A legacy of landmark buildings in Malaysia and Singapore

Lim Chong Keat (MArch 57) has left a lasting legacy in Southeast Asia. His modernist masterpieces include the Komtar Tower in Penang, once Malaysia's tallest skyscraper, and the Singapore Conference Hall which has been home to cultural and political events for over 50 years. Jurong Town Hall is his design. It houses Singapores Trade Association hub.The Singapore Heritage Board has designated the Town Hall and Conference Hall as national monuments. They were built in 1965 and 1974 respectively. Lim, 91 years old, notes that this is especially satisfying because these were major civic buildings that were won through an open architectural competition. His firm won the Conference Hall contract in the first competition of this type since the end of Japanese occupation in the mid-40s.Lims Jurong Town Hall in Singapore was built in 1974. JTCLim was born in Penang, Malaysia. He has served on the UN Review Panel to review the State and City Planning project for Singapore. He was President of the Singapore Institute of Architects and received the Gold Medal as well as the corresponding honor from the Malaysian counterpart.Lim Chong Eu was the chief minister of Penang for many years. Although some people suggested that Komtar was awarded because of family connections, Lim claims they weren't aware of Lims professional record which included the tallest buildings in Singapore and his training in urban planning at MIT. He says that we were one of very few companies in the country who could do urban design. Lim conducted extensive urban studies in collaboration with other consultants to determine how to revitalize his hometown's central area. The Komtar complex was the outcome of these studies. Buckminster Fuller, Lim's friend and colleague, was also part of the design of the geodesic dome.Lim came to MIT in 1956 with a prestigious Harkness Fellowship (then Commonwealth Fund), which he received from the University of Manchester, the United Kingdom. The modernist movement of Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright and others attracted Lim to the United States.When I was young, I was inspired by Wright's Fallingwater photograph. That was what drove me to architecture. This fellowship allowed me to travel around the world and I met Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. This was the American dream. I was able to knock on doors and often be invited in. The people were so kind back then.Lim discovered architectural acoustics while a grad student at MIT. He studied under Robert Newman (MArch 49), who was a dear friend and later consulted on the Singapore Conference Hall. Lim was captivated by the music and the acoustical atmosphere and traveled to New York City frequently as a young student. Lim also cites Gyrgy Kepes, MIT professor and visual artist, as an inspiration.Lim returned to Singapore Polytechnic as a mentor for new generations of architects. He also lectures around the globe. He hopes architectural students today will receive the same comprehensive training that he received to understand the holistic nature architecture.Urbanization is a disaster. You have sociological problemswealth inequalities. Both of these things have gotten out of control. He says that a well-planned city will foster a harmonious, conducive society. Unfortunately, the lack of localized expertise in planning and control has led to a decline in this area.Lim has been pursuing a new kind of harmony through botany in recent years. He is reminiscent of his childhood days spent in his father's garden. Lim maintains the largest collection of gingers and palms from Malaysia in Penang's private botanical garden. He is currently compiling four volumes of taxonomic research covering more than 70 species. These were previously published in Folia malaysiana in 2000, which he started.His signature structures are also national landmarks. He says that he is glad that the buildings represent what I tried to design in an original and comprehensive way. However, I don't want to appear pompous!