In 1981, while on what I called a ‘filial piety’ visit to Singapore, my birthplace, I was offered a job by the public housing authority, the Housing and Development Board, to head the Social Research Section. That was the beginning of my research interest in architecture and housing. The man most instrumental for this beginning is Liu Thai Ker, then Chief Executive Officer cum Chief Architect of the Board. To him I owe much of my education about housing problems. In the course of my employment, many colleagues at the Board were instrumental in my learning about different aspects of the entire field of housing study. They include: Chong Kim Chang, Chief of Estate Management and subsequently Deputy Chief Officer; Tham Yew Fang and Phang Wong Yew, estate managers; Goh Hup Chor and Loh Swee Seng, architects; Lau Woh Cheong, planner; Lim Koon Poh, administrator; and fellow researchers in the Social Research Section.
After leaving the Board, I had the good fortune and privilege to work in different capacities and proximity with various significant Singaporean architects in private practice. They include: William Lim, Tay Kheng Soon, Meng Ta Cheang, Andrew Tan, Ai Lun and Tang Guan Bee. They not only opened the world of architecture to me, but also let me play in it vicariously. William Lim has been particularly generous in always including me in the private dinner-cum-seminars held at Unit 8, the pink building on Holland Road. Among these friends, I was always the ‘sociologist pretending to be an architect’.
At the National University of Singapore, I have learned from Bobby Wong, Gulsum Nalbantoglu and Robert Powell of the Faculty of Architecture. My colleague and teaching partner in urban sociology and sociology of Singapore society, Ho Kong Chong, has been most encouraging in my research projects and helpful in managing the administrative details of the courses we shared.