Good design is significantly shaped by local context. Designer Alexander Baum said that, design“is a practice with a philosophy of putting people first and involving them in every step of the design process” (The Guardian, 2016). As the very purpose of design is to meet the needs of the consumer, it is vital for designers to understand and take into consideration the external factors, may it be cultural, political, social or environmental, related to the target market. Consider the influence of climate in architecture, designers need to consider the type of materials used that can be suitable against the climate, the size of openings, location, and so forth. Therefore, it can be said that if a design is not shaped and influenced by the local context, it is unlikely that it will a successful and meaningful to the target market or community.
Singapore has always had a rich culture and heritage, as shown through various aspects including architecture, language, and local customs. Throughout their history, from being ruled by various countries to independence, all is reflected through their culture. One prime example would be seen through their architecture, such as shophouses. Shophouses are building types, most commonly found in Southeast Asia, that were built in the 19th century and early 20th century. They are narrow, two story or three story houses with a terrace and sheltered walkway in the front. These buildings are a type of vernacular architecture, which are buildings designed based on needs and social identity of the community, and current construction technology. As time goes by, these shophouses not only remain as a testament to Singapore’s cultural identity and heritage, but it still serves its original purpose of being both a shop and a house. With the 21st century, these shophouses are still being renovated and new ones are even being build with modern construction technology, adapting in terms of aesthetics and representing current culture.
The shophouses were designed in various aspects, taking into consideration the different contexts of Singapore during that time. Ranging from the patterns on the buildings to the materials to how the building itself was designed. As seen, the shophouses illustrate the various cultural influences of the time on design in Singapore. The French and shuttered windows, and the paneled doors are from European influence, the flowers from Chinese culture, and the fretwork from Malaysian culture.
Image Source: Apa Publication Ltd, (n.d.). Singapore Shophouses. [image] Available at: https://www.insightguides.com/destinations/asia-pacific/singapore/cultural-features/singapore-shophouses [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].
In terms of technological context, due to constraints in construction methods and building materials during the time, shophouses were usually only two or three stories high; with the first floor being a shop providing goods and services, whereas the second and third floors are usually residential areas. Furthermore, the roofs were built using clay roof tiles, which shifts away from previous organic construction materials, particularly the ‘attap’. The combination of a shop and house, as indicated by the name, may have been due to the increase in immigrants, notably from China. As Singapore was a small developing country during that time, economically and geographically; in order to support the needs of the growing population, it was necessary for building to be built up and didn’t require large spaces. In terms of taking into consideration the climate and economic condition of the citizens, features such as the covered walkway in front of the shophouses that serves as a shelter for pedestrians against sun and rain, and that open spaces that allow natural light and air to enter.
Sahabuddin, M. (n.d.). How Important Is Context In Contemporary Architectural Design. 1st ed. [ebook] Edinburgh, pp.2-3. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/2040500/How_Important_Is_Context_In_Contemporary_Architectural_Design [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017].
The Guardian, (2016). Why human centred design matters. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/ing-direct-being-human-in-a-digital-world/2016/nov/14/why-human-centred-design-matters [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017].
Ura.gov.sg. (2016). The Shophouse. [online] Available at: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/vision-and-principles/The-Shophouse [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].