Architect of Modern Singapore
In Memoriam: Lee Kuan Yew
1923 – 2015
The modern city-state that Singapore is today owes much to the thinking, decisions and influence of Mr Lee Kuan Yew over decades.
By any measure, Singapore has done well. The vast majority of people live in affordable and good quality public housing (83%). 90% own their own homes. The city buzzes with nightlife and activities, playing host to major international events. When we want to relax, we can step out of our homes and enter a comprehensive network of parks, greenery, and activated waterways, all bustling with biodiversity. But half a century ago, Singapore was a very different place.
Building up a sense of nationhood and unity was of paramount concern when Singapore separated from Malaysia. Providing a good quality living environment for all, regardless of their status, coupled with universal home ownership, was a fundamental principle on which all policies were based. Building public housing on such a scale was a massive exercise. In its first five years, the HDB built 50,000 units. The HDB housing programme proved a resounding success. By 1976, half of the population lived in HDB flats. A decade later (1985), it was 80%. But it was not just a numbers game. The public housing programme aimed to get Singaporeans to own their flats, instead of just renting them.
The government freed up prime land in the CBD. It also decided to move the main airport from Paya Lebar to Changi so that it would be able to grow over the long term. But to be truly world-class as a hub for business and tourism, the city needed to be easily and quickly accessible from the airport. So the government decided to build an expressway to connect Changi Airport to the CBD. But there was no land – the British had allowed people to build properties all the way up to the coastline. The entire east coast was already built up to the sea…
Peter Ho, Chairman of URA, 2013
“Singapore must retain the sense of space. We’re going to build taller buildings but we can’t build them closely together.
There must be a sense of playing fields, and recreational areas for children and old people – a sense that this is a full country with all the facilities which you expect of a large country but in a confined space.”
Lee Kuan Yew, Architect of Modern Singapore