In memoriam: Emeritus Professor Lee Seng Lip, respected engineer and educator

Emeritus Professor Lee Seng Lip passed on peacefully on 27 Nov at the age of 96.

Having joined NUS in 1975 as Professor and Head of Department for Civil Engineering, he held that position until 1989 when he was conferred an Emeritus Professorship.

Emeritus Prof Lee is remembered by friends and colleagues as a great leader, educator and engineer who contributed significantly to the Department, the University and to the growth and development of Singapore. Thousands of former students, who have gone on to make their marks on industry and academia, also fondly remember the impact that Emeritus Prof Lee has made on their lives.

In recognition of his accomplishments in the engineering industry, academia and the wider community, Emeritus Prof Lee was awarded the first Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES) Lifetime Engineering Achievement Award in 2013.

Visionary engineer and leader

A PhD graduate of the University of California Berkeley, he received the institution’s Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award in 1991.

A keen golfer and swimmer as well as a passionate engineer, Emeritus Prof Lee was known for maintaining a busy schedule which he continued well into his retirement.

Described by one IES council member as an “innovative visionary”, Emeritus Prof Lee was involved in the construction of some of Singapore’s most iconic buildings.

For example, during the construction of Changi Airport, Emeritus Prof Lee proposed an innovative construction method for the control tower, allowing it to be completed under tight deadlines.

Several years later, he was also a consultant on the Marina Bay Sands project, advising on how to ensure structural integrity in the sloping sides of the development’s main towers.

A particular focus of Emeritus Prof Lee’s work and research was on structural engineering, geotechnical engineering and construction technology related to high rise buildings. However, his work covered many other areas including the vibrations of buildings caused by wind, marina construction, as well as canal and riverside construction.

In the late 1980s, he developed a method of employing seabed clay sandwiched between thin sand layers which was applied to reclaim 40-hectares of land at Changi South Bay, thus slashing the costs of the project by a third.

Renowned academic, passionate educator

Emeritus Prof Lee also had a storied career in academia, publishing more than 500 papers in international and regional journals. He also taught several thousand students, many of whom went on to become fellow professors in the field or respected practicing engineers.

“NUS mourns the loss of an outstanding engineer, scholar and educator. Emeritus Prof Lee’s immeasurable legacy will always be treasured and remembered by his colleagues, students and friends who have had the privilege of knowing and working with him. He will be deeply missed by many of us in NUS,” said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye.

In fact, Emeritus Prof Lee’s lifelong passion was revealed in a newspaper interview in 2013, when he was asked about the proudest achievement from his career.

Rather than naming a famous landmark on the Singapore skyline, he said, "I'm proudest of the fact that I've educated many engineers, who have contributed to the infrastructural development in Singapore and South-east Asia."

Professor Richard Liew, Head of NUS Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), said of Emeritus Prof Lee’s passing, “We are truly honoured to have Emeritus Professor Lee as our pioneer in CEE family. His memory and legacy will remain forever etched in our minds and of those who knew him.”