On pioneer architectural educator David Lim

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Mr David Lim standing in front of his house, which he designed and was completed in 1968.


Earlier today Kheng Soon, John Chye, Imran and I interviewed Mr. David Lim, a pioneer architectural educator, at his house. Before receiving his formal education at the Architectural Association, London, from 1957 to 1960, he worked at the Singapore Improvement Trust (1941-2), which became a part of the Custodian of Enemy Property Department during the Japanese Occupation (1942-5), in the pre-War and War years. After the War, he worked for two of the most prominent colonial architectural firms – Swan and Maclaren, and Palmer and Turner. After he graduated from the AA, he rejoined Swan and Maclaren and was posted to Kuching for two years. After his stint there, he joined the School of Architecture at the Singapore Polytechnic and remained with the School until his retirement in 1984, when the School was already a part of the National University of Singapore.

During the interview, Lim shared many stories with us – such as the nature of architectural practice in the colonial days, the various personnel (including radical students) at the School and  the changes that the School underwent. I was particularly fascinated by his reference to the Lye Report, a landmark report by Professor Eric Lye of the University of Hong Kong that proposed major curricular changes to the School that subsequently gained the School RIBA Part II recognition.

Lim also mentioned that most of the local draftsmen working with him at the SIT were Cantonese, a factoid that captivated Imran and I. Lim attributed that to the Cantonese domination of the skilled workers, particularly carpentry, in the building industry. The next career step-up for these skilled workers would naturally be the “designed-related” jobs — draftsman and architect. Back in 1848, Seah Eu Chin already noted that the Cantonese mostly worked as artisans – carpenters, wood-cutters and mason coolies – in the burgeoning building industry of Singapore. In the early twentieth century, many of the largest Chinese contractor companies were also Cantonese-owned. One of the most prominent contractors was Woo Mon Chew, who was behind major colonial landmarks such as the Hill Street Police Station and the Kallang Aerodrome.

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An advertisement placed by Woo Mon Chew in the Journal of the Institute of Architects of Malaya. 

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