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P*DA 2018 Features: Raymond Woo on How to be a Successful Architect

As one of Singapore’s veteran architects, Raymond Woo has had a career spanning more than four decades. He has been in the architectural field since 1971. His passion for architecture led him to designing some of the most iconic buildings in Singapore like the Singapore Science Centre, Ngee Ann City and the Prudential Tower.

In April 2018, Raymond, along with a group of Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) planners, spoke at the Young Planners’ Forum organised by the URA. The Forum aimed to encourage students to exchange ideas on planning issues, using data in city planning, and on the conservation of Singapore’s built heritage.

During the talk, Raymond shared his design process and what inspired his designs – from a spaceship that led to the futuristic-looking Science Centre, to three stacked boxes for his design of the mall 268 Orchard Road. Raymond, who teaches at the National University of Singapore, captivated the young audience easily with his wit and humour, as he shared insights on becoming a successful architect.

Plan for the people

Raymond Woo highlighted to his young audience that architects must first and foremost “always plan for the people” when it comes to designing buildings. That means, one must bear in mind the flow of human traffic, and do so by observing how people move. Are they prone to taking the lift or escalator? What should they see first when they enter the building? These are important questions that must be asked to understand the movement of people. The award-winning architect stressed that architects can’t just draw something and expect people to “move” to the right places. It is never about whipping out a pencil and a paper to start sketching without really understanding the needs of those who will use the building, he said. Your floorplan must be clear and detailed enough to allow you to see the amount of space you will be dealing with and how people will move around, he advised.

Embrace the challenges

It may come as a surprise but this pioneer architect, who has designed several of Singapore’s most iconic buildings, did not always do well academically. Raymond confessed that he once scored 3 out of 100 for a physics exam while in architectural school. His professor told him to give up but a good friend, who was studying to be an engineer, volunteered to tutor him. With the friend’s help, Raymond eventually came to enjoy the subject. “When I repeated the subject, I got an A because I started to enjoy it. You got to have some basic knowledge on science. Don’t just walk in and say I can draw. You need to draw sensibly with a bit of science and math.”

The veteran advised his young audience that a basic knowledge of Maths and Physics were necessary for the architectural practice. These ensured that an architect’s work was sound.

Raymond emphasised that architecture doesn’t just involve sketching, but a lot of hard work and effort are put into each design. He advised them to be patient if they want to excel in their craft as an architect. In the words of Raymond Woo, failure shouldn’t pull you down no matter how hard it is.

About the award

Established in 2006, the President*s Design Award is Singapore’s most prestigious design accolade. The Award recognises excellence across all design disciplines, including advertising design and visual communications, architecture and urban design.


As a follow up to The Young Planners’ Forum, a walking trail with Raymond Woo was conducted in Orchard Road. Watch this space for a photo story on what happened during the trail!



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