Before flyers and skyscrapers, Brutalist buildings like Golden Mile Complex and People’s Park Complex in Singapore stood out (they still do) – and architect William Lim Siew Wai was behind it.
The pioneer architect died on Jan. 7 at age 90 in his home at Holland Road.
Lim was described by the Singapore Institute of Architects as “one of the principal architects of modern Singapore”.
On the tribute page dedicated to his life, his son Lim Chiwen, he also described his father as “a firm supporter of the Arts in Singapore, a forward thinker, a futurist, a man ahead of his time, a non conformist” amongst other credits. The touching tribute also added that the pandemic had given them “all the opportunity for precious family time.”
Well-respected figure in several communities
Plenty of tributes came in pouring from family, people who had worked with him and those who had looked up to him.
The Singapore Heritage Society where Lim was the first president and co-founder of said that his passing is “not only a great loss to the society, it is also a great loss to Singapore.”
He founded the society in April 1987 with Mr Kwa Chong Guan, Dr Sharon Siddique and Ms Geraldene Lowe with the aim of alerting the government and the public on the urgent need to conserve Singapore’s heritage.
Some tributes also gave a glimpse of his immense support and contribution to the arts in Singapore.
In their tribute, theatre company The Necessary Stage was grateful to be housed in the Marine Parade Community Building which was one of the buildings he had designed. They also mentioned that he was generous in donating to the establishment and would often be an “enthusiastic audience member” at many of their productions.
Celebrating his life and works
Lim was born in Hong Kong in 1932 and was educated at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and Harvard University in Massachusetts.
He returned to Singapore in 1957 and established his career here. He also formed Design Partnership with two other pioneer architects Tay Keng Soon and Koh Seow Chuan.
Together with Design Partnership, Lim and his team were behind Brutalist buildings, such as the People’s Park Complex and the Golden Miles Complex, both designed and built between 1967 and 1973. Today, both buildings are still standing but face the threat of demolition.
Design Partnership also introduced Brutalism – a style of architecture that celebrates the utilitarian aesthetic of raw concrete – to other parts of Southeast Asia besides Singapore.
In a tribute post by Malaysian architect Ang Chee, he mentioned that Lim was behind the “(not much known but super cool) Ampang City building, Wilayah Complex (also cool but now dangdut centre of KL i think) and the refurbishment of Central Market.”
He was also in the team behind the futuristic Negeri Sembilan State Mosque in Seremban.
In the local landscape, some of his most important works besides the two iconic buildings include Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House, St Andrew’s Junior College and Chapel, Tampines North Community Centre, Marine Parade Community Centre, Tanglin Shopping Centre and more.
Lim was also a published author and wrote 13 books and contributed to seven other publications that covered topics like urban planning, modernity, social justice and cultural identities.
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