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Sustainability & Progress Programme 2014 with MJC - Participants' thoughts

As we always say to our participants – “This programme is but the beginning of your journey!” We hope they’ll continue to use the skills and knowledge they’ve learned to benefit the underprivileged, whether as returning alumni or in their individual capacities as volunteers.

Here are some thoughts from our participants from our recent Sustainability and Progress Programme to Siem Reap. 

Seak Jing Rong’s thoughts on her areas of personal growth:

The trip definitely taught me to care more about the people in Cambodia and the world. And I would love to do more volunteer work in the near future. And when I offer them a smile of mine, they would happily return it with a smile of theirs. 

And I learned that we should respect Cambodians and not take photos of the people there without their permission because they have their own pride and dignity. It is just like we would think it is weird if people from even more affluent places came to Singapore, walked around in our neighborhoods and started taking photos of people or grabbing random strangers to take photos with them. 

Geraldine Abigail Ngu’s thoughts on getting out of her comfort zone:

I boarded the plane leaving Singapore with a heart full of doubts and hesitation. I'll (shamefully) admit that I was dreading the physical work we would have to do, being a delicate city girl who had never gotten her hands dirty. I guess many of us have this same stereotype of community work - you get your hands dirty and you'll give, give, give and receive nothing.

Cliche as it might sound, truth is, I boarded the plane back to Singapore firmly believing that I've gained so much more than I gave in this trip. I've travelled to various countries and I've seen many famous landmarks, but it is only on this trip that I truly got to experience everyday life in another country. In spite of the severe language barrier, we were enveloped into the village by every individual we interacted with; be it the young children whom we played many games with, or the ladies who were part of the softies programme by HUSK (which is amazing, by the way. I bought a homemade softie myself). [...] We received the affection from the villagers and the chance to enter their world which, besides being an amazing experience, gave me many new eye-opening perspectives.

And on what she has learned to appreciate:

Hearing about the issues in Cambodia and the developing world in the comfort of our schools or in our homes, it is so easy for many of us city folk to develop a desensitized view to the society and issues in the developing world. I believe for the majority, the only impression of these countries are the various social or economic issues that they face. Though the Cambodians might not enjoy the kind of material luxury we do (yes, like the luxury of light bulbs at night), their society is a complex, intricate one, and their community is so vibrant and dynamic. I guess this was something I tended to overlook in the past, but now I am able to appreciate the beauty of the village society and I have realised that we are really not all that different; for example, that girl talk (about boys) is universal ;)

Nurul Amirah Bte Rozaini chimes in on not being arrogrant:

Before embarking on this trip, the most prominent thought I had of Cambodia was that of almost everyone else’s - it is a third world country and it’s sad. Believe me when I say it was an eye-opener, that Cambodia, despite it’s stereotyped plight of being a poor country, taught all of us many new precious beautiful lessons about its people and its values, and ultimately, ourselves as individuals in our society. […] The main takeaway that I hold on to, with regard to the people, was the lingering and solemn question of “What if our places were swapped?” What if I were to be born in the same exact plight that a fellow Cambodian girl living in the slums was born into? Would I be able to handle it with the dignity and perseverance that these children and teenagers bear?

It was really humbling for all of us. These people are certainly as capable as any of us; they just simply were not fortunate enough to be born in a supportive society and country like Singapore. However, that doesn’t mean that they are any less of an ordinary individual than we are; they have feelings, opinions and thoughts of their own, just like us. That day I truly learnt the importance of not being arrogant.



SPOTLIGHT: The World We Live In (Part 2 of 2)

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

Education has a crucial part to play in shaping our minds, from attaining knowledge to how we apply what we have learnt. In this second part of our feature with Professor Tay Kheng Soon, the renown local architect and industrial expert for our recently concluded Urban Sustainability and Architecture program shares with us his thoughts on how education has influenced the field of architecture in Singapore and how students should “sail the seven Cs” to break out of the current mould.

Singapore as an Industrialised City

The year 2015 marks Singapore’s 50th year of independence and also Prof Tay’s 50th year in his architecture career. He is passionate about pushing the boundaries of Singapore’s architecture and continues to churn out innovative ideas and actively participates in experimenting for better technologies for urban and rural economies. Prof Tay laments that local architects have a “lack of self-confidence” and are too engrossed with progress, which leaves little time for imagination and creativity. “They all think that progress, to be progressive and to progress, you must be like the west. They cannot define what their future ought to be. They define their future as the western future. Industralisation involves machinery, lack of human feelings. Machines eliminate humans.”

Industrialisation can permeate through every aspect of our lives and has greatly influenced education. Prof Tay explains,“ School education is turning students into robots, trained to conform to the industry, trained to listen to instructions. This affects your imagination. [Leading students to think that] conformation is the way to survive.”

However, Prof Tay believes that the younger generation of architect students can be the change makers that break free from the shackles of industrialisation-influenced architecture. “Young people are the future. But you can only be the future if you are not a problem. Right now, you are a problem. You have been made into a problem because of education, because of the way you are motivated. Be creative and learn to change the world. But before you change the world, you must change yourself.” 

Professor Tay’s 7Cs to see life

To Prof Tay, this change can only come from the 7Cs:

1.     Competence

2.     Confidence

3.     Courage

4.     Curiosity

5.     Creativity

6.     Compassion

7.     Collaboration

“ The first C is competence. Be competent in what you do. If you are good at something, be good at it. Mastery is important. Once you have competence, you will have confidence. And when you have confidence, you will have courage. When you have courage, then you can ask difficult questions, you can exercise your curiosity. When you are curious, you will find out a lot of things. When you find out a lot of things, then you can be creative. Without all these you cannot be creative, you can only be a copycat. However, creativity alone is not enough, you must have passion. You must feel for your fellowmen, you must feel for the environment (the plants, animals etc.) [This is] compassion. When you have compassion and creativity, then you can be a great collaborator.”

The role of architecture to mould the society is apparent in Prof Tay’s beliefs. “The kind of architecture for the future… is competent: you understand nature, environment, climate; compassionate: understand people’s needs; creative: invents a new ways of how humans should live with each others and the environment and be able to involve people in the making of the place. That is participation and you create a creative society. That is the role of architecture.”


Reason behind starting Kampung Temasek

Kampung Temasek (KT), situated near Sungei Tiram, Johor, Malaysia, is one of the innovative projects by Prof Tay to educate and equip the future leaders with these 7Cs.

“Sometimes, it is necessary to get people out of their usual environment. By putting yourself in a different environment, it allows you to see things in a different light.” he says. KT gives their visitors a chance to live in a different environment, bringing visitors back to the olden days where they get to enjoy the culture and ambience of kampung living. The ‘kampung’ culture is considered endangered with the development of cities.

“Changing the environment would change the minds of people. By that, you change yourself and how you interact with the world. If one keeps living in their comfort zones, they are simply repeating and reinforcing the same old habits. When nothing changes, there will be no improvements.”

Prof Tay encourages the future generations to challenge themselves, “Give yourself a jolt and challenge yourself to face unfamiliar circumstances. That is the way you learn to get confidence. Be daring to do it!”

Indeed, KT has served as a fantastic educational platform for Skillseed’s Urban Sustainability and Architecture program, where our participants from Beijing learnt basic architecture and construction skills from Architecture facilitators. In KT’s unfamiliar Kampung environment, we hope that our young urbanite participants were thoroughly challenged and gained the confidence to dare to dream big for their futures!

(Click here to see more exciting moments built during the program!)

With Love,



SPOTLIGHT: The World We Live In (Part 1 of 2)

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!