home Ownership for All’ policy. He later became Chief Planner and CEO at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, spearheaded the creation of Singapore’s 1991 Concept Plan as well as the conservation guideline.

After his public service, Dr Liu served as Senior Director at RSP Architects, Planners & Engineers until 2017. In 2017, he founded Morrow Architects & Planners and serves as its Chairman. His impressive portfolio includes 18 architectural projects in Singapore and 15 architectural and 109 urban planning projects for an accumulated number of 250 million people in 15 countries, 60 cities worldwide.

In an exclusive conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN during his recent visit to India in Mumbai, Dr Liu shares his vision for cities, cultural and environmental preservation, intelligent urban planning, public housing provision, and imparts advice for city design.

How have career milestones shaped your views on urban planning and architecture?
Each milestone has left a lasting impact on my approach to urban planning and architecture. Let me delve into a few key moments. Back in time, when I returned to Singapore and joined the Housing and Development Board, I encountered the government’s vision of building New Towns, a concept imported from the West. However, the term “New Town” was often used without a clear definition, leading to confusion. I realised the importance of understanding these terms to avoid causing harm to people. Additionally, I became fascinated with the concept of a “Highly Self-Sufficient New Town”, which emphasised providing comprehensive facilities within a New Town, thus improving the quality of life and reducing the need for extensive travel. For both challenges, I work with my colleagues to produce well documented specifications to guide planning and development.

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