OCBC Building- Starchitect effect


Though Mr. Tan, the chairman of OCBC back then, appointed IM Pei, the world- renowned architect to head the design team of OCBC headquarter partly because IM Pei was his family friends, the phenomenon that it was one of the first buildings in Singapore to involve foreign architects and since then more collaborations with foreign architectural practices in other buildings emerged is still noteworthy.

The first underlying reason was the ambitions from the private sector, Mr. Tan once said that “my ambition has been to help build a strong and progressive financial institution worthy of the confidence of its constituents and capable of fully serving the big and small of these regions.” He wanted a building that would “reflect the philosophy of OCBC – solid as a rock, conservative yet modern, dynamic, progressive in a calculated and stable manner… efficient in service while being prestigious in image.” His ambition was for OCBC to be competitive in a global environment, to prosper at home and abroad. For many other private clients alike, starchitects were superior to local architects since they were more experienced in global practice and with better global reputation.

This was exacerbated by the government’s Land Sale Policy, as the Minister of National Development, Mr E.W. Barker assured, “the projects will not be nationalized.” Both domestic and foreign investors were encouraged. However, under the policy, the proposal deemed most promising would be selected. Teams headed by foreign starchitects with the assist of local architects usually came up with higher quality proposals and won.

While on the bright side, local architects under pressure would evolve and improve, a dilemma was more likely to happen in which local architects are given fewer and fewer opportunities if private clients won’t take chance with them at all.


source: Chairman followed development of project closely, The Straits Times, 1 October 1976, Page 30


3 Comments on “OCBC Building- Starchitect effect

  1. Hi Annie, the topic of starchitecture is a provocative one, and if you’re interested, it would be exciting for you to expand into the trend of its employment in Singapore’s history and its implications.

  2. It is interesting to point out the problem of starchitect over local architects due to Singapore trying to globalize. I am wondering if there are other cities that managed to achieve globalization and high worldwide recognition even using mostly local architect’s work? Or if there are examples of local architecture in Singapore that have succeeded in gaining global fame? Would you think some types of architecture eg. residential etc. would be more appropriate to be designed by local architects since they can better respond to local needs and in human scale, and would those urban planning projects be enough for the local architect job market?

  3. Starchitect effect is interesting enough for me as a topic. And your narrative interprets 2 reasons: from the clients and from government. Maybe it is possible to analysis this effect from the aspect of starchitects themselves. For example, what kind of characteristics in starchitects’ works would lead to global practice and reputation?

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