Head of Department
Professor Ho Puay-Peng (Dr.)
Head of Department, Professor, Department of Architecture
School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore
UNESCO Chair on Architectural Heritage Conservation and Management in Asia
I must first congratulate the graduating class for achieving a milestone in your life! You have taken a decision boldly some years ago to embark on the learning journey in architecture at NUS. There must have been ups and downs along the way but you persevere as you developed a passion for architecture.
Needless to say, these few years must have been very difficult with decanting and reduction of facilities at the department during our major renovation. This is compounded by the ravaging pandemic affecting your study in the last two years. However, you are resilient and have adapted to the situation and continued to ponder and make innovative solutions to some of the issues facing the community today. I salute your efforts and truly enjoyed the fruits of your labour in the last few years.
At this time when you begin to turn a new page in your career, I would like to reflect on what you might have picked up in this learning journey with us.
I am sure that critical mindset is at the heart of your learning. Central to developing this mindset and initiating the creative design process is asking question intelligently. Curiosity in both social and physical environment is the key to critical thinking. I hope this attitude of curiosity and exploration will stay with you throughout your life.
Beyond critical thinking, you should also have picked up the skill of lateral thinking and the creative leap. This is the iterative process that you have been engaged in for all your academic training, which I think you will continue to develop if you choose to stay in the profession.
During the process, you would also pick up skills in inter-disciplinary collaboration. You would be able to see issues at hand or problem statement not just as an architect, but also as a sociologist, historian, engineers, policy makers, and the community, just a few stakeholders for example. This collaborative skill will get more important in the future.
Finally, you should have a good in-depth sense of the challenges facing the community and the world currently. Climate change, urban heat island and sea-water rise are some of the resilience and sustainability challenges we are confronting. Do we have solutions? How about social issues such as inclusivity, racial harmony, fairness and social justice, or national identity and collective memory? Have we developed value propositions?
Not all issues can be solved by architecture alone, but we are in the key position to make changes so that these issues will be addressed. We value health, harmony, sustainable and wellness. And we hope that you hold these values into your career.
I do not want to leave you with such heavy mission for life, but rather, I would want to suggest that the key to sustain your passion and drive you to continue in the profession is to find joy in your work. The joy of the creation of architecture or space is perhaps in the research and design process, the aesthetic of the form, and the enjoyment of the users. I hope you can find joy in what you do in the future.
Thank you for taking the journey with us in your architecture education, we learn and enjoy your work. Again, heartiest congratulations on your achievement.
Dean’s Chair Associate
Professor Erik L’Heureux FAIA
Programme Director, Master of Architecture
Vice Dean (Special Projects), Department of Architecture
School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore
At the Department of Architecture, NUS, we have 130 thesis students with 34 faculty advisors marking out their design territory in a two semester theses, a cohort bigger than many Master of Architecture programmes located beyond our latitude. We pride ourselves on this strength in numbers, and the diversity of voices that result from having this large student body.
A design thesis is about thought leadership, claiming intellectual ground, and marking a territory of expertise. It is also fundamentally about creative practice, a test bed for graduating students to tease out future ambitions.
Drawings, models, photographs, code, and materials are tools used to communicate ideas through buildings, landscapes and things. The practice part of “creative practice” refers to repeating, getting better, and repeating again with improvements as a musician might, leveraging knowledge, skill, and intuition simultaneously. This all occurs in the design thesis. It is a tricky feat, requiring language dexterity, intellectual determination and creative intuition all at the same time.
The design outcomes this year also vary in approach and representation, although specific themes can be read through the collective effort. Intersections of themes occur across projects, like a collection of low-lying clouds, inscribing blurry and hazy zones of territory.
In M.Arch, the student designers champion their own curation in the Show, using words, ideas, drawings and images to frame their territories and contributions to the future of the discipline. Usually the critical review and articulation is the voice of the historian, to make sense of the work, but at DOA, we expect our design students to be articulate, be aware, and be capable to discursively position their projects and their ideas in the large field of architecture conversation today. The Show as a curatorial position is about reflecting, mirroring, and teasing out the threads of work this year, finding and defining these hazy cloud edges.
The theses and its students also represent the resilience and determination of our students. It was a year like no other where hot desk studio space, compromised workshop facilities, and campus access restrictions have plagued the way we used to teach the thesis. The very real and palatable stresses of Covid-19 had to be juggled on campus, in the community, and at home. However, we have been lucky: Covid-19 was fortunately controlled well at the national level, and students could enjoy the “luxury” of meeting face-to-face in small groups with their advisors, supplementing the virtual exchange that we are all familiar with by now.
We are also grateful and relieved that the final review occurred in our newly renovated building with the physical and also virtual presence of renown external and guest reviewers, allowing us to conclude the year-long efforts of students and advisors in the best possible setting. We easily forget how important physical space and bodily proximity (albeit socially distanced) is to inculcate exchange, debate, and ideas about architecture. Having a face to face review reaffirmed that the space of architecture, at least for me, is fundamental to the social and intellectual life of any school.
I may challenge, find fault, or plainly disagree with ideas embedded in the students’ works. It seems unusual, but this is the role of thesis – to provoke and challenge the shifting and blurry edges of architecture. It is normal to feel anxiety, as the discipline precariously shifts and expands, but at the same time it drives students, academics and practitioners alike to redefine architecture on our own terms. Therefore, the more thesis expands our clouds, while being confident in architecture’s center, the more faith I have that this generation will move architectural thought confidently and boldly into the future despite the anxiety, affecting change in Singapore, in the region and across the globe.
Congratulations to the graduating batch of students from the Master of Architecture programme, Class of 2021.