Sunday, 28 December 2014

The story of a Polish architect in Singapore

By Zenon Kosiniak-kamysz, Published The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE will be celebrating its 50th year of independence next year. With an array of anniversary programmes and festivities, one can expect next year's events in Singapore to be nothing less than extraordinary. As recently named by travel guide Lonely Planet, Singapore is one of the world's top places to visit in 2015.

Singaporeans have many reasons to celebrate and plenty of achievements to be proud of.

In the course of just one generation, the Little Red Dot, as it is famously referred to, grew to become, among other things, a modern metropolis and a global business centre.

The success of Singapore is acknowledged worldwide and Singaporeans have earned the respect and admiration of the world for their resilience and extraordinary achievements.

Such recognition resonates strongly in my country, Poland.

Notably, a few months ago when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Mr Grzegorz Schetyna, took office, he referred to Singapore in his inaugural speech as among the selected countries with which Poland would like to extend and deepen bilateral ties.

In recognition of their role in the success of Singapore, special tribute is paid to the pioneer generation who contributed to Singapore's achievements since the early days.

One individual who played a less-known role in Singapore's early development is my compatriot, Krystyn Olszewski.

He was a Polish architect and town planner who contributed with his craft and expertise to building modern Singapore in its initial years as an independent state.

He was a Pole by birth but Singaporean at heart. He spent here in Singapore a total of 15 active years of his professional career and contributed to the current design of the Lion City in many ways: from the comprehensive long-term city plan for the island's development to the local project of the Singapore Science Park and the design details of the first MRT stations.

A Pole among Singapore's pioneers, one may say.

A graduate from the department of architecture of the Warsaw University of Technology, with extensive international experience in regional, urban and transport planning, Mr Olszewski first came to Singapore in 1968 at the invitation of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

He was a member of a United Nations team of consultants to the State and City Planning Office and was appointed chief designer of Singapore's Comprehensive Long-Term Concept Plan. The plan was officially announced in 1971 and most of its fundamental proposals have since been successfully implemented, leading to Singapore as we know it now.

It envisaged the development of new townships in a ring formation around the central water catchment area, a network of expressways and a mass rapid transit system to provide islandwide interconnectivity, and a new international airport to be located in Changi. The main features of the plan can already be found on the map drawn and signed by Mr Olszewski in 1969.

On April 9, 1971, The Straits Times quoted Mr Olszewski as a stern advocate of moving the international airport to Changi, in expectation of rapid development of air traffic and the airport's growth.

In the article, Mr Olszewski also suggested a new traffic arrangement in the city centre, with different levels of pedestrian and motor traffic, special pedestrian lanes and areas as well as a rail-based MRT system. At the same time, appreciating the beauty of Singapore's central area, he urged for preservation and rehabilitation of parts of Chinatown, retaining the liveliness of the Singapore River and controlling the height of buildings around.

Subsequently, Mr Olszewski acted as UN planning consultant to the Urban Renewal and Development Sub-project when he originated the concept of Marina City. He was also a planning consultant with Jurong Town Corporation and designed the masterplan of the Singapore Science Park in Kent Ridge. He also did pioneering studies on the environmental impact of industrial development.

In 1984, he assumed the position of senior architect with the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation and was responsible for the architectural design and implementation of seven of the elevated MRT stations. It was with great satisfaction that he could witness in 1987 the commencement of MRT system operations - the idea he had helped to put on paper 17 years earlier.

Singapore's 50th anniversary is an excellent opportunity to celebrate Singapore's planners and builders. I would like to express a deep hope that Mr Olszewski, whose ideas and designs helped to shape some of the most successful urban features of Singapore, will not be forgotten on that occasion.

I believe that, for example, a street in the city centre that he helped to reshape - or one of the MRT stations that he designed - could be named after him, even if his Polish surname seems difficult to pronounce.

To make it easier, I can suggest a simple method that Mr Olszewski came up with to help his Singaporean friends remember and pronounce his name: He would tell them, all you need to remember is just three English words and say it as if it was one word: "All-chefs-ski".

The writer is Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Singapore.

No comments:

Post a Comment