Since his childhood, Dr Liu Thai Ker has always had a keen eye for art, especially when the art concerns the lines and depths of physical construction. “I’ve always admired buildings since I was a kid,” says Dr Liu, “so I decided back then that architecture was something that I would like to pursue further, and I’ve never looked back”.
A Director at RSP Architects Planners & Engineers since 1992, Dr Liu first returned from his overseas stint in 1969 to begin an illustrious career in one of Singapore’s most noteworthy bedrock of nation building. As an architect-planner and later Chief Executive Officer of HDB, or the Housing & Development Board, he created two dozen new towns and oversaw the implementation of more than half a million housing units during his 20-year tenure.
And he has fond memories of his time there. “It was an organisation which was so comprehensive,” recalls Dr Liu. “From land acquisition and settlement to estates management, a virtual circle of constant feedback among division heads was born and that allowed us to acquire the power of anticipation.” This continuous loop of improvements back then allowed HDB to nip problems before they arose and allowed the team to focus on its core mission, which was to provide quality, affordable housing. “In fact I told my colleagues that though I’m an architect, we should put good housing before good architecture because good housing involves elements like affordability, good environment and good social mix.”
After his time in HDB, Dr Liu went on to spearhead RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, where he completed many prominent architectural and urban planning projects, one of which was the National University of Singapore (NUS). In planning NUS, what was really important to him was to “create chance meeting places because in the academic environment, besides formal meetings, a lot of valuable information is shared through chance meetings in places like corridors and cafeterias”.
But NUS’ undulating terrain proved an obstacle for designers. The campus’ layout was also divided twice by Kent Ridge and the Ayer Rajah Expressway. So how did Dr Liu and his team overcome this challenge? He explains, “I introduced a concept of a pedestrian highway at a level of 123 metres above sea-level, which happens to fit into Kent Ridge. We created a highway for pedestrians through the whole campus at that particular height and if you stay at that level, you get to meet the majority of human traffic.”
Dr Liu’s expertise in architecture and urban planning attracted the attention of his Chinese counterparts, where he subsequently did major master planning for almost 30 Chinese cities. When asked about the differences in planning for Chinese cities, he replied, “In China, developers can request changes to the plans so that they can come in to invest. As a result, plans tend to change a lot, though the situation is improving. In Singapore, once a master plan is drawn up, nobody can change it because that document has already been passed and endorsed by parliament as a collective decision.”
With decades of experience in his field, Singaporeans in Beijing would be glad to know that come 31st May 2013, OSU will be welcoming Dr Liu Thai Ker as the guest speaker of our Singapore Speakers Series event in Beijing! Taking place at the Grand Millennium Beijing, he will be sharing with you his views and experiences about Singapore’s urban planning journey. The event is also a golden opportunity to pose him questions, as well as network with fellow Singaporeans in the city. Register for a place now for an insightful evening with Dr Liu.
By Clement Wan