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On 21 July 2023, I received an email from Dato’ Ar Lai Lok Kun through our Parish website. He introduced himself as the “original architect of the church.” I did not respond to his email immediately, however, a week later, he contacted me through the Parish landline and we had a brief conversation. He wanted to meet me and expressed his wish to revisit the church he designed back in 1966.

Last Thursday (10 August 2023), Dato Lai along with his brother Ken Lai, sister and brother-in-law Mr and Mrs Leong, and his daughter Suyan, drove from Petaling Jaya, Selangor and visited the Church of St. Thomas in Kuantan. Two senior members from our Parish - Peter Chia and Peter Tan, who were involved in the building project in 1966 – were with me, to welcome them. During our conversations in my office, Dato Lai explained that it was his brother, Ken Lai, who was a dentist and parish member at the time, had introduced him to the late Rev Fr Antoine Henriot (MEP) and that was how he was appointed as the architect to design the new church. At the time, he was only 31 years old.

During his visit, Dato Lai shared that it was a memorable experience after 57 years. He recounted how he was inspired to design a new church in 1966. He said he stood at the main gate on a very hot day, feeling the weight of his enormous responsibility to design a house of God. Looking up at the sky, he realised he needed divine wisdom and guidance to present his plan to the building committee for approval.

He was aware of the monsoon rainy season at the end of the year. To enhance the sensory experience of reaching for the heavens, he created a soaring roof that resembles a cross, sharp eaves, and a skylight over the altar. He didn’t make the trusses disappear but added elegance to the plain interior. Then, he designed a creative entrance for the Church and the altar and followed it with the construction of a floor and sitting area.

It was truly fascinating to see a unique church design that was built to accommodate the growing Catholic population in the East Coast. After a lengthy discussion, we took them to visit the Church and its surrounding areas. After lunch, we took them on a tour of Kuantan City, visiting some schools, beaches and old buildings. Our guests were thrilled to recall past memories along the way.

Dato Lai, who is presently 89 years old, was born in 1934. He obtained his architectural qualifications from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He has been a practising architect in Malaysia since 1963. He dedicated almost 60 years of his life to architecture, development, and collaborating with friends on township projects to advance his career.

Throughout his career in architecture, he has achieved numerous great accomplishments, with his latest being awarded the Gold Medal laureate by the Malaysian Institute of Architects (Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia - PAM) among the best 11 architects in the country for 2021. He is an incredibly humble, kind-hearted and friendly man who has established architectural milestones in our country.

Dear Saint Thomas, the Patron Saint for architects and builders, pray for all those who are committed in contributing to shape our world into more beautifully pleasing.

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