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Leading Man

Theodore Chan takes over the reins at the Singapore Institute of Architects as its newly elected council president. Rachel Lee-Leong finds out more about his intentions for the institute.

Leading Man


May 17th, 2012

On 18 May, Theodore will be making his very first major public appearance as SIA’s president at the organisation’s 51st Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony. “It’s my debutante ball,” he jokingly says. “I’m not a natural public speaker, but I’ll speak from the heart.”

You see, it’s not just about formalities and fanfare at the dinner for Theodore, who has been serving in the SIA council since 2005. Having taken up the role of council president in March this year, he has much to say about where he wants to take the institute, the state of the architecture practice in Singapore, and then some.

For Theodore, who is also a partner at Consultants Incorporated Architects + Planners (CIAP), there are fundamental changes that need to be made within the local architecture industry.

“The craftsmanship attitude in architecture is gone. Everybody is just drawing and designing. But how to get it built? There is a big gap and I think we need to capture that responsibility back and not just say that it’s for the builders to do this,” he says. Undoubtedly, he is on a quest to reinstate the discipline and rigour of practice that he and his peers aspired towards when they were architecture students at the National University of Singapore (NUS).


2011 SIA Architectural Design Awards ’Building of the Year’ – Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

“I remember people like Edward D’Silva and Goh Chong Chia (both past council presidents) coming down to NUS, and we talked to them. We really looked up to them because they were the professionals. There was that emphasis on professional practice as well.”


2011 winner: Industrial, Transport & Infrastructure category (Honourable Mention), The Helix Bridge

Theodore continues an ongoing relay that was started by former president Rita Soh, who was later succeeded by Tai Lee Hsiang, who in turn passed the baton to now-outgoing president Ashvinkumar. “Rita, Lee Hsiang and I were classmates, but Ashvin was a year younger than us.”

“Since the time of Rita, we came up with 4 thrusts: Design thrust, Practice thrust, Education thrust and Institution thrust. Rita formulated these various aspects in which the institute can move. Lee Hsiang continued, so did Ashvin, and so will I. So it’s not a case of a new president coming in and changing everything. There’s continuity in what we’re doing.”


2011 winner: Residential category (Design Award), Pinnacle @ Duxton

Many of the initiatives that Theodore intends to champion during his term as president are aimed at improving the professionalism of the practice – SIA accreditation for green building, practice conventions, detailing and specification sourcebook, among others. For some, it might seem dry. For Theodore, it’s all a part of an architect’s professional duty.


2011 winner: Residential category (Design Award), Botanika

Another question that Theodore is asking himself is ‘How do we architects show ourselves to be more socially responsible?’ For the most part, architects are seen as a luxury that only the rich can afford.

“There are a lot of voluntary organisations, non-governmental organisations, churches, temples ¬– they need to build buildings, but have no clue where to start. We can volunteer our services to be on their organisation boards. It’s a start!”


2011 winner: Industrial, Transport & Infrastructure category (Honourable Mention), Solaris

For initiatives like this to happen, there needs to be more members within SIA. It’s an issue that Theodore is fully aware of. “We have our plans, but we need the members to come in – to have a think tank, to chat, to come up with positional papers, to dialogue, to spread the gospel, so to speak.”

It’s a mammoth task that Theodore has in front of him, but he remains unfazed. “It’s a call. I really believe, as naive as one might think me, that it is ultimately this concept of a servant leader. If you’re a leader, your ultimate aim is to serve. I never aspired to be president. I just wanted to serve and contribute.”

The winners of this year’s SIA Architectural Design Awards will be announced on 18 May. Catch our report, out soon.

Singapore Institute of Architects 

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