Cher-ished Ambitions Fulfilled

CapitaLand's latest addition to the Graduate Development Programme, Gilbert Cher, talks about finally living his childhood dreams

Issue: Sep 2011

Gilbert Cher as an architecture student with models around him
Cher working on a model as an architecture student at the National University of Singapore

Growing up, 26-year-old Gilbert Cher always knew he wanted to be an architect.

"I knew as early as in secondary school," said Cher although he admits to an early whimsical phase. "But when I was really young, my childhood ambition did range from being a policeman to being a zookeeper!"

He attributes much of this desire to work with his hands and create things to his father, 56-year-old
Cher Kai Chew, who is a project engineer at SingTel.

"He is the handyman around the house. He would fix things like the lights and the furniture. He even laid out all the electrical wiring at home," said Cher. "And he's still doing it to this day."

As a child, Cher would follow his father around the house, watching him work. When he was old enough to handle the tools, his father roped him in to assist. Those formative years working with his hands were to shape his idea of what he wanted for his future.

Cher seated facing his father at a void deck drawing on drawing block
Cher's father encouraged his artistic abilities from a young age

Cher's early artwork
Cher doing his first mural at Huamin Primary School

Drawn to a Dream

But his father's influence went beyond just giving Cher an interest in building. He also fostered in him an interest in designing.

"My father is an artist in his spare time. He paints and draws, although much of his work is kept in storage somewhere," laughed Cher.

Following in his father's footsteps, young Cher was enrolled in art classes and there, he excelled. He was so good at art that in primary school, one of his pieces was selected as part of a mural wall in the school.

"I did a picture of Singapore in its early days. My art teacher then asked me to do a large version on plywood to be displayed in the school hall," recalled Cher. The final product measured several metres wide and over a metre high.

"It was almost as tall as me then," Cher mused. "And I did it free-hand with the plywood lying on the floor."

In secondary school, Cher's artwork was once again recognised. "The school had four mottos: mind, body, heart and soul. I was asked to visual the ‘mind' portion and create a mural for the school," said Cher.

Building Upon Aspiration

So when it came time to select a discipline at the National University of Singapore, Cher found the perfect subject that would allow him to combine his love for building with his talent in designing.

"I have always been a Science student. I am good at Math and Science. And I love Art. Architecture allows me to put the two together, to challenge the two sides of the mind – the technical and the artistic," said Cher.

This Candy Factory float was conceptualised and built by Cher in his second year in university for the annual National University of Singapore Student Union (NUSSU) Rag and Flag float performance
This Candy Factory float was conceptualised and built by Cher in his second year in university for the annual National University of Singapore Student Union (NUSSU) Rag and Flag float performance

This knack for combining seemingly diverse disciplines is, it appears, Cher's forte. In junior college, his choice of co-curricular activity was Lion Dance which also combined the technical rigours of a sport with the artistic aspect of dance.

In University, he put his varied abilities to good use. "In my first year, I was a stilt walker acting as a giant tree for the annual NUS Rag and Flag float competition. The theme was "magical forest"," said Cher.

The next year, he combined his building skills with his artistic bent to take on the position of float design head for the competition. His candy factory float won several awards that year.

Cher giving speech
Cher giving his Valedictorian speech at the Commencement Ceremony of the School of Design and Environment, Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore

Academically, he was scoring successes as well. As proof that he chose wisely, Cher graduated with a Masters in Architecture and a series of awards. He won the Board of Architects Prize & Medal for the top students in the discipline. He also garnered the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal which is given to the most outstanding students who are first in general proficiency throughout their studies and who have obtained a First Class Honours in each degree programme. In addition, he was conferred the Singapore Institute of Architects Medal for Masters in Architecture, usually awarded to graduates with distinguished performance throughout the course of studies.

"I was happy to receive all these awards. They are affirmations of all the sleepless nights I spent drawing and making models," said Cher. To cap it all, Cher was also the Valedictorian for the Commencement Ceremony of his faculty.

"My speech called for everyone to grow old, but not grow up. It was a bit of a word play, asking that they did not develop grown-up cynicism and bitterness in the working world but to keep their child-like quality of being open to new ideas, being optimistic and being curious," said Cher.

Architect of His Destiny

Cher certainly lived up to his own call to be open to new experiences. Instead of joining an architectural firm, he took up CapitaLand's BCA-CapitaLand Built Environment Scholarship in 2009 and joined the organisation in July this year.

Cher at work
Cher is currently working with The Ascott Limited, CapitaLand's hospitality arm

"CapitaLand has many different real estate businesses, which means there is a full spectrum of skills and depth of knowledge that I can learn from. CapitaLand also has many interesting projects which reflect innovation and design," explained Cher. "I want to be able to see a project from inside out, to understand the rationale and background from the client's perspective. I want to learn how to manage projects – to be the middle man between the business people who work on the budget and procurement and so forth, and the design consultant."

Beginning his rotation in CapitaLand as an Executive of Product and Technical Services with The Ascott Limited, Cher is well on his way to realising his vision.

"I'm assisting my colleagues in preparing a design best practices guide, a green building products guide and reviewing architectural/ interior designs for several projects," said Cher. "I may even be going abroad soon to work on our serviced residences in Beijing."

Now that's living a dream.

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