Upcoming Founders’ Memorial to honour legacy of S’pore’s pioneers — but striving for nation’s wellbeing a “better” way to pass on their legacy

Just yesterday (9 Mar), Japanese firm Kengo Kuma & Associates and Singapore firm K2LD Architects’ design was chosen as the winning design for the upcoming Founders’ Memorial project, which is slated to become part of the Marina Bay skyline by 2027.

Kengo Kuma, lead architect of the winning team, said that the design “simultaneously honours the past, and inspires the present and future”.

“The design aims to be a ‘living memorial’, to be owned by each new generation of Singaporeans,” he added.

Multiple paths in their memorial design will “shape the architecture and landscape, inviting visitors to reflect, learn, and share while contemplating the dynamic skyline or the lush gardens”.

All of the above paths will lead to an amphitheatre where visitors will congregate to commemorate milestones, according to the architectural firms’ philosophy behind their design for the memorial.

The design chosen for the upcoming Founders’ Memorial, according to the jury, “embodies the spirit and values of Singapore’s founding team of leaders” through its “sensitive and functional” design that incorporates “landscape and architecture”.

The ideals espoused by Singapore’s founding leaders such as the late Lee Kuan Yew, however, were not centred around growing a “personality cult” for themselves — an observation that was acknowledged by his son and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong around five years ago.

In his Parliamentary Statement on 13 Apr 2015 regarding calls to honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr LHL said — less than a month after the senior Lee’s death — that the late Mr LKY “made it very clear throughout his life that he did not need and did not want any monument”.

“It was not monuments but ideals that were his chief concern, the ideals upon which he built Singapore: multi-racialism, equality, meritocracy, integrity, and the rule of law. He hoped these ideals would endure in Singapore beyond him.

“We can pay no greater tribute to him than to uphold the principles upon which he built this country,” he told Parliament.

This was seen in the way Mr LKY was “very careful when it came to lending his name to institutions and awards”, only for “causes that he was passionate about, and where using his name served a greater purpose”.

“For example, on his 80th birthday, he agreed that NUS should create a Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Cabinet had discussed this carefully and had convinced him that having such a school, and associating his name with it, would help establish the Singapore brand of governance and advance the school’s mission – to raise standards of governance in Asia, to improve the lives of people and to contribute to the transformation of the region,” he said.

“For the same reason, he supported NTU when it named its school of international studies after his old comrade, Mr S Rajaratnam, and the SAF when it named the command and staff college after Dr Goh Keng Swee,” added Mr LHL.

The idea for a Founders’ Memorial was then mooted based on such principles — an idea which Mr LHL said had “value” even in the eyes of the late Mr LKY.

“A founder’s memorial need not be a grand structure, but it must stand for our ideals, our values, our hopes and aspirations. It must belong to all Singaporeans and mean something significant to us all.

“It should be a place where we and future generations can remember a key period in our history, reflect on the ideals of our founding fathers, and pledge to continue their work of nation-building,” said Mr LHL.

“Working for the well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans” would be a better way of honouring Mr LKY’s legacy: Dr Lee Wei Ling

Mr LHL’s sister and the only daughter of Mr LKY, however, opined a year later that “working for the well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans” would be a better way of honouring Mr LKY’s legacy.

Mr LKY, said Lee Wei Ling in a Facebook post on 6 Apr 2016, worked hard “and determinedly in life to advance Singapore, and not for his place in history, or leaving a great legacy”.

Any form of “veneration”, then, “could have the opposite effect” and may “lead future generations of Singaporeans to think” that Mr LKY was “motivated by his desire for fame or creation of a dynasty”, cautioned Dr Lee.

While she found “tremendous comfort” at the time to see how her father’s efforts were appreciated by Singaporeans who came in droves to mourn his death, she questioned how the “time, effort and resources” spent on certain acts of commemoration following his death “would benefit Singapore and Singaporeans”.

Citing a report by The Straits Times a year after Mr LKY’s death which carried a photo of a large outline of Mr LKY’s face made using 4,877 erasers, Dr Lee said that while the effort was “well-meaning”, it was reminiscent of the “contrived” greetings by young children on the streets during the Singapore delegation’s visit to China in 1976.

“We are Singaporeans, not prone to excessive, unnatural displays of emotion … Papa merely waved at the children, as he would have done in Singapore. I refused to even do that. I stared straight ahead, feeling very sad for the people of the “Middle Kingdom” that was still run like a kingdom,” she said.

Dr Lee also compared the China government’s decision to build a Memorial Hall as a tribute to Chairman Mao — founder of the People’s Republic of China — just a month after his death with how the United Kingdom’s Parliament commemorated former Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s funeral 50 years after the actual funeral.

Sir Churchill served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 during which he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and later again served as premier from 1951 to 1955.

The 50th anniversary of Sir Churchill’s funeral, which took place in 2015, was marked by “a service and wreath-laying at the Houses of Parliament, a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, and the rebroadcast by BBC Parliament of the original live coverage”, noted Dr Lee.

“Compare what Churchill’s commemoration which was conducted 50 years after his death with the activities that have been taking place in Singapore that will continue for an entire week.

“I think Papa would have objected if he were able to convey his view,” said Dr Lee.

Given that the late Mr LKY was — in the words of Dr Lee — a statesman who worked hard to advance Singapore “with no thought to any gain for himself” alongside other pioneers of modern-day Singapore, one might question if erecting a structure such as the Founders’ Memorial is indeed the best way to “simultaneously honour the past and inspire the present and future” of the Republic.

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