Lee Kip Lin



Lee Kip Lin (b. 11 February 1925, Singapore–d. 9 July 2011, Singapore) was an architect, professor and author. He practised architecture while teaching at Singapore Polytechnic and the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore), and was a mentor to prominent local architects such as Tay Kheng Soon. After his retirement in 1986, Lee authored several books on architecture in Singapore, including the landmark work The Singapore House 1819–1942, published in 1988.1

Throughout his life, Lee was a vocal advocate for the conservation of old buildings in Singapore.2 In October 2009, Lee’s collection of rare Singapore memorabilia was donated to the National Library.3

Early life
Lee was born in a seafront house at 19 Amber Road, next to the Chinese Swimming Club. He was the fourth of five children in a wealthy Peranakan family and enjoyed a comfortable and cultured upbringing. His father, Lee Chim Huk, was a businessman who enjoyed music and books. A keen golfer, Lee’s father was enthusiastic about sports and fitness, and often took his sons on brisk walks. He also gave Lee special golf clubs and sent him to the Singapore Island Country Club for lessons with a professional golfer. Lee’s mother, Tan Guat Poh, was from a wealthy Malaccan family. She was a homemaker who had received an education in her youth, which was unusual in an era when girls usually did not attend school.4


Lee spent his early primary school years at the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School at Emerald Hill,5 before transferring to Anglo-Chinese Primary School at Coleman Street in 1933. He later attended Anglo-Chinese Secondary School at Cairnhill. In 1942, the year he was due to sit for the Senior Cambridge examinations (the equivalent of the GCE “O” Levels at the time), the school closed due to the invasion of Japanese forces in Singapore. His education was put on hold for almost four years and he was able to continue with his studies only after the surrender of the Japanese in 1945.6

At the start of the Japanese Occupation in February 1942, Lee survived a mass screening of thousands of male Chinese civilians at the Telok Kurau English School, which had been converted into a concentration camp. Between September 1942 and December 1945, he worked as a bill clerk in an estate and trust agency where his father, unable to continue his own business, worked as a manager. To avoid being assigned to forced labour, Lee enlisted in the Japanese Medical Auxiliary Service in 1944.7

In the 1980s and 1990s, Lee recorded his memories of the Japanese Occupation in a series of oral history interviews for the National Archives of Singapore. Operation Sook Ching, one of the worst atrocities of the period, had taken place on a beach near his house. While he did not witness the massacre, he recalled hearing gunshots as civilians were executed and seeing bodies washed up on the beach thereafter.8

Lee had not done well in school before the war, but his experiences during the war made him determined to complete his education. He began attending private tuition classes in English language and Mathematics in late 1944 to prepare to return to school after the war.9 In December 1946, at the age of 21, he was part of the first post-war batch of students to sit for the Cambridge examinations.10 He obtained his Malayan School Certificate with a Grade One pass.11 He read Mathematics at Raffles College for three months before leaving for Britain in March 1948 to train at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. After graduating in 1955, he worked for a year at the Housing Division of the London County Council. He returned to Singapore in October 1956.12

Lee lived in his family home at Amber Road for a number of years. In 1960, he demolished the house and designed and built a new one on the same site. The Bedok-Tanjung Rhu reclamation works at Amber Road in the late 1960s, however, led to the loss of the house’s seafront and was followed by the construction of the new Chinese Swimming Club sports complex in front of the house in the late 1970s. These developments led Lee to regard the house as “intolerable to live in” and he subsequently sold it.13

Lee and his family moved to a two-storey brick house that he designed and built on the site of a former fruit plantation in Binjai Park. The house was notable for its architectural simplicity and use of design features suitable for a tropical climate, such as high ceilings for better internal ventilation and a wide veranda to keep the house cool. He also retained three old binjai trees within the property.14

Architect and professor
Lee began practising as an architect in 1956.15 In 1965, he served for a year as a member of the Board of Architects together with his contemporary Alfred H. K. Wong, another prominent local architect,16 who was at one time a partner with the firm Architects Team 3.17


Lee entered academia while remaining a practising architect. In 1961, he started teaching architecture at the Singapore Polytechnic Department of Architecture and Building before moving to the University of Singapore in 1969.18 Some prominent architects he mentored include Tan Kay Ngee and Tay Kheng Soon, who designed the Singapore Management University and Golden Mile Complex respectively. Tay and Tan both credit Lee with teaching them about architecture as well as fostering an appreciation of culture and history. Lee retired from the practice of architecture in 1986.19

In April 1990, Lee was part of a three-man delegation selected to represent Singapore at the First ASEAN Architecture Symposium and Exhibition held in Bangkok, Thailand. The symposium was part of the Intra-ASEAN Cultural Programme, which aimed to study and promote indigenous architecture and encourage the development of the architectural profession in the ASEAN region.20

Conservationist and author
Throughout his career, Lee was a leading voice in the public discourse on the preservation and conservation of old buildings in Singapore, and was often consulted for his views on conservation issues. He was a member of the Preservation of Monuments Board during its early years from 1971 to 1977, during which he chaired the Board’s Research, Documentation and Publicity Committee for three years.21


After his retirement, Lee published several works on Singapore architecture. These include Telok Ayer Market (1983) and Emerald Hill: The story of a street in words and pictures (1984). In 1988, he published The Singapore House 1819–1942, a landmark work that traces the history of architecture in Singapore. He also contributed a chapter in Tanjong Pagar: Singapore’s cradle of development (1989).22

The Lee Kip Lin collection 
Lee had a keen interest in Singapore history and amassed an extensive collection of rare memorabilia. In October 2009, the Lee family donated a valuable collection of more than 19,000 items to the National Library Singapore. The historically significant collection comprises monographs, including the complete collection of early Raffles Institution annual reports; letters and related documents of the East India Company; rare Singapore and Southeast Asian maps and rare photographs. The collection also includes slides and negatives of early and modern Singapore, including pictures that Lee, an avid photographer, had taken of Singapore over the years, in particular of shops and streets, many of which have been demolished due to urban renewal.23


In 2015, a publication featuring Lee’s photographs donated to the National Library was produced. Called Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin – Photographs of Singapore 1965-1995, its objective is to be a resource for future research and an important resource of architectural and urban history in Singapore.24

Death
Lee was in ill health in his later years and suffered from dementia. He died of pneumonia at the age of 86.25


Family
Wife:
Lee Li-ming.

Children: Son Lee Peng Hui and daughter Lee Pek Yen.26
Siblings: Elder brother Kip Lee and sisters Alice (Joo Lee), Eileen (Joo Har) and Peggy (Joo Leng).27 Lee Kip Lee is a prominent Peranakan figure in Singapore and the former president of the Peranakan Association.28 Lee’s nephew (Lee Kip Lee’s son) is composer and Cultural Medallion recipient, Dick Lee29 
Relatives: Lee’s paternal grandfather was merchant Lee Keng Kiat, a manager at the Straits Steamship Company and after whom Keng Kiat Street in Tiong Bahru is named.30 Lee’s paternal granduncle was businessman and philanthropist Lee Choon Guan, who owned the land at Amber Road on which Kampong Amber once stood.31 Lee’s maternal uncle was Tan Cheng Lock, a founding member of the Malayan Chinese Association and one of the founders of modern Malaysia.32



Author

Joanna HS Tan




References
1. Durai, J. (2011, July 15). Architect Lee Kip Lin diesThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lai, C. K., et al. (2015). Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965–1995. Singapore: National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 779.45957 LAI)
3. National Library Board. (2016). Donors showcase. Retrieved 2016, June 24 from National Library Board website: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/donors/lee-kip-lin-%e6%9d%8e%e6%80%a5%e9%ba%9f/
4. Lee, K. L. (1999). Amber sands: A boyhood memoir. Singapore: Federal Publications, pp. 5—24. (Call no.: RSING 333.78095957 VIE); Low, L. L. (Interviewer). (1984, May 29). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/01, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5. Lee, K. L. (1999). Amber sands: A boyhood memoir. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 333.78095957 VIE)
6. Low, L. L. (Interviewer). (1984, May 29). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/01, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Low, L. L. Interviewer). (1984, May 29). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/04, pp. 37—41]; Low, L. L. (Interviewer). (1984, June 8). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/09, pp. 98—102]; Low, L. L. (Interviewer). (1984, June 8). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/11, p. 120]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

8. Low, L. L. (Interviewer). (1984, May 29). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/05, p. 50]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

9. Low, L. L. (Interviewer). (1984, June 8). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/13, pp. 147–148, 151]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

10. Chou, C. (Interviewer). (1994, June 6). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001491/04/02, p. 20]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

11. Cambridge exam results. (1947, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Low, L. L. (Interviewer). (1984, May 29). Oral history interview with Lee Kip Lin [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000016/16/01, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
13. Loo, G. (1989, February 1). The passing of great housesThe Straits Times, p. 20; Ow, W. M. (1969, June 11). Bulldozer noise: Plea to bear up for a whileThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lai, C. K., et al. (2015). Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965–1995. Singapore: National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, pp. 14–16. (Call no.: RSING 779.45957 LAI)
14. Keys, P. (1983–1984). Architects & their own homes – The house of Lee Kip Lin. Times annual Singapore. Singapore: Times Periodicals, pp. 110–111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAS-[HIS])
15. Loo, G. (1989, February 1). The passing of great housesThe Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Board of architects. (1965, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Wong, A. K., & Tan, J. (1986, September 23). Focus on bank’s strong roomThe Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lai, C. K., et al. (2015). Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965–1995. Singapore: National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, pp. 9–10. (Call no.: RSING 779.45957 LAI)
19. Durai, J. (2011, July 15). Architect Lee Kip Lin diesThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Lou, K. (1990, March 21). DrawingboardThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lai, C. K., et al. (2015). Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965–1995. Singapore: National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 779.45957 LAI); Our lost treasures. (1990, April 1). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Lai, C. K., et al. (2015). Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965–1995. Singapore: National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 779.45957 LAI); Kon, S. (1989, February 1). When a house is also a home. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. National Library Board. (2016). Donors showase. Retrieved 2016, June 24 from National Library Board website: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/donors/lee-kip-lin-%e6%9d%8e%e6%80%a5%e9%ba%9f/; Lai, C. K., et al. (2015). Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965–1995. Singapore: National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.45957 LAI)
24. Lai, C. K., et al. (2015). Through the lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965–1995. Singapore: National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 779.45957 LAI)
25. Durai, J. (2011, July 15). Architect Lee Kip Lin diesThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Durai, J. (2011, July 15). Architect Lee Kip Lin diesThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Lee, K. L. (1999). Amber sands: A boyhood memoir. Singapore: Federal Publications, pp. 8, 65. (Call no.: RSING 333.78095957 VIE)
28. Baba Lee Kip Lee passes the baton to Baba Peter Wee. (2010). The Peranakan Association Newsletter, 2nd Qtr., 2–3. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 PAN)
29. Lim, L. (2005, October 26). One mad life storyToday, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Lee, K. L. (1999). Amber sands: A boyhood memoir. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 333.78095957 VIE); Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore. Singapore: Who's Who Pub, p. 171. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
31. Lee, K. L. (1999). Amber sands: A boyhood memoir. Singapore: Federal Publications, pp. 48–51. (Call no.: RSING 333.78095957 VIE)
32. Lee, K. L. (1999). Amber sands: A boyhood memoir. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 333.78095957 VIE); Malaysian Chinese Association. (2016). Party history. Retrieved 2016, June 28 from Malaysian Chinese Association website: http://www.mca.org.my/2/Content/SinglePage?_param1=30-032016-130-03-201630&_param2=M



Further resources
Lee, K. L. (1983). Telok Ayer market: A historical account of the market from the founding of the settlement of Singapore to the present time. Singapore: Archives & Oral History Dept.

(Call no.: RSING 725.21095957 LEE)

Lee, K. L. (1984). Emerald Hill: The story of a street in words and pictures. Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS])

Lee, K. L. (1988). The Singapore house 1819-1942. Singapore: Times Editions [for] Preservation of Monuments Board.
(Call no.: RSING 728.095957 LEE)

Tanjong Pagar: Singapore's cradle of development. (1989). Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAN-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to 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.

 

Subject
Community leaders
Architects--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Lee, Kip Lin, 1925–2011
People and communities>>Social groups and communities