Mdm Halimah Yacob, President of the Republic of Singapore, with Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry; representatives of the Economic Development Board, the DesignSingapore Council and the Urban Redevelopment Authority; Jury Chairs; and recipients of the P*DA 2023 at The Istana on 12 July.
The President*s Design Award ceremony is much more than a celebration. It is a chance to align our thinking about the nature, purpose, and ongoing impact of design.
Article by Narelle Yabuka. Photography by Gan Jia Jun.
It happens just once every two years. Attending the President*s Design Award (P*DA) ceremony at The Istana is an experience to remember – and it’s not only for the anticipation that precedes the announcement of this cycle’s award recipients, or the fascination of visiting one of the nation’s most important landmarks.
The ceremony is also an occasion that promotes dialogue about the progress of Singapore design. After the formalities, the State and Banquet Rooms at The Istana become havens for networking and discussion – why are the P*DA recipients the epitome of design excellence and impact in Singapore? What do they say about where Singapore design is heading? Where do we need more innovation by design for the future of Singapore?
The P*DA 2023 ceremony at The Istana was helmed by emcee Yasminne Cheng and had an audience of 240 guests.
The P*DA 2023 ceremony on 12 July was a welcome return to the full house of the pre-pandemic era. Madam Halimah Yacob, President of the Republic of Singapore, presented the coveted P*DA trophies before an audience consisting of Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong; representatives of the co-organisers, the DesignSingapore Council and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, as well as the Economic Development Board and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth; dignitaries from the Indonesian, Danish, Italian, and Swiss embassies; P*DA recipients (past and present) and their clients; P*DA Jurors; and leaders from the design and business fields.
Unfolding over an hour, the formal on-stage proceedings had the audience engaged – responding to the tone of heartfelt gratitude in the recipients’ acceptance speeches, as well as the sense of urgency and passion with which people spoke of the issues they have designed for.
Driven to Make an Impact
For architect Wong Mun Summ of WOHA Architects, that meant sounding the alarm over the existential crisis that we all currently face with respect to climate change. Representing the project team with an acceptance speech for the Design of Year accolade for the Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai, he explained how WOHA Architects proposed a vision of a future where architecture and nature co-exist harmoniously – for the benefit of people and planet.
“Despite our size,” said Wong, “it is necessary for Singapore, and all of us as a united people, to be good ancestors, considering the long-term consequences of our actions and decisions for future generations. To address climate change and carbon emissions, we need to be far more ambitious in our plans to tackle environmental, social, and governance practices. We look forward to being part of this transformative journey.”
Ar. Wong Mun Summ of WOHA Architects delivering the studio’s acceptance speech for the Design of the Year accolade for the Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai.
Landscape architect Leonard Ng of Henning Larsen similarly expressed hope for making a difference through his profession. In his acceptance speech for Designer of the Year, he spoke of the important role played by landscape in the development and branding of Singapore since the early days of independence. “In the future,” he said, “as we confront some of the intractable challenges facing our globe – [especially] climate change – I believe landscape can play a more important role in helping to ameliorate some of [them].”
Designer of the Year recipient, landscape architect Leonard Ng (Henning Larsen, APAC), describing his work to President Halimah Yacob and Minister Gan Kim Yong during a tour of the P*DA 2023 exhibition after the ceremony.
Representing the project team behind the guidebook Hack Care: Tips and Tricks for a Dementia-friendly Home, which received a Design of the Year accolade, architect Ong Ker-Shing of Lekker Architects spoke on stage about the value of an inclusive approach to design. She emphasised that people living with dementia and their caregivers are not usually the recipients of design. “We believe that this award helps to push what design is and who design is for,” she shared.
(L-R) Gabriel Lim (Lien Foundation), Ar. Ong Ker-Shing (Lekker Architects), President Halimah Yacob, Dr Joshua Comaroff (Lekker Architects), and Hunn Wai (Lanzavecchia + Wai) during the presentation of the Design of the Year trophy for Hack Care: Tips and Tricks for a Dementia-friendly Home.
Of course, there are stories of the drive for betterment and positive impact behind each one of the recipients. For Designer of the Year, architect Tan Kay Ngee, there is the impetus to make better cities for better living. For Hans Tan, whose curatorial project R for Repair was recognised with Design of the Year, there is the mission to shift how people think about repair and the value of the things they own.
For Design of the Year recipients Brian Yang of Bjarke Ingels Group (awarded with RSP Architects Planners & Engineers for CapitaSpring) and Christopher Lee of Serie + Multiply (awarded with CPG Consultants for State Courts Towers), there are new visions for high-rise architecture in dense tropical cities. For Anton Siura of SIURA Studio (awarded for Tebet Eco Park in Jakarta), there is the drive to positively impact the wellbeing of the natural environment as well as the people using it.
That the P*DA, with its focus on the positive impact of design, should highlight such a spectrum of relevant issues is no surprise. As noted by Dr Joshua Comaroff of Lekker Architects, “The P*DA is not a beauty contest. The criteria are very clear, and the jury puts a lot of work into saying why they have selected these recipients – it’s very meaningful.”
Ar. Nina Loo (RSP Architects Planners & Engineers) and Brian Yang (Bjarke Ingels Group) giving speeches after receiving the Design of the Year accolade for CapitaSpring.
The occasion was also significant for other reasons – chiefly, the assembling of a diverse array of Singapore’s design talent and the opportunity to discuss and reflect. “This event connects many talented people who talk about the designs that have been selected during the evening,” explained 2020 Design of the Year recipient Carlos Bañón of AirLab @ SUTD. “The kind of mood it creates is amazing,” he added.
“We don’t have enough of these kinds of events,” suggested Juror Angelene Chan (Chairman, DP Architects). Both she and Jury Chair of the Architecture Panel, Chan Soo Khian (Founding Principal and Design Director, SCDA Architects), pointed out the value of all design fraternities formally celebrating the P*DA honour together and talking across traditional disciplinary boundaries. “It’s an opportunity to affirm and reflect on the values that are important to us,” said Juror Dr Erwin Viray (Chief Sustainability Officer, Singapore University of Technology and Design [SUTD]), “and it affirms that design is an important part of everyday life.”
Appreciation for the human experience of the evening also extended to the content of the ceremony. Febrianty Madyansari of SIURA Studio mentioned how enjoyable it was to hear the recipients express themselves on a human level during the speeches. Juror Dr Emi Kiyota (Associate Professor, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and former Director [Programme], Health District @ Queenstown) also noted the significance of this. “Many recipients talked about how meaningful this is to them as Singaporeans. It’s rare to have such moments. It’s very touching and important,” she said.
(Clockwise from top left, L-R) Jurors Dr Emi Kiyota (NUS) and Larry Peh (&Larry) with Design of the Year recipient Hans Tan and his son; Design of the Year recipient Ar. Richard Hassell (WOHA Architects) with past recipients Prasoon Kumar (Billion Bricks) and Carlos Banon (AirLab @ SUTD); guest Jessie Tan (Ramboll) with Jurors Ar. Chan Soo Khian (SCDA Architects), Ar. Angelene Chan (DP Architects), and Dr Erwin Viray (SUTD); recipients Febrianty Madyansari (SIURA Studio) and Totty Retno Damayanti (Studio Sae).
An Eye on Singapore’s Future, by Design
Given the passionate drive of the P*DA recipients to achieve betterment for Singapore and the world by design, it is enticing to ponder what makes them excited about the future of Singapore design. We asked some of them to share their thoughts.
For architect Phua Hong Wei of WOHA Architects, the diversity of the awarded projects is an indicator of the strength of Singapore’s design offering. “If you look around at the different scales, different outcomes, and different types of projects that are on show today, it’s certainly promising in terms of what Singapore can deliver through design,” he said.
(Clockwise from top left, L-R) Design of the Year recipient Ar. Colin Wu (CPG Consultants) presenting a model of the State Courts Towers to President Halimah Yacob and Minister Gan Kim Yong; past Designer of the Year recipients Ar. Khoo Peng Beng and Ar. Belinda Huang (ARC Studio Architecture + Urbanism), international guests, and Designer of the Year recipient Ar. Tan Kay Ngee; the extended project team for Design of the Year recipient the Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai; and Jury Chairs Dr Hossein Rezai (Ramboll and Web Structures) and Ar. Chan Soo Khian (SCDA Architects).
According to Brian Yang, who has Singaporean roots but is based in Bjarke Ingels Group’s Copenhagen studio, the context of dense, tropical Singapore is yielding notable design solutions with global significance. “There’s a very Singaporean take on the integration of design and architecture with the environment,” he suggested, “of embracing the tropical context and allowing it to be an asset rather than something you work against. I think that proactive attitude of adaptation and flexibility, and making the most of the resources you have, is a valuable approach to design that is going to be more and more necessary on the global stage in the future.”
As 14 cycles of the P*DA have demonstrated, Singapore continues to establish itself as a player of note on the global design stage. As observed by Jury Chair of the Design Panel Dr Hossein Rezai (Global Design Director, Ramboll, and Founding Director, Web Structures), Singapore’s design community has matured – and it’s been exciting to watch. He said, “I have seen the pattern evolving over the past 20 years or so, and how a strong breed of the ‘trans-disciplinarian’ designer is emerging. I believe the P*DA has been a major contributing factor to this positive trend.”
We look forward to the next P*DA ceremony in 2025.
Watch the P*DA 2023 Ceremony below.
For interviews, citations, and images of the Designers and Designs of the Year, view the Award Recipient page of this website or download the P*DA 2023 publication here.