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William Lim

Architect, arts patron and public advocate of the arts.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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William Lim is a celebrated Singapore architect who made his mark on Singapore architecture and urban planning. A respected thought leader and advocate of creativity and heritage, he is a keen follower of the arts who is regularly seen at arts performances and exhibitions, and a generous patron of various arts groups. His public advocacy of a more artistically aware society and support of the arts has raised the profile of the arts in Singapore, and led the way for arts sponsorships by private individuals.

Born in Hong Kong in 1932, William Lim received his architectural education at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, UK. There, he took advantage of the vibrant arts and cultural scene and frequented arts performances and exhibitions. He then went on to do his graduate studies in the USA at Harvard University where he studied in the Department of City and Regional Planning.

Returning to Singapore in 1958, Lim began his professional architectural career. Two years later, he co-founded the Malayan Architects Co-Partnership, where he was principal architect. During this period, Lim also began his early association with the arts with his involvement with the Singapore Film Society in 1962 as its president.

In 1967, he left to co-found and serve as principal architect of Design Partnership (later renamed DP Architects), together with Koh Seow Chuan and Tay Kheng Soon. Lim was also involved in urban planning on a national level, serving as the first president of the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group. In his various capacities, Lim made several significant contributions to the urban landscape of Singapore. Rooted in modernist design ideas, he built many residential and commercial complexes, including the People’s Park Complex in 1973. A mixed-use development, People’s Park Complex was the first of its kind in Southeast Asia and became a model for commercial developments. Lim’s other significant architectural projects include Tanglin Shopping Centre in 1971 and Golden Mile Complex in 1974.

Lim’s belief in the importance of an artistically and creatively aware society also began to make itself known around this period. In 1979, he advocated for the compulsory teaching of visual arts in schools, reasoning that an appreciation of visual aesthetics ultimately results in a better living environment in Singapore. He set up the independent architectural practice William Lim Associates in 1981, serving as principal architect until his retirement in 2002. A strong believer in a nation’s heritage and the importance of preservation of cultural memories, he began focusing more on conservation and urban revitalization in the ’80s. He became a founding member of the Singapore Heritage Society in 1986, serving as its president for over a decade.

Since early in his career, Lim has continued to be an ardent supporter of performing arts and visual arts who is regularly seen at performances and exhibitions around the island. In particular, he is a keen follower of contemporary arts, believing that contemporary artists play an important progressive role in pushing boundaries to try and guide society in its development and evolution. A firm advocate of the essential nature arts and culture in society, he also believes that a city’s vibrancy should be borne out of the community at a grassroots level.

As a result, Lim finds it important to support Singapore artists who have dedicated their lives to their art. He has been a regular patron of various arts groups over the past two decades, paving the way as a private sponsor of the arts for other generous arts donors who have taken his lead and also begun to involve themselves in arts sponsorship. Reaffirming his stance on the importance of arts education, Lim donated an endowment to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of the National University of Singapore in 2007 towards the William Lim Siew Wai Fellowship in Cultural Studies in Asia, enabling the faculty to appoint visiting academics to teach at the university.

For his 80th birthday in 2012, Lim donated an undisclosed six-figure sum to six arts organisations—including the Singapore Art Museum, W!LD RICE and The ARTS FISSION Company—and two independent artists in Singapore. This was one of the most significant sums donated by a private individual to the arts in Singapore.

Over his career, Lim has published several books on architecture, urban planning and cultural studies that are now widely referenced resource books. Lim received a Honorary Doctorate of Architecture from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia in 2002. In 2005, he was appointed as a honorary professor by LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore.

Today, Lim is chairman of Asian Urban Lab and president of the Architectural Association of Asia—both of which he co-founded—and continues to be a regular patron and supporter of the arts in Singapore.

Timeline

19 Jul 1932

Born in Hong Kong

1951 to 1956

Attended Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, UK.

1957 to 1958

Attended Harvard University, USA. Undertook graduate studies in Department of City and Regional Planning.

1960 to 1967

Co-founder and principal architect, Malayan Architects Co-Partnership.

1962

President, Singapore Film Society.

1966 to 1968

President, Singapore Planning and Research Group.

1967 to 1981

Co-founder and principal architect, Design Partnership (now DP Architects).

1973

Architectural project – People’s Park Complex.

1974

Architectural project – Golden Mile Complex.

1975

Published Equity and Urban Environment in the Third World.

1980

Architectural project – Tanglin Shopping Centre.

Published An Alternative Urban Strategy

1981 to 2002

Founder and principal architect, William Lim Associates.

1986 to 1997

Founding member and president, Singapore Heritage Society.

1990

Published Cities for People: Reflections of a Southeast Asian Architect

1993 to Present

Co-founder and President, Architectural Association of Asia.

1997

Published Contemporary Vernacular: Evoking Traditions in Asian Architecture. with co-author Tan Hock Beng.

1998

Published Asian New Urbanism.

1999

Architectural project – Marine Parade Community Building.

2001

Published Alternatives in Transition: The Postmodern, Glocality and Social Justice.

2002

Received Honorary Doctorate of Architecture, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia.

2003

Published Have You Been Shanghaied? Culture and Urbanism in Glocalized Shanghai.

Published Alternative (Post)modernity: An Asian Perspective.

2003 to Present

Co-founder and chairman, Asian Urban Lab.

2004

Published Architecture, Art, Identity in Singapore: Is There Life after Tabula Rasa?

2005

Appointed Honorary Professor, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore.

Published Asian Ethical Urbanism: A Radical Postmodern Perspective.

2006

Published Contesting Singapore’s Urban Future.

2009

Published Asian Alterity: With Special Reference to Architecture and Urbanism through The Lens of Cultural Studies.

Editor, Asian Design Culture.

2011

Co-editor, Non West Modernist Past.

2012

Published Incomplete Urbanism.

2014

Published Public Space in Urban Asia and Other Essays.

9 Jan 2014

Received Friends of MCCY award, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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