A Journey for the Curious

Scholarship Guide URA Scholar Julian Cheng Xin Wei

An interest in photography and travel led URA Scholar Julian Cheng to pursue a career in architecture.

As a Science and Economics JC ­student who could not draw ­particularly well, the decision to pursue architecture was not an obvious choice.  Instead, it was through my interest in photography and travels that I discovered architecture by chance.  Drawn to strong geometries and the interplay of light and shadows, buildings were often the subject of my ­photographs.  The growing curiosity about architecture eventually led to a six-month externship with a local architectural practise after National Service.

During this externship, I was exposed to the rigours of good design and its ­influence on people’s lives.  This not only cemented my desire to become an ­architect but also led to further exploration of the role of design in the urban context.  After hearing about URA’s work in shaping the built environment, I was convinced that working in URA would offer a breadth of experiences that would satiate my curiosity.

The journey through architecture school at NUS was long and arduous but enriching and exciting at the same time. As a URA Scholar, I was given the resources and ­support needed during those six years.  Unlike most scholarships, the URA Scholarship had a personal touch. I was ­assigned a ­mentor – a URA officer with similar ­education experience – who was available at every step of my education to provide invaluable advice and insights. Choosing to complete the first part of my architecture education locally provided me with the opportunity to better understand the local context and develop a network with peers and local architects whom I now collaborate with in my work.

With the support of URA, I ­expanded on what I had learnt in Singapore by ­completing the second part of my education at the University of Michigan. During that period, I was exposed to the different social and economic challenges that cities like Detroit face and the influence of good ­urban planning and design on improving the lives of a community.  Pursuing my masters at a different university also provided ­access to new fields of research such as ­disability ­culture, design activism and ­socially ­responsible ­design that I would otherwise not have been ­exposed to locally.

Apart from imparting technical knowledge, architecture school seeks to develop creativity and critical thinking which cannot be developed entirely within the ­confines of the classroom. I was encouraged to use the world as a textbook and learn through keen ­observation of different cultures and environments. Recognising the importance of such learning experiences, the URA Scholarship provided support for overseas exchanges and study trips that greatly enriched my architecture education. From the ancient ruins of the first university in India to the deserts of Kazakhstan and ­Mongolia, ­extensive travels both during and in ­between school terms have brought me to far-flung places around the world, creating a cache of ideas and experiences that can be applied to design and urban solutions back home.

Upon graduation, I was excited to join the Conservation Planning Department in URA which combined my interests in heritage and architecture. As a conservation architect, I have the opportunity to guide the restoration of Singapore’s heritage ­buildings through research and the drafting of technical guidelines. I am also involved in the planning of Historic ­Conservation ­Areas to enhance the appreciation of our built and intangible heritage. There is ­never a dull moment as conservation involves a broad spectrum of work including planning, design, research and stakeholders engagement.

As I pass my one-and-a-half-year mark in URA, I realise that the learning journey does not stop and a career with URA will ­ensure that the journey remains ­meaningful with the support given to achieve my full potential.

URA Undergraduate Scholarship
Attained: BA in Architecture from NUS, Master of Architecture from University of Michigan
Now: Architect, Conservation Planning
From: National JC