Allen K. Folks (AS, '76) doesn’t think small.
As Vice President of Planning, Design and Economics for the Southeast Asia region of AECOM, Folks is presently helping to develop a community that will house a quarter of a million people in Singapore, where he and his family currently reside.
“After completing my degree in Landscape Design at Temple, I studied architecture at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I then looked for something that blended both interests and that really was urban design — I completed my Masters in Landscape Architecture and Certificate in Urban Design at the University of Pennsylvania,” said Folks, 59, who graduated from Temple University in 1976 with an Associate’s Degree in Landscape Design at a time when the University had yet to offer four-year degrees in landscape architecture or horticulture. “I never really wanted to work on an intimate scale — I didn’t want to design someone’s house; I wanted to design many houses. I was interested in town and city planning, urban regeneration and transit oriented development.”
His current project certainly fits the bill. When completed, the city-sized affordable housing community containing 56,000 housing units — vertically stacked mid and high rise building of 12 to 30 floors, which are typical in Singapore — will have a population of 250,000 people.
“About 80 percent of the population of Singapore lives in public housing, but that doesn’t mean what is does in the United States,” said Folks, a 2014 inductee to Temple’s Gallery of Success. “It means that is it housing built by the government for their citizens — they purchase homes and have mortgages just like we do. Our mandate was to build housing estates with a close connection to the country’s mass transit systems.”
According to Folks, the massive project is the first “forest themed town in Singapore.”
“It will have a large public open space system centered around a forest theme that incorporates the vestiges of tropical rainforest that still exist in this area. It will have a large ecological corridor that tentacles out into the neighborhoods — open spaces could include vertical gardens, green walls and fish farming,” he said. “There is a big push to help educate Singaporeans about where their food comes from and determine how to become more sustainable. They are exploring more inventive forms of gardening, herb growing and farming — how to use the space they have to the maximum beneficial effect.”
Folks said his time at Temple University Ambler provided the “foundation” for everything he has done in his career since.
“It was my introduction to design, to ecological systems, to ideas of social systems and social awareness. It was my initial entry into the world of how to make places for people,” he said. “I used to drive around with a tape measure and stop traffic so I could measure the roadway — I wanted to understand the dimensions. Courses in botany and plant identification coupled with my design studios laid the foundation for a lifetime examining the urban condition.”
After completing his studies, Folks traveled to San Francisco in 1985 to join a small urban design firm before being hired by EDAW, one of the leading landscape and design firms in the U.S. and abroad. His focus within EDAW was providing design and management leadership for numerous large multi-disciplinary assignments.
“I was with EDAW for 18 years. When I began with the firm in 1987, we had 175 people in six offices within the US,” he said. “EDAW ultimately expanded globally to employ about 1,500 and I became one of the owners and Principals in the firm.”
In 2006, EDAW was purchased by AECOM. In 2012, Folks moved to Singapore with his family — wife Lorilyn and son Quinn — to head up AECOM’s Singapore office, travelling frequently to oversee urban design projects in Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Today, Folks is one of the leaders of a 45,000-person company, which will soon employ 100,000 people beginning in 2015 with AECOM’s purchase of URS. AECOM provides a full suite of services, according to Folks, including design, construction and management and has a yearly revenue of $8 to 10 billion, growing to 20 billion with the URS merger.
“Asia is a learning laboratory for a lot of things that aren’t happening anywhere else in the world, particularly in the fields of design and construction. Large projects are being designed, developed and built in just a few years — it’s exciting to be a part of,” he said. “In this part of the world, cities not only need to be green, they need to be green and smart. Sustainability issues are at the forefront of design — reducing greenhouse gases, particularly auto usage; developing carbon reduction models; and modeling energy efficiency and water usage. There is a lot going into creating smart city-wide systems to make transport and delivery systems more efficient.”
Folks’ accomplishments have certainly not gone unnoticed by his alma mater. This month, Folks was inducted into Temple’s Gallery of Success representing the School of Environmental Design.
Each year, the Gallery of Success pays tribute to extraordinary Temple graduates who have made noteworthy accomplishments in their respective fields and communities. The Gallery of Success places a spotlight on alumni who have utilized the skills and knowledge learned at Temple to become leading educators, scientists, business owners, artists, healthcare providers, planners, lawyers and much more.
“These honorees are out in the real world, leading the search for solutions and making a real impact,” said Linda Lowe, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Temple University Ambler. “As we honor these men and women each year, it is a wonderful time to reflect on all that Temple does to empower our students and alumni to make their marks on the world.”
Folks called the recognition “a tremendous honor.”
“Being inducted into the Gallery provides a chance to reflect and look back on the paths one’s life has taken. I started at Temple in 1973 creating elementary, crude design drawings for small spaces,” he said. “It’s a long path from there to planning for 250,000 people — at 18 years old, I certainly had no idea where my life would lead me. Temple Ambler provided a small college experience that opened up a larger world to me — it provide the underpinnings for the rest of my life and career. My Temple roommate, Guire Webb, is still one of my best friends.”
Current students seeking to break into the fields of landscape architecture, design and planning share a common perspective, Folks said.
“Whether you’re a landscape architect or a community planner, you need to develop an acute awareness of how people use space,” he said. “You have to be constantly perceptive — looking, listening and becoming aware of your surroundings and understanding their context. If you can do that, you will excel in some facet of this profession.”