This article is part of a series of SPOTLIGHTS showcasing our Community Partners, their ideologies, methodologies, challenges and triumphs. For more, click here.

This month, Project Skillseed would like to introduce to you our new section, "SPOTLIGHT", where we speak to industrial experts, hear about their personal experiences, and tap into their expertise. 

We have invited renowned local architect, Professor Tay Kheng Soon, as our first "SPOTLIGHT" expert to share his insights into the industry and sustainable architecture.

(This is the first of a two part series featuring Prof Tay.)

Has it ever crossed your mind that architecture plays an all-important role in your life? It determines how you interact with your family at home, your friends at school and your colleagues at your workplace. 

Professor Tay Kheng Soon

Professor Tay Kheng Soon

I had a very simplistic idea of what architecture was and what architects do (design and build, what else?) until I met Professor Tay Kheng Soon. 

Prof Tay is the founder of Akitek Tenggara and adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore’s School of Architecture. With more than 40 years of experience, Prof Tay is a treasure trove of architectural wisdom. His unique and innovative ideas have  earned him numerous accolades, such as the 2010 Singapore Institute of Architects Gold Medal. 

We had the honour of being introduced to Prof Tay through Skillseed’s advisor and visionary educator Mrs Carmee Lim. Prof Tay co-founded Kampung Temasek, an educational and recreational destination in Johor with a mission to bring back the kampung days to visitors, and a highlight of our upcoming Sustainable Architecture Program in November. The site integrates exciting curriculum and programmes with nature and sustainable technologies. 

Image from  Kampung Temasek  Facebook Page

Image from Kampung Temasek Facebook Page

Clad in just a plain shirt and pants, Prof Tay, a pioneer of Singapore’s architectural scene, shared his thoughts on the changing future of local architecture and how architecture can influence and change the lives of people. 

What is the architecture scene in Singapore like today?

Prof Tay: Singapore is plugged into the global scene. It emulates the style of its main patrons. The success of the modern western culture is because of industrialisation and the industrial revolution that created the big cities (like Singapore).


What is industrialisation and how does it affect Singapore's architecture?

Industrialisation was built on the wealth and power of colonial rule. The architecture that arose from the process emphasised manufactured building products. Handicraft is completely ignored by industrial processes. Instead, the celebration of industrialism (as an aesthetic) emphasises flat planes (e.g. glass panes and wooden planks).

This aesthetic is deeply embedded into our consciousness and we are totally victimised into thinking that this is what it means to be modern. All of our modern architecture is actually an industrial aesthetic. To be modern is to be industrialised. Meanwhile, traditional architecture is regarded as not modern and backwards. That is the way our minds have been shaped. 

The education system is also part of the industrial system; the school is like a production factory.


How do you define the term 'ideal architecture'?

Ideal architecture can only come from an authentic society. This requires a great deal of self-confidence, which we don’t have it yet.


Is Singapore’s architecture considered ideal?

No, it is a copy and they are proud of it. Architects are making a name by being good copyist in the peoples’ eyes with their current state of mind.


How do you think we can change the situation?

By daring to invent the future; a future based on who we really are and where we are – the poetics of people and place. 


What is architecture to you?

A stage set for the enactment of authentic life, and not what it is now, i.e. aping the west.


Skillseed will be sending some students to Kampung Temasek in November for our Sustainable Architecture Program. Could you share with us why you and your friends Jack Sim of World Toilet Association and Stephen Loh of Brandtology decided to build Kampung Temasek?

Architecture of the future comes from the 7Cs: competence (mastery), confidence, courage, curiosity, creativity, compassion and collaboration.  

Kampung Temasek was created to get people out of their usual environment and change their mind-set. We are the victims of the environment; the environment changes your relationship with the world. 

If you think that architecture should be about designing something facinating to the eye, you are wrong! Prof Tay frowns upon architecture students with that perspective. " Architecture should be authentic and practical. It should collaborate with the people and the environment", he emphasised.

Kampung Temasek is founded so that it connects people with nature. We hope that our upcoming Sustainable Architecture Program will be able to rekindle our participants' biophilia or innate love for the nature and hopefully, inspire more original architectural designs for the Skillseed Challenge! 

It is hard to visualise in words how enriching the environment of Kampung Temasek is. Drop by their Facebook page and you will see why we love that place!