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SLAA 2019 Opening Address


Mr Henry Kwek, Member of Parliament for Kebun Bahru constituency,

Prof. Leo Tan, Chairman, Singapore Garden City Fund,

Senior representatives of the Built Environment Sector,

Past SILA Presidents, senior members and members of the institute,

Sponsors, clients and guests,


On behalf of Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects (SILA), welcome to the Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards 2019. Unfortunately Minister Desmond Lee and Minister Zaqy Mohd are unable to make it this evening. However they send their apologies and would like to congratulate all award winning designers and owners.

This awards is in its 12th edition this year. This biennial celebration of Singapore’s landscape architecture profession showcases and awards exemplary projects that we engage in, both locally and regionally. The 76 project submissions for this year show a wide spectrum of project typologies, ranging from large scale analysis and master planning to nature conservation projects to residential projects.

I would like to thank all participating firms for their entries and congratulate the award winners. My congratulations also go out to the clients, consulting team members, agencies and implementation contractors for the collaborative effort in making these projects a successful reality.

A sincere appreciation also goes out to our members of the jury panels for contributing their time and expertise in reviewing the entries and setting the bar higher each time we organise this event. Amongst the many jury panel members, we have with us tonight Mr Bryan Low, Ms Hwang Yun Hye and Mr Cheong Yew Kee. Thank you very much for your expertise, your patience in waiting for the bus that got lost and for having McDonald’s together with us.

I would like to thank our sponsors for supporting the profession and the awards evening. Playpoint Singapore Pte Ltd, Flair Illum Pte Ltd, Semec Enterprise Pte Ltd, Greenearth Landscape Designers & Planners, Tong De Electrical and Security and MCI Group. And more importantly our major sponsors - Tropic Planners and Landscape and Uniseal Singapore Pte Ltd.

Mr Vincent Chia, CEO of Tropic Planners and Landscape Pte Ltd, we go back a while and have personally seen how you, armed with an enterprising spirit, build up your firm to be one of Singapore’s leading landscape firms. Congratulations to you and we thank you for the support of this event. Understand that the team from Unimat Rik, the team behind Rikcad is here this evening. Thank you.

Ms May Choo, Group Managing Director and Mr James Lim, CEO, Uniseal Singapore Pte Ltd, thank you once again for your relentless support of what we do. Uniseal has always backed up the institute’s projects and is also the solution provider of choice for many of our landscape architects. We appreciate that you see the value too in partnering us on our adventures.

Last but not least, I want to give a shout out to the organising committee. Yurong, Pearlyn, Ash and Victor - for planning and coordinating the exhibition, publication and technical tours. Many of you are working with us for the first time so please pardon the idiosyncrasies from us older folks. Terence, Herbert, Jeverss and Derek. Thank you for the dedication despite your own heavy work commitments and study workload. Your spirit of volunteerism is admirable and your effort is not lost on everyone.

As we celebrate the projects this evening, we have to understand that this flashy part of our job is just one aspect of what we do as landscape architects. We are sometimes called the quiet professional. We do not brag too much about the good work we do. As much as we are celebrating exemplary designs this evening, I have to say that sometimes the work we do is a non-design. Very often we enter into a project with a light and very sensitive touch, especially in conservation projects.

If we have to take a hands-off approach to better save the nature capital of a site, we will do it. So how is this then judged in this kind of an award? In a layman’s eyes, we may not be perceived to have done much, not knowing the amount of effort and experience needed to restrain ourselves from doing too much harm.

Now, many of us are practitioners and there are many partners and service buyers seated amongst us this evening, so we know what is Landscape Architecture, what we do and the roles we play. Or do we?

Professor Anita Berrizbeitia, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, GSD, Harvard University gave me this chart that shows the evolution of the landscape architecture profession over the years. The complexity of work that we now embark on is mind blogging.

From medieval times, when it was a collective craft of gardening to the current Anthropocene, where the profession is now engaged in the whole slew of function and purpose indicated on the chart. From habitat restoration to urban place making to post-disaster recovery.

What I ought to highlight also are the lines that crosses the text. One shows world human population, the second shows urban population. Landscape architecture emerges as a professional discipline when three major shifts occurred simultaneously in the 2nd half of the 19th century - industrialization, unprecedented population growth and urbanization. A third line shows species extinction.

In our current anthropogenic era, what we do will have a serious and long lasting impact on our environment. We are in a relatively safe and comfortable country in Singapore. However unprecedented change is happening around us, in the regional countries that our firms operate in and beyond. As seen in the recent Amazon forest fire, the drought and the haze that is so close to home. That is why youths like Greta Thunberg is giving a shout out, asking us to wake up our bloody ideas.

I personally have always held the belief that Landscape Architecture is one of of the few profession in the world that can make a positive difference. We will not be satisfied with just mitigating environment impact or being sustainable but rather creating a net positive environment.

Last week the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency at the IFLA World Congress in Oslo, Norway. The move has SILA’s unanimous support together with the other 76 voting nations.

To translate it into operational terms in practice means that we cannot design for design, or design just for aesthetics anymore. Whatever we do, we need to consider the wider implications of our interventions in the environment, biophilic designs that do not just allow interaction but also educate on nature and its ecosystem services, and try to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Paraphrasing IFLA President James Hayter’s words, “Landscape Architects must take leadership in this era of climate change. We must stand up for the values upon which our profession is founded. We have the skills and the belief to help with the issues. The world needs and depends on us.”

And we are acting on it. In July, our SILA youth chapter, LA Future, roped together 30 volunteers, not just landscape architects but also other Built Environment Professionals who wanted to contribute. They rallied, sourced for funds themselves and embarked on a community project to build a home for low income indigenous families in Kampung Gurney, Selangor. It was really heartwarming when the key to the home was handed over to the owners, Herman and Aishah. We will do this again next year, this time maybe a bigger build, together with our fellow compatriots from the Institute of Landscape Architects Malaysia (ILAM).

While landscape architects lead in the charge to better the world, we cannot do it all alone. Along with us, we have you, our fellow partners - architects, engineers, developers, policy makers. It is not my intention to leave everyone with a heavy heart burdened with the responsibility we all have.

I am an optimist and believe that we can do so much more if we, using military jargon, can close ranks and walk the talk.

I am confident, in the strong Singapore core of landscape architects, that will come forth in the next wave to take the profession forwards. How so? I will leave you with this Bachelor in Landscape Architecture launch video from NUS.

Enjoy the evening everyone.

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Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects (SILA)