Born in 1932, William S W Lim graduated from the Architectural Association (AA) and continued his graduate study at the Department of City and Regional Planning, Harvard University, as a Fullbright Fellow. He is a citizen of the Republic of Singapore. His professional work involves architecture, planning and development economics. His academic interest focuses on the directions of architecture and issues of urbanism in Southeast Asia.
Lim returned from the United States in 1957. He started his apprenticeship with James Ferrie, an English architect practicing in Singapore. In 1960, Lim decided to set up an architectural practice of his own together with two of his contemporaries whom he knew well whilst studying in the United Kingdom. Malayan Architects Co-Partnership (MAC) was formed. It was a period of great political and social changes, as Singapore was granted self-government only in 1959. The partnership experimented with Modernism, modifying it to suit local conditions and applying it subsequently in their search for a national architectural identity.
The Partnership designed numerous residential houses and soon after won many competitions including the Singapore Conference Hall in 1962. The design concept was a mixture of Rudolph's service towers and Corbusier's Chandigarh umbrella roof modified for local conditions. In the process, the practice expanded rapidly.
After MAC was dissolved in 1967, Lim decided to test his own planning and architectural ideas. He established Design Partnership with two associates, with the intention of developing a unique working methodology for themselves. In addition to standard architectural service, it was at this practice that Lim effectively applied the wealth of knowledge gained at Harvard on land and development economics.
Design Partnership later known as DP Architects, prospered as rapid economic development since the late 60s had created tremendous design opportunities for architects. The most notable projects associated with Lim during the earlier years with Design Partnership included the People's Park Complex, Golden Mile Complex and St Andrew's Junior College.
Concern over the rapid pace of urban development in Singapore led Lim to initiate a discussion group called the Singapore Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) with other young architects and planners in 1965. The group subsequently expanded to include other professionals in the private sector as well as academics from various disciplines. The group discussed, examined and popularised many issues relating to architecture, planning and the urban environment. Design Partnership gave considerable support and provided a home for the group's operations, SPUR organised numerous seminars and had two publications entitled: "SPUR 65-67" and "SPUR 68-71". Some of these activities were controversial at that time, and the views expressed by SPUR were not always well received by the authorities.
At the regional level, Lim was a founder member of a small collaborative group called Asian Planning & Architectural Consultants (APAC) with professionals from the region. Members include Fumihiko Maki and Koichi Nagashima from Japan, Tao Ho from Hong Kong, Sumet Jumsai from Thailand, Charles Correa from India and William Lim from Singapore. The objectives of the group were to examine and develop the directions of architecture and urbanism in the Asian region. APAC's philosophy and work were published in a special issue of Process Architecture, (PA No. 20, November 1980).
Lim was also active in programmes concerned with the relationship between culture, development and equity. His most significant involvement was with the Southeast Asian Study Group, comprising for the first time, young academics and intellectuals of various disciplines from the region. Formed in the early 70s, the group discussed and analysed economic development and its relationship with culture, moral and spiritual values. Presently, many of the activists in the group are leading academic politicians, writers and intellectuals in the region.
In the mid-70s, after more than a decade of practicing within the framework of Modernism, Lim came to realise that Modern architecture was neither understood nor appreciated by the common people whom it claimed to serve. In his view, Modern architecture was critically "sick" and increasingly alienated from society. It suffered from an incurable disease called dehumanisation. It was within this context that Lim began to critically examine the "Post Modern" movement. He concentrated his energy on trying out small and medium-sized experimental projects, working closely with some of the younger architects in the practice. The projects done during this period included Thai House, Merlin Inn, Yeo Hiap Seng factories, Wilayah Shopping Centre and Chapel of the Resurrection.
Lim's experiments on post-Modernism unfortunately did not pay off financially in that they did not help the practice to win new major commissions. Understandably, Lim's partners had very little enthusiasm for his experiments and the frequent conflicts led to his resignation from Design Partnership in 1981.
Lim's departure from Design Partnership gave him the breathing space to re-define the purpose and direction of his work. After a few months of soul searching, he embarked on a new practice - William Lim Associates (WLA) - which exists up to today. (See article FromCorb to Pluralism - reflections of aSingapore architect in his new book Asian New Urbanism)
WLA is intended to be small and compact. Jobs are selected for the challenge they pose and the design potential. The practice prides itself on a philosophy which fosters design creativity and innovation. By virtue of this approach, the practice attracts young architects of different background and aesthetic inclinations, who are drawn by the opportunity to express themselves in an informal studio-like office environment. The practice encourages architects to discover their own design directions, and demands their critical evaluation of the current intellectual and architectural discourse as well as their adaptations to suit local conditions. Selected projects completed to date by WLA include Unit 8, Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, Church of Our Saviour, Central Square in Kuala Lumpur, Villa Chancery, Tampines North Community Centre, Reuter's House, Telok Ayer Market, Adam Place Development and LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts.
Rapid urban development in the 60s led to massive destruction of the physical environment. In the 80s, as the economy matured, emphasis began to focus on conservation efforts, of which Lim was one of the pioneers. In 1987, he was the founder member and first president of the Singapore Heritage Society. The Society's activities are broad-based including the heritage of the built-environment, printing materials and the performing arts as well as culture and lifestyles. Since its formation, the Society has held exhibitions and workshops as well as the publication of many books.
Throughout Lim's career, he has been actively involved in the teaching and sharing of ideas. He lectures frequently at many international conferences and universities. He has deliberately turned down offers of teaching positions from universities in Europe and the United States as he prefers to make his contribution in the region.
In line with his concern with design discourse, he initiated AA Asia in 1987 based on the spirit of and inspired by the School of Architecture, Architectural Association (London). The objective of AA Asia is to organise serious programmes from workshops and seminars to publications and exhibitions of members' work. The main purpose of these programmes is to exchange and explore new design ideas as well as to identify new architectural directions. Architects committed to design excellence from the Asian region are welcome to be members of AA Asia.
Lim is the author of five books entitled: (i) Equity and Urban Environment in the Third World - with special reference to ASEAN Countries and Singapore (1975) (ii) An Alternative Urban Strategy (1980); (iii) Cities for People : reflections of a South East Asian Architect (1990); (iv) Contemporary Vernacular: evoking traditions in Asian
Architecture, co-author with Tan Hock Beng (1997); (v) Asian New Urbanism (1998). Besides Contemporary Vernacular, the other four are a compilation of his lectures and articles on a broad range of subjects. Presently, Lim is the President of AA Asia, a board member of LaSalle-SIA College of Fine Arts (Singapore) and an editorial board member of Solidarity-current affairs, ideas and the Arts (Manila). He is also an Adjunct Professor of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and Guest Professor of Tianjin University, China.