Liu Thai Ker

Liu Thai Ker (b. 23 February 1938 Muar, Johor, Malaysia -), noted for his influence on Singapore's urban landscape as head of the Housing Development Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Trained as an architect, Thai Ker's keen sense of the arts was derived from his father, a local pioneer painter, Liu Kang. Thai Ker also held distinguished positions in the field of local arts, urban planning and architecture.

Early Life
The eldest son of artist Liu Kang, Thai Ker moved from Muar to Singapore after World War II. At Chung Cheng High School, he excelled academically, jumping Form 4 to the next grade. He also garnered 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 '60s, he was advised by family and friends to pursue architecture instead.

Graduating from the University of New South Wales, he continued his studies and early career in both Australia and the United States. This period spent in well-known institutions such as Loder & Dunphy, and IM Pei, was considered as a time of apprenticeship where he went beyond the basics of architecture and learnt more about town planning.

Upon his return to Singapore, he joined the HDB, the organisation responsible for public housing and later, the URA. As head of these organisations, Thai Ker left his mark in three key area, namely in the planning 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, where he introduced "new structural systems" such as the long span prestressed concrete beams for public housing. With URA, Thai Ker's main contribution were in revising the Concept Plan and in conservation projects. The Concept Plan arose from the British Master Plan for Singapore and was to shape Singapore's early urban landscape.

Fluently bilingual, Thai Ker served as a planning advisor to various municipal governments in China and was given an honorary Citizen of Fuzhou Award by the Fujian district for his contributions. As Chairman of the National Arts Council (NAC), he also made his mark in developing a "Concept Plan" for the arts, particularly in promoting local arts and encouraging film making.

1946- 1949 : San San Primary School, Singapore
1950 - 1954 : Chung Cheng High School
1956 : Sydney Technical College, Sydney, Australia
1957- 1962 : School of Architecture, University of New South Wales, Sydney
1963 - 1965 : Architecture Graduate School, University of Yale USA
1995 : Doctor of Science (honoris causa), University of NSW

1955 : substitute teacher, Kuan Chiew Primary School, Singapore
1958 - 1959 : employee, Clement Glancey Architects, Sydney
1960 - 1963 : architect, Loder and Dunphy Architects, Sydney
1965 - 1969 : architect-planner, IM Pei and Partners, Architects and Planners
1969 : Head of the Design and Research Section, Housing Development Board (HDB)
1975 : Chief Architect, HDB
1976 : Deputy CEO, HDB
1979 - 1989 : CEO, HDB
1989 - 1992 : CEO and Chief Planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
1992 : Director, RSP Architects Planners and Engineers
1996 : Chairman, National Arts Council (NAC) (Council member since 1991)

1976 :  Public Administration Medal (Gold), Singapore.
1985 : Meritorious Service Medal, Singapore.
1990 : Sir Robert Matthew Prize, by the International Union of Architects, to HDB for improvements of the quality of human settlement.
1991 : UN Habitat Scroll of Honour to URA for "undertaking a sustained urban redevelopment programme through innovative approaches and land policies and involvement of the private sector".
1993 : Second ASEAN Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions, for architecture.

First wife: Marta Mikes, whom he married in 1976, is a trained soprano. She is Hungarian residing in Australia. All her children, Kristof, Eszter and Janos, are musically accomplished.
Second Wife: Gretchen Liu, whom he married in 1984. She is a journalist turned writer, with several books to her name, describing local architecture.
Sons: Kristof, is a doctor. Janos, is a computer engineer. Daniel, a son through Gretchen.
Daughters : Eszter, an accomplished cellist. Kristin, a daughter through Gretchen.

Bonny Tan

Wong Ai Kwei. Talent for art runs in the Family. The Straits Times

Liu Thai Ker replaces Tommy Koh as NAC chairman. (1996, June 30). The Straits Times, Home, p. 28.

Family with more than a keen eye for art. (1996, July 29). The Straits Times, Life, p. 2.

The man who shaped the face of Singapore. (1992, August 29-30). The Business Times (Singapore), Executive Lifestyle, p. 3.

Rama IX Art Museum. (n.d.). Liu Thai Ker. Retrieved August 15, 2002, from

Who's who in Singapore. (n.d.). Liu Thai Ker. Retrieved August 15, 2002, from

Further Readings
Home for our people, 12 Feb 1964 [Videotape]. (1988). Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Call no.: RAV 363.58095957 HOM)

The information in this article is valid as at 2002 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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