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Designer of the Year, Tang Guan Bee

The architect, who received the ‘Designer of the Year’ title at the 2011 President’s Design Award in Singapore, tells editor Janice Seow why it’s important to break the rules.

Designer of the Year, Tang Guan Bee


November 16th, 2011

70-year-old Singaporean architect Tang Guan Bee is a maverick at heart, fearlessly experimenting and taking risks throughout his career with such breakthroughs as Gallery Hotel in 2000, the first-of-its-kind “hip boutique hotel” in the country – as Tang himself describes it.

“A good designer should not obey rules, that’s how creation comes about. Anyone who obeys will never move,” says Tang, adding that the system should allow for this.

“Even if it doesn’t allow you there will be guys who will do it. In every country there will be rebellious guys, these are the few guys who stick their neck out. They do it not because they want to destroy… They are just looking for the next thing.”

Tang Guan Bee

Gallery Hotel with William Lim Associates

Apart from receiving the ’Designer of the Year’ title at the recent President’s Design Award, the architect has bagged other several accolades, including the SIA Gold Medal in 2006 for his lifetime contribution to Singapore; his Gallery Hotel and Eastpoint Mall were also both nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2006.

Tang Guan Bee

Eastpoint Mall with Team Design

Tang is recognised as a pioneer architect, both by his peers on home soil and overseas. In Singapore, sustainable projects such as the award winning, but never built, Eco-Housing in the late 1990s were concepts formed ahead of their time.

Tang Guan Bee

Fortredale Apartment

Tang Guan Bee

Windsor House

“The client was not too sure… in their mind it was a test,” recalls Tang of the proposed 4-storey residential units with planters serviced from the outside, which would allow the skin of the building to evolve as the plants changed in colour, shape and form.

“2 years down the road, with planning all done, the client said no. They got [in] advisors who said this cannot sell… the fear element came in.”

Tang Guan Bee

Abelia Apartment

Still on the topic of sustainability, Tang points to Abelia Apartment as a particularly significant green project for him.

The architect says he looks at such projects from a climatic standpoint.

The buildings have to be porous, he continues. ” That one pushes it… That I tell you, I could say is tropical,” says Tang of Abelia. “[It has] gaps for the public, pockets of green, and is linked to walkways which are not air conditioned.”

Tang Guan Bee

Forest One with Archurban China

Tang Guan Bee

Palazzio Malaysia, KL with AM Arkitek

“Every time the project is fresh I learn,” says Tang. “An architect should strive to innovate. He has to invent. And then he reinvents. You don’t stop at first invention.”

Tang Guan Bee

The Market Place

Some stop the moment they reach an equation, he continues. “Because that equation sells. Everybody wants that, so you multiply your equation. And then everything is char siew bao (Chinese barbequed pork bun). Of course you make tons of money. But architecture is not char siew bao.”

“Do things that surprise yourself… A good copycat is nothing.”

Photos: Albert Lim KS

Also watch for our upcoming interview with President’s Design Award ’Designer of the Year’ recipient Sonny Chan.

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