Why Albert Hong donated $30m to SUTD

When Dr Albert Hong was hospitalised in 2013 for pneumonia, he was given a 20 per cent chance of survival - and he lived.

The pioneer architect's close encounter with death prompted him to do more for the community.

Soon after that, the philanthropist donated $30 million to the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday shared the story behind Dr Hong's donation to SUTD, which has named its largest lecture theatre after him.

In his speech at the dedication ceremony, Mr Goh called Dr Hong a good friend who had confided in him after recovering from pneumonia in 2013 that "there must have been a reason why God let him live".

So he decided to give away most of his wealth.

Mr Goh, an SUTD patron, suggested that he contribute to the university and its students.

Today, the Albert Hong Lecture Theatre seats up to 530 students and is designed as a central meeting venue for discourse and knowledge exchange, SUTD said.

The donation will aid in advancing teaching and research goals and provide more bond-free scholarships and bursaries, it added.

Prior to SUTD's formation in 2009, Dr Hong had advocated for a second school of architecture apart from the one at the National University of Singapore.

Dr Hong and his firm designed landmarks such as Ion Orchard.

In his speech, Dr Hong, 82, chairman of RSP Architects Planners and Engineers, said he was not born into a wealthy family.

But his mother, who lived frugally, managed to send him to London to study architecture.

There, he took on part-time jobs including working during the winter at an ice-cream factory in Birmingham, where he contracted severe pneumonia, which continues to afflict him today.

He said: "My aim is straightforward - to help the underprivileged receive the education they deserve. No deserving student should be denied formal education because of lack of financial support."

About 100 SUTD scholarships are disbursed every academic year.

Other donations to schools

  • The Lee Foundation, which is synonymous with the late Mr Lee Seng Gee, a longstanding chairman of the foundation and the Lee Rubber Group, donated $50 million to the Singapore Management University (SMU) in 2004 and $30 million to the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2005.
  • The Hotel 81-Choo Chong Ngen Bursary was launched in SMU in 2015, following a $2 million donation by budget hotel magnate Choo Chong Ngen, founder and executive chairman of the Hotel 81 chain.
  • In 2013, SMU renamed its student counselling base the Mrs Wong Kwok Leong Student Wellness Centre after a donor who had pledged $1.6 million to it. Mrs Wong made her fortune in ship equipment and supplies, tin mining and the hotel business.
  • Professor Saw Swee Hock, a demographer and statistician, donated $30 million to launch a new school at NUS in 2011. The money went towards researching cost-effective ways of improving public health that are relevant to Asia.


This article was first published on Mar 01, 2017.
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