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What goes into creating a future-proof, design excellent, “green” and inclusive city?

June 23, 2010

This speech by Mr Mah Bow Tan is featured on the World Cities Summit website and outlines the role of architects and architecture in Singapore in working towards a livable and sustainable future… whatever that means.


ON MAY 21, 2010 AT 8.00 PM

Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilal, President of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA),

Friends from the architectural and building fraternity,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Innovating a Future Ready City


It is my pleasure to join you tonight at the SIA’s 49th Annual Dinner and Dance.

2     2010 is an exciting year for those of us who are involved in the physical development of Singapore. Many of our new projects, such as the Integrated Resorts, the Helix Bridge and promenade at Marina Bay, and the Duxton Plain flats, have completed or will complete this year. Our cityscape is being transformed dramatically.

Building a City that Lasts

3     As architects, you have played a key role in this remaking of our cityscape. The architectural community has actively shaped our city through your various outstanding works over the years. The iconic skyline that we have today is testament of our collective efforts to build up this city and the progress we have achieved together as a nation.

4     This transformational year is a good time for us to look forward, and contemplate the development of our city for the next 50 years. Last year, the URA launched the Concept Plan 2011 Review. It is a major exercise to engage all stakeholders –  Singaporeans, industry, academia, businesses – to plan ahead for our development in the decades ahead.

5     50 years may seem a long time to us, but it is actually very short compared to the history of many cities. London’s recorded history dates back 2,000 years. New York, which is a relatively young city, is over 300 years old.  As we look forward, the key question in my mind is this — what does it take to build a great city that lasts? In particular, how can Singapore be a better city, offering a better life to Singaporeans, in the next 50 years?

6     Our continued success, and in fact, our very relevance to the global world, is by no means guaranteed. In the next 5 decades, both our external and domestic context will be vastly different. We have seen the emergence of many cities within Asia. One good example is Shenzhen. Its rapid development demonstrates the speed at which a city can come into the fore. 30 years ago, this city was just a small fisherman’s port, but today it handles more container ships than New York and Tokyo combined. It also has China’s second largest stock exchange. In the next five decades, many such new cities will emerge, especially within Asia, and they will all be competing for global talent and businesses. How can we ensure that Singapore continues to remain relevant and stay ahead as a leading global city in this part of the world?

7     On the domestic front, the profile of our population and their needs and aspirations, will also be very different in the future. Resource constraints globally and within Singapore will require us to find new ways of developing sustainably. How can Singapore continue to be a special place for Singaporeans, a home that offers hope and opportunities, a home that offers a high standard of living and above all, a city that is socially inclusive, where no one is left out?

Designing a Future City

8     The starting point has to be a mindset that embraces continual change and adaptation. Under the Concept Plan Review exercise, we are identifying new trends, seeking new ideas and studying new land use strategies, planning for new infrastructure and examining new policies to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability in a balanced manner.  We cannot stand still. We are in a constant state of restlessness. To stay ahead, we must plan long term and innovate, innovate and innovate to make our city future ready.

9     A key ingredient in the making of our future city is design. The architectural fraternity will continue to be a key partner in the design of our future city for the next 50 years, just as in the past 50 years.

Architecture Design Excellence

10     To be a leading global city, Singapore must attract and retain international attention. Your role in shaping a distinctive and inspiring Singapore cityscape is crucial in helping Singapore anchor both businesses and talents here.

11     This is a point that is recognized by the business community here. Dr Peter Kellock, founder & former CEO Muvee Technologies Pte Ltd, provided this feedback to the Economic Strategies Committee earlier this year, and I quote:

“The (ESC) report talks about the importance of attracting foreign talent.

A related issue is the importance of retaining Singaporean talent, and particularly drawing young Singaporeans back here after foreign study.

Such people – foreigners and Singaporeans alike – want to live in an exciting environment and are inspired to new heights when they live in one.

I think one significant contributor to that is dramatic architecture.”

12     He said that he was “delighted” to see Singapore taking bold steps in architecture, and would like to underline the importance of “exciting architecture” in attracting and retaining talent.

13     A distinctive city of tomorrow is not built overnight. It is put together bit by bit through a collection of outstanding designs throughout our city. Innovative urban design engages the senses and excites public imagination. Through good architecture and urban design, architects can help to elevate Singapore on the world stage as a city of excellence. Architecture and urban design can also activate spaces and contribute to vibrancy in the city centre, making us an even more exciting city.

14     In this regard, architects need to have the talent, knowledge and a facilitative framework to develop and create their work. I have no doubt that we have the talent here in Singapore. Our architects have won many international awards including the Aga Khan award, the World Architecture Festival award, and the Prix d’Excellence award.

15     As a professional body, SIA can play a leadership role in nurturing the next generation of local architects and in promoting urban design excellence. Events such as Architours programme and ArchFest will help to promote public understanding and awareness of the profession and draw in new talent. SIA can also facilitate the exchange of ideas among talented architects between Singapore and other cities, to build us up as a hub of innovative design ideas.

Green Building Design

16     One area where architects here can apply their creativity is in environmentally sensitive designs. With rapid urbanization, many cities are grappling with the challenge of managing the impact of growth on the standard of living and on the wider ecology.

17     Our aspiration is for Singapore to be big on ideas but as small as possible in its environmental footprint. The built environment is a key consumer of resources and a significant contributor of emissions. To achieve our commitment to reduce our carbon emissions from business-as-usual levels, a key strategy is to “green” our built environment.

18     I believe that Singapore has a unique opportunity here – to break new ground and serve as a living laboratory for new design ideas that can marry density with liveability, economic vibrancy with environmental sustainability.

19     Architects will form one of the key groups of innovators in a green ecosystem that we hope to build over time.  The architectural community can seek to deepen its knowledge in sustainable design and promote the use of green construction materials and methods. Architects can design buildings with green users in mind and include features to help end-users minimize the consumption of energy and water as well as amount of waste generated.

20     I understand that the SIA will be showcasing its sustainable designs at the World Cities Summit this year. This is a key platform that Singapore has initiated to facilitate conversations among policy makers, thinkers and implementers on the latest ideas in sustainable city development. I encourage the SIA to do more to put our ideas on environmentally sustainable designs on the world map.

Inclusive Designs

21     The architectural fraternity can also play an important role in building a socially inclusive city through innovations in design. The design of our built environment should respond to demographic changes, meet the needs of all segments of society and facilitate the building of social capital.

22     In particular, the design of our built environment shapes behavior. It can either encourage or discourage interaction between people. In our cosmopolitan city, where the pace of life is very fast, we need to pay special attention to the design of buildings and places that encourages interaction between people of different income backgrounds, races and nationalities, and this will help to strengthen our social cohesion over time.  For example, one of the Concept Plan Review focus groups suggested that we could foster ‘vertical kampongs’ by creating mid-rise communal spaces within blocks to encourage residents of all ages to interact.

23     A good existing example is the Southern Ridges. Designed by private sector architects, this project has received strong endorsement from the public for its good design and ability to draw people from all walks of life, locally and from overseas, to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. In second half of this year, there will be another good opportunity for architects to contribute when URA invites the private sector to contribute ideas to improve the pedestrian connectivity along Waterloo Street. This will include the designing of spaces and infrastructure at Waterloo Street to facilitate street events and performances.

24     Another area in need of innovative ideas is senior-ready designs. Our population will age rapidly in the next few decades. By 2030, 1 in 5 residents will be above 65 years old1. The design of our built environment will make a crucial difference in helping seniors lead autonomous and active lifestyles even as they age. I therefore encourage the architectural fraternity to come up with new designs in housing developments and in public spaces, which will significantly enhance accessibility and social involvement of seniors.


25     Let me thank once again the architectural fraternity for your contributions to the physical development of our city. We have achieved a lot together. We can be proud of what we have achieved and we should toast to that. The future is no less challenging, but the challenges offer boundless opportunities for new thinking and new innovations. I am confident that with your creative energy and ideas, you can help to make Singapore a leading global city and lift our city to greater heights.  Thank you.


1 Based on Report on Aging Population by MCYS in 2006


One Comment leave one →
  1. March 9, 2011 7:20 am


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