UWCSEA alumnus driving change - Richard Kuppusamy '95
By UWCSEA Alumni Relations Department
Singapore architect, Richard Kuppusamy designs with the needs of all people integrated into his designs.
Richard spent seven years from the age of 11 at UWCSEA. After moving and living in several different countries with his family in his early years, Richard says, “At UWCSEA, I finally had a long-term group of friends and a real sense of belonging.”
Leading up to graduation, Richard decided to pursue a degree in architecture in the UK. He says, “I worked out that I was good with my hands, practical and resourceful, a problem-solver and a tech geek, and I wanted to put all of these things together.” After an internship to see what the job would be like, he decided that architecture was for him.
After seven years training and 11 years working as an architect in the UK, he decided to return home to Singapore in 2012 to be closer to his family. Coming back to Singapore was a big decision for Richard who has, since the age of 24 used a wheelchair due to spina bifida, a congenital condition affecting the spinal cord. To Richard, Singapore has come a long way in improving accessibility for people with disabilities over the past few years, and this he says made it possible for him to return.
Before choosing the company he would work for, some of the key questions he asked were about the ability to enter through the front door as a wheelchair user and the availability of wheelchair accessible toilets. The firm who hired him was willing to make both of these items a non-issue for him. A senior architectural designer there, Richard says, “I acted as a mentor and advisor regarding integrating the needs of disabled people into our designs. We tried to teach our staff and our clients not just the technical requirements that result in accessible buildings, but that in order to design well, we need to understand the people who use our buildings.”
He still gets frustrated with people who unthinkingly or sometimes purposely use handicap parking spots and toilet stalls. He says, “The biggest barrier to accessibility is attitude. Most building owners don’t take the needs of disabled people seriously because they feel there aren’t enough disabled people to matter. This is something that Richard has been passionate about turning around. His designs have aimed “to create something that is universally designed for young and old, for able-bodied and disabled people; every public place fully and equally accessible.” Two of the projects he has worked on in Singapore include the Enabling Village at Redhill and Kampung Admiralty (named World Building of the Year 2018 at the World Architecture Festival), both of which champion universal design.
Richard currently works as the Regional Digital Integration Manager of a leading international property group Lendlease. He is responsible for implementing digital technology and processes innovation in design and construction. In his spare time he volunteers in the Digital Built Environment Institute, a non-profit institution dedicated to improving digital workflows and modernisation in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry through continuing education.
In addition to his professional roles, Richard volunteers his time with the HWA (Handicaps Welfare Association) and is the President of the Singapore-registered charity, DPA (Disabled People’s Association). At the HWA, which he says is an organisation “for disabled people, by disabled people,” he leverages his professional experience to provide management oversight for the association which serves to enhance the quality of life of people with physical disabilities. At the DPA he advocates on behalf of persons with disabilities to influence decision-makers to implement policies and programmes aimed at promoting civil rights, equality, and social integration for people with disabilities.
Also the captain and team manager of the Singapore Wheelchair Rugby team, Richard says, “I joined Singapore Wheelchair Rugby with the intent of just coming for a bit of fun and exercise. We were given an opportunity to play in an international tournament soon after forming the team and I took on a role as the team captain. We have a fantastic group of about 12 players of various disabilities. Wheelchair Rugby gives us an activity which is both social and active. I guess this is the real ‘words to action’ when we talk about building an inclusive society. Wheelchair Rugby lets disabled people prove that their disability does not hold them back. It smashes stereotypes of people in wheelchairs being frail and weak and enables them to become active and social, keep fit and have fun. It’s a win-win.”
Richard’s inspirational philosophy on life is thus: “If you want to complain that life can be better; that you have the right to better treatment; then I believe you have to be willing to fight for those rights and lead by example. I’ve had a lot of good fortune in life, I’ve made my own opportunities where I can; and I have a duty like everyone else to give a little something back. I realised very early on that if I want change, I need to be the one driving that change.”
What is your alumni story? Our UWCSEA alumni are an amazing global community who remain connected to our UWC mission throughout their lives. Maintaining connections is a cornerstone in strengthening the bonds of our united UWCSEA community. Check out our series of alumni profiles here. If you have a story about yourself or another you'd like to share, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.