Turning 125 is a milestone for Singapore’s oldest architectural practice, Swan & Maclaren, which was founded in 1892. While some veteran local architects bemoan the heartbreak of seeing the buildings they designed 30 to 40 years ago become victims of collective sales and replaced by shimmering towers designed by a new generation of architects, Swan & Maclaren has been more fortunate.

Many of its buildings have been gazetted as national monuments and remain landmarks today. Examples are the Fullerton Waterboat House, St Andrew’s Cathedral and the Civilian War Memorial, Stamford House, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station as well as Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

Swan & Maclaren itself ran the risk of fading into history a decade ago. A watershed year was 1998, when it beat 29 firms to win a tender for the design of the National Library on Victoria Street. However, the team designing the building split up in 2001, with Malaysian architect Ken Yeang leaving Swan & Maclaren. The library was eventually completed by another firm, and officially opened to the public in July 2005.

“Many of the firm’s partners retired then,” recounts Lim Chai Boon, group director of Swan & Maclaren. “Not enough attention was paid to succession planning, and the practice lapsed into sleep mode.”

After operating as a sole proprietorship for more than a century until 2010, the firm became a partnership, and was corporatised as a private limited company in 2013. It was restructured in anticipation of regional expansion as well as “next-generation growth”, according to Lim.

He joined the firm in 2011 after spending 19 years with global design firm P&T. Christopher Flannery and Rebecca Chua came on board as directors in 2011, followed by Matthew Hon in 2013, as well as Kevin Ngin and Eugene Wong in 2014. “We all came from different backgrounds and international practices,” says Lim. “We were able to inject fresh ideas and internationalise the firm.”

With this core team in place, the firm was able to expand to China, Malaysia, Thailand and now Vietnam, as well as with projects in Cambodia, India and Sri Lanka, adds Flannery.

Even though the Swan & Maclaren of today is very different from what it was in the past, Lim ensured that the legacy of the firm was not lost. “Swan & Maclaren is still very much a Singapore-based practice,” he says. “And we want to capitalise on its rich heritage.”

 

The directors of Swan & Maclaren (from left): Flannery, Lim, Hon and Wong