* DESIGNER OF
THE YEAR 2016

Raymond Woo

Principal Architect
Raymond Woo & Associates Architects

Raymond Woo set up his practice Raymond Woo & Associates Architects, Singapore, in 1971 with a S$30,000 loan from his parents. Today, some of his best-known works include Ngee Ann City, The Exchange and 78 Shenton Way. All have garnered the Construction Industry Development Board Awards for Construction Excellence and Best Building Design. He has served as advisor and educator to numerous boards and institutions, including the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the School of Architecture at National University of Singapore, and the Design Panel for the Board of Architects.

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‘‘My design philosophy: Always be consistent in whatever you do and create buildings that don’t hurt the eyes when you look at them.’’

Insights from the Recipient

Which social gap would you most like to address with design? How would you do it?

Inclusiveness is important in every project, so people are the most important part of my projects. Whether able or disabled, everyone should be able to enjoy the building. So my buildings are always designed with large spaces or plazas to accommodate the 'social gap' that is people. These plaza give people the space to come and mingle, and if they like it, they will come back. This, in turn, defines the building's success.

Insights from the Recipient

How does the end-user experience motivate you as a designer?

Raymond Woo: Every time I design a building, it's about the users. The Science Centre is for students, teachers and tourists; the aeroplane hangars I built for Singapore Airlines are about the workers, servicing crew, repair crew, etc. End-users are the most important part of the building. Without them you wouldn't be able to build a building. You must engage them, study them, and let them educate you in order to get the job done. Architecture is an education. It sis also a performance. It's like music. People will hear it, see it, recognise it and criticise it. Architecture is a very difficult line, a very painful line to be in.

What are three defining projects of your career?

Raymond: In 1971, I entered and won a competition to design the Singapore science Centre. I designed the building so that it looked like a triangle on plane, and with this I was able to fit in all the galleries with all the service that I wanted. My building was a provocative one at the time although it was simple and well planned. I was very young and the experience taught me that I had to be very clear about what I wanted. I'm proud that from concept to delivery, nothing about the building changed.

Ngee Ann City was the turning point of my career in 1993. The client was not sure if I could handle a job that large and it was the first large granite building I'd done. We finished it in 42 months, which is fast for a job of that size. Today, the building still looks new and only needs simple maintenance.

More recently, I designed 268 Orchard Road and it was really exciting because we decided todo a building entirely in glass. It would be a glass box so that people can see what's inside, without the visual interruption of any columns. To support the glass façade, we built solid stainless steel columns braced by stainless steel cables too restrict movement and torsion. It turned out to be beautiful, like a lantern at night, with the facets of a diamond.

What are some common challenges you face when creating a building?

Raymond: The biggest challenge is always when the client challenges you to do something that perhaps you've never done before. You have to do a very good job and ensure that it's money well spent and that it's a building people would come back to and see a second time. Because it's a horrible feeling to know that people don't want to come back to your building. You want to know that you did a good job.

What's a personal trait that people at work do not know about you?

Raymond: I'm very jovial. I laugh at myself a lot. When I practise architecture, I like the design to be simple, direct, no fuss. This is what you see of me in my buildings.

How should design improve lives?

Raymond: It should improve lives in terms of making life easier or better for people. People should want to come back to a building because of the comfort they get inside the building. Wayfinding should be simple – in my buildings, you can never get lost. They all have big lobbies and you can tell your friends you'll meet them at the lobby and you can all find it. You never have to argue – that makes the experience enjoyable. It is the same in a house. An architect stands beside a husband and wife, takes what they each say, analyses it and makes sure all parties are in agreement before he even begins designing. This makes lives better for people.

Which social gap would you like to address with design? How would you do it?

Raymond: Inclusiveness is important in every project, so people are the most important part of my projects. Whether able or disabled, everyone should be able to enjoy the building. So my buildings are always designed with large spaces or plaza to accommodate with 'social gap' that is people. These plazas give people the space to come and mingle, and if they like it, they will come back. This, in turn, defines the building's success.

Citation

Jury Citation

Raymond Woo is one of Singapore’s most established and respected architects. Over the course of a career spanning more than four decades, he has created designs that have helped shape Singapore’s cityscape. For example, the Singapore Science Centre was ground-breaking and remains an icon till this day. Another landmark is Ngee Ann City and its Civic Plaza, which incorporates a unique node for social gatherings. Raymond is an inspiration for his tenacity and flexibility in facing challenges. He shows no sign of slowing down, having recently completed the conservation of the Yueh Hai Ching Temple, while taking on the challenge of working with glass and structural steel cable systems in his latest project, 268 Orchard. All whilst serving on several design panels and mentoring numerous young designers. The Jury recognises Raymond’s indefatigable commitment to the practice of his craft, and his invaluable contribution to the architectural landscape of Singapore.

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Nominator Citation

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR WONG YUNN CHII
HEAD, DEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURE
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE

Raymond Woo is quietly, but surely, one of Singapore’s most consummate practitioners from the early post-independence generation of architects. He is credited with some of the most iconic, much loved and highly successful public and commercial buildings in Singapore. The spectrum of his work, in type and scale, testifies to the adroitness of his craft and fine sense of geometry. His quiet artistic skills are second to none. These qualities are obvious in the Singapore Science Centre, which evidences a distinctive formal trajectory that was developed in his role as team leader in Architects Team 3 while working on the Jurong Town Hall. His care of details spills over in the repertoire of his works, regardless of the genre – from his own house at 3 Sunset Avenue to the historical conservation of Yueh Hai Ching Temple. Raymond’s singular contribution to the nation’s cityscape is his distinctive sense of controlled monumentality. His buildings embody and effect a lively presence that ennobles the public realm. Out of a trinity of formal disciplines in geometry (Ngee Ann City), material (Loyang Valley Condominium) and structure (Changi Airport Engineering Hangar), he continues to explore new expressive possibilities. This is most evident in his most recent work at 268 Orchard, a collaboration with Hugh Dutton Associates.

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