Imbibing architectural insights of NUS campus

This afternoon, I stole away for two hours to join Lai Chee Kien’s class (SSD2213 Singapore Urban History and Architecture) for a quick insight into the architecture of the Kent Ridge campus of the National University of Singapore. I intercepted the group who had walked over from SDE at the bridge over Kent Ridge Crescent and walked with them from the environs of Central Library to Yusof Ishak House.

For two hours, I had the pleasure of listening to and asking questions of Meng Ta Cheang, the planner and architect of the NUS Kent Ridge campus design, and Lim Pin Jie, a former grad student of Chee Kien’s who wrote about the architectural history of the campus*.

Getting out of the office to be a student on campus was a real treat – it was a chance to listen, learn, ask questions and reflect. Several questions I have had in my head about NUS’ design were answered and a few things I had not thought about were raised. This is a trigger for subsequent reading but not all is written down.

On the tour with me from Science was Yap Von Bing from Statistics and Applied Probability (also a naturalist and who will be speaking about sampling next week). The two of us tried not to edge out the actual students since we were simply interlopers! We enjoyed ourselves and thanks are due to the speakers and Lai Chee Kien who gave me a holler about the tour in February.


Architect Meng Ta Cheang addressing the group. Photo by Lai Chee Kien.

View of the group outside Central Library, from the central valley.
Photo by See Weiqiang (LSM2251 student on a butterfly hunt).

The group included several former NUS students and current staff who have experienced a couple of decades on campus. So it was easy for us to make comparisons of building design then and now and comment on the changes – enough to make me decide I’ll have to spend a morning around campus with a camera to document some familiar aspects of design which are fading away.

The architecture of the NUS campus has played a role in shaping our experience here. The insight into the thought behind the design which I learnt about today will fuel and integrate with several stories we tell during the regular Pasir Panjang/Kent Ridge tours.

We have actually already begun, for during the past two years during the Battle of Pasir Panjang anniversary, Lai Chee Kien has joined us to contribute architectural perspectives during the walk. In fact Chee Kien and I have been itching all this while to revive an old tradition of campus walks for NUS staff and students.

Well, I’ll include a few morsels from today during next week’s plant tour. Oi Yee, myself and a few Toddycats are helping out as plant guides for small but unique small tree-planting ceremony in campus, coordinated by NUSSU SAVE’s Campus in a Rainforest (CiTR). Since we are Pasir Panjang guides, it’s inevitable that history will get its fair share as well. The group we are guiding are part of the NUS community and I’ll see from their response whether they think it’s a good idea!


Lai Chee Kien introducing the architectural thought behind the NUS campus
design during the Battle of Pasir Panjang Anniversary Walk, 13 Feb 2011.
Photo by Andrew Him.

*Lim, P. J., 2009. Positioning the role of the state in the Kent Ridge Campus Masterplan: an architectural history of our university.. Dissertation submitted to the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Architecture. Supervisor: LAI Chee Kien. 108p.

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