The first recipient of the Gold Medal was Alfred Wong. He was among the first overseas trained architects to return to Singapore in the last days of Colonial rule, and set up his own practice in 1957. At the award ceremony it was stated that Alfred Wong’s work has to be “seen against the backdrop of decaying shop houses and urban fabric”. It was also pointed out that Wong’s practice “saw the birth of an independent Singapore that brought forth a new vigour and patriotism”, and that “There was a new found self respect and confidence in his architecture.” His overall contribution to architecture is apparent in several areas.
In his own practice Wong soon became noted for having introduced a modernist approach at a time when there no buildings that could be described as ‘modern’ in Singapore. His hotels, such as The Marco Polo Hotel, and his schools, including Singapore Polytechnic Campus, The Catholic Junior College, St. Joseph’s Institution and St. Patrick’s Secondary School, as well as prototype government schools, are all noted for their decidedly modern feel. Perhaps his most notable contribution to the modern face of Singapore was the innovative and iconic National Theatre.
Alfred Wong is also recognised as a founder member of the Singapore Institute of Architects, playing an active role in the struggle to create an independent professional organisation. He became the youngest President of the SIA and went on to serve for an unprecedented four terms between 1962 and 1966.
It was in his capacity as an architect that Wong became recognised for his contributions to education. He served as a member of the Singapore Polytechnic School of Architecture, and it was he who later advocated that architectural training should be transferred to the university. To this end he worked as Chairman of the newly-formed Board of Architectural Education to establish the terms of reference and criteria for the recognition of the School. It was in large part due to his commitment that the NUS School of Architecture received formal recognition from RIBA/SIA.
In addition to his architectural achievements, Alfred Wong has shown a commitment to the community in various ways. As President of the Rotary Club he led a goodwill team to Cambodia, and has served on various boards supporting education and the community.