Liu Thai Ker

Singapore Infopedia

by Tan, Bonny


Liu Thai Ker (b. 23 February 1938 Muar, Johor, Malaysia –) is noted for his influence on Singapore's urban landscape as the former chief executive officer of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).1 Trained as an architect, Liu’s keen sense of the arts was inherited from his father Liu Kang, a local pioneer artist.2 Liu also held distinguished positions in the field of local arts, urban planning and architecture.

Early life
The eldest son of artist Liu Kang, Liu moved from Muar to Singapore after World War II. At Chung Cheng High School, he excelled academically, skipping Form 4 and progressing to Form 5. He also won many prizes in drawing and calligraphy. Although his early ambitions were to become an artist like his father, going as far as to hold exhibitions of his works during the 1950s and 1960s, Liu was advised by family and friends to pursue architecture instead.3

Liu graduated from the University of New South Wales with a first class honours degree in architecture in 1962. He furthered his studies and obtained his masters in city planning from Yale University in 1965. The period that Liu spent working in well-known architectural institutions – such as Loder & Dunphy in Sydney, and I.M. Pei in New York – was considered as a time of apprenticeship, when he learned more about town planning.4

Upon his return to Singapore, Liu joined the HDB (1969–89), the organisation responsible for public housing, and later, the URA (1989–92). At the HDB, he left an indelible mark in three key areas: housing concept – moving from “large scale estates with localised facilities to self-sufficient new towns”; architectural design – transforming functional buildings to aesthetically designed homes with a tropical touch; and engineering design that used "new structural systems" such as the long span pre-stressed concrete beams for public housing.5

For the URA, Liu's main contribution was in revising the Concept Plan and in conservation projects. The Concept Plan arose from the British master plan for Singapore and was intended to shape Singapore's early urban landscape.6

Fluent in both English and Mandarin, Liu served as a planning advisor to various municipal governments in China, and was conferred the Honorary Citizen of Fuzhou Award by the Fujian district for his contributions.7 As chairman of the National Arts Council from 1996 to 2005, Liu developed a “concept plan” for the arts, particularly in promoting local arts and encouraging film-making.8 Under his strategic leadership, the council successfully implemented the recommendations of the 2000 Renaissance City Report, such as the development of the Singapore Writers’ Festival and Singapore Biennale, and other significant programmes.9

Liu served as the founding chairman of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute from 2002 to 2009. He also acquired customised printing equipment for the institute from American master printer Ken Tyler’s printing facilities.10 From 2008 to 2020, Liu was the founding chairman of the advisory board of the Centre for Liveable Cities under the Ministry of National Development.11

In 2017, Liu embarked on his first private venture and founded a new architecture firm, Morrow Architects & Planners. The name was inspired by his late father, pioneer artist, Liu Kang’s Morrow Studio, which offered commercial sign painting and embodied forward-looking qualities in its name.12

1946–49: San San Primary School, Singapore
1950–54: Chung Cheng High School, Singapore
1956: Sydney Technical College, Sydney, Australia
1957–62: School of Architecture, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
1963–65: Architecture Graduate School, Yale University, Connecticut, USA
1995: Doctor of Science (honoris causa), University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

1955: Substitute teacher, Kuan Chiew Primary School, Singapore
195859: Employee, Clement Glancey Architects, Sydney, Australia
196063: Architect, Loder & Dunphy Architects, Sydney, Australia
196569: Architect-planner, I.M. Pei and Partners, Architects and Planners, New York, USA
1969: Head, Design and Research Section, HDB, Singapore
1975: Chief Architect, HDB, Singapore
1976: Deputy CEO, HDB, Singapore
1979–89: CEO, HDB, Singapore
1989–92: CEO and Chief Planner, URA, Singapore
1992–2017: Director, RSP Architects Planners and Engineers, Singapore
1996–2005: Chairman, National Arts Council, Singapore15
2002: Chairman, Censorship Review Committee, Media Development Authority, Singapore16
2002: Chairman, Design Jury, Beijing Olympic Master Plan competition
2002–09: Chairman, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore17
2005: Adjunct Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore18
2008–20: Founding Chairman, Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore19
2009: Adjunct Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore20
2015: Executive Board Member, China Cultural Centre, Singapore21
2017: Founder and Chairman, Morrow Architects & Planners, Singapore22

1976: Public Administration Medal (Gold), Singapore
1985: Meritorious Service Medal, Singapore
1993: Second ASEAN Achievement Award
1994: Honorary Citizen of Fuzhou Award, Fujian, People’s Republic of China
2001: Gold Medal, Singapore Institute of Architects24
2001: Medal of the City of Paris, France25
2015: Distinguished Service Order, National Day Award, Singapore26
2018: Graham Mitchel Award – International Chapter, Australian Institute of Architects27

Former wife: Marta Mikes, whom he married in 1976, is an Australian citizen and a trained soprano. They have three children together – sons Kristof and Janos, and daughter Eszter.
Present wife: Gretchen Liu née Gustafson, whom he married in 1984, is a journalist turned writer. They have a son Daniel and daughter Kristin.

Bonny Tan

1. Leo Suryadinata, ed., Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary, vol. 1 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012), 687–88. (Call no. RSING 959.004951 SOU)
2. Allison Lim, “Liu Thai Ker Replaces Tommy Koh as NAC Chairman,” Straits Times, 30 June 1996, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 687.
4. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 687.
5. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 688.
6. Tommy Koh et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, 2006), 312. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
7. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 688.
8. Parvathi Nayar, “Patron and Planner,” Business Times, 30 July 2005, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 689.
9. Nayar, “Patron and Planner”; Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, “NAS Has a New Chairman,” press release, 13 June 2005.
10. “Liu Thai Ker,” The Esplanade Co Ltd, accessed 3 July 2021.  
11. ‘Liu Thai Ker,” Morrow Architects & Planners, accessed 1 July 2021; The Esplanade Co Ltd, “Liu Thai Ker”; “People- Distinguished Advisors,” Centre for Liveable Cities, accessed 6 July 2021.
12. Morrow Architects & Planners, ‘Liu Thai Ker”; Ankita Varma, “Veteran Architect Liu Thai Ker Strikes Out on His Own,” Straits Times, 2 December 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
13. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 687–90.
14. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 687–90; Nayar, “Patron and Planner.”
15. Lim, “Liu Thai Ker Replaces Tommy Koh as NAC Chairman”; “Dr Liu Thai Ker,” Nanyang Technological University, accessed 3 July 2021.  
16. The Esplanade Co Ltd, “Liu Thai Ker.”
17. Varma, “Veteran Architect Liu Thai Ker Strikes Out on His Own.”
18. The Esplanade Co Ltd, “Liu Thai Ker”; Morrow Architects & Planners, ‘Liu Thai Ker.”
19. Morrow Architects & Planners, ‘Liu Thai Ker”; Centre for Liveable Cities, “People- Distinguished Advisors”; Centre for Liveable Cities, Annual Report 2019/2020 (Singapore: Centre for Liveable Cities, 2020).
20. The Esplanade Co Ltd, “Liu Thai Ker”; Nanyang Technological University, “Dr Liu Thai Ker.”
21. Nanyang Technological University, “Dr Liu Thai Ker.”  
22. Varma, “Veteran Architect Liu Thai Ker Strikes Out on His Own”; Morrow Architects & Planners, ‘Liu Thai Ker.”
23. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 687–90.
24. Nayar, “Patron and Planner.”
25. The Esplanade Co Ltd, “Liu Thai Ker.”
26. “National Day Awards,” Straits Times, 10 August 2015, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “2018 National Prizes: William J. Mitchell International Chapter Prize,” Architecture Media, accessed 6 July 2021.
28. Suryadinata, Southeast Asia Personalities of Chinese Descent, 690; “Family with More than a Keen Eye for Art,” Straits Times, 29 July 1996, 2; Kristina Tom, “Feels Just Like a Homecoming,” Straits Times, 23 March 2006, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Bharati Jagdish, “On the Record: Liu Thai Ker, Architect and Former Master Planner of Singapore,” Channel NewsAsia, 7 October 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

Grace Ho, “Staying Open to People and Ideas Will Help Singapore Succeed, Says Speakers at NTU Bicentennial Conference,” Straits Times, 18 October 2019. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

Grace Ho, “Liu Thai Ker on Singapore Identity, COVID-19 and That 10 Million Number,” Straits Times, 26 July 2020. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

Jeffrey Tan, “Corporate: Decisive Action Needed to Sustain Larger Population Says Architect Liu Thai Ker,” The Edge Singapore, 29 January 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

The information in this article is valid as at July 2021 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

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