Unified City-state of Singapore through Contemporary Architectural Design

“Designing is the process which we posit changes to the physical and virtual worlds in which we live through intentional acts.” -John Gero 2011

This definition is drawn from Gero’s book, Encyclopedia of Creativity, which explains the relationship between design, designing, the designer and the end user. It is a generic definition and can be applied to many situations. Design, however, evolves into different meanings depending on its context; architectural design, mechanical, electronic, industrial, textile (Gero 2011), contemporary, modern, retro (Smart 2016) or eco-design (Macdonald E.F. & She, J. 2015) – all of these types of designing methods are perceived differently under different contexts. Take a mosque built in Sydney as an example, it is a piece of architectural design that would be accepted and perceived differently under a local context, or inner context, or even cultural context. All various contexts are present at once yet one design piece has many interpretations.

This blogpost will look into the ways design is shaped by local context – specifically in Singapore, it will also explore contemporary architectural design projects created by Wallflower Architecture + Design, and discuss some knowledge that is being developed around Singapore’s social, cultural, economic and historical context, prior to visiting the country.

Since Singapore is an island city-state that houses a diverse 5.4 million people, its compact land allows for a close-knit, bustling environment that helps build local businesses grow as well as create a unified profile on the city-like country. The design of the famous food halls, hawker centres, are an expression of multicultural unification. It is a place where culinary experience from many cultures can be found and eaten for cheap; local dishes such as Hokkien Mee and Chicken Rice can be bought from $2.50-$5.00 (The Best Singapore 2016). Singaporean etiquette design is not lacking in culture as there is a particular way of doing things when it comes to hawker centres. An example would be to place your pack of tissue paper on an empty seat to claim your spot while you wait in line to order food. It is a local, unspoken rule – you won’t lose your seat, and having that peace of mind will aid in choosing the right dish for yourself (Hansen 2011).

The local design development of another part of Singapore is the neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru, its transformation of being the first housing estate in Singapore in the 1930’s, to becoming a ‘hot new hipster neighbourhood’, yet retaining some of its historic ‘ramshackle charm’ is a prime example of how design is shaped by local context (Polland 2013).

Wallflower Architecture + Design is a well recognised design firm in Singapore that work on both commercial and residential projects. One of its recent developments in 2015 called, Secret Garden House, is an aesthetic example of contemporary design in Bukit Timah, Singapore. It is a residential space that encompasses the aspect of privacy, land awareness, greenery and smart choices in material usage (Wallflower Architecture + Design 2015). Contemporary design means to be ever-changing, fluid, or of-the-moment (Smart 2016), and Singapore is a city-state which values environmental sustainability, design technology and appropriate privacy, hence as of now, this design piece, The Secret Garden is a prime example of contemporary design in Singapore. There are other developments in Singapore that are also great examples of contemporary design in Singapore such as the Water-cooled house (Wallflower Architecture + Design 2015) and Foster and Partner’s South Beach project (Foster and Partners 2016).

(Secret Garden House 2015)

It can be seen that Singapore is a country that is rich in culture, not of just one but many cultures – the combination becoming Singapore’s own unique culture. The social side of Singapore is an obvious bright, bustling, lively city that is known to be a popular tourist centre. It caters not only for its locals but incoming sightseers that want a taste of Asia from a well-developed point of living. It has cafés, cheap restaurants providing a wide range of asian cuisines; its multilingual society adds to the unification of the many cultures and helps tell the story of Singapore’s history. The country’s economic and historical context are no secret to the rest of the world, with its famous label as part of the Four Asian Tigers, its rapid growth was unmatched due to physical and capital accumulation (Barro 1998).


Reference List:

Barro, R.J. 1998, ‘The East Asian Tigers have plenty to roar about’, Economic Viewpoint, in press.

Foster and Partners 2016, South Beach, corporate website, United Kingdom, viewed 25 January 2017, <http://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/south-beach/>

Gero, J.S. 2011,  in Runco, M.A. and Pritzker, S.R. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Creativity, 2nd edn, Elsevier Inc., Amsterdam.

Hansen, C. 2011, A Beginner’s Guide to the Singapore Hawker Center, Serious Eats, weblog, viewed 24 January 2016, <http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/09/guide-to-singapore-hawker-center-street-food-where-to-eat.html>

Macdonald E.F. & She, J. 2015, ‘Seven cognitive concepts for successful eco-design’, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 92, pp. 23-36.

Polland, J. 2013, Take A Walk Around Singapore’s Hot New Hipster neighbourhood, Business Insider, weblog, Australia, viewed 24 January 2017, < http://www.businessinsider.com.au/tiong-bahru-neighborhood-in-singapore-2013-3?_ga=1.144377909.1821756477.1485424652&r=US&IR=T#over-the-last-few-years-theres-been-an-explosion-in-hip-western-style-cafes-like-drips-2>

Smart, B. 2016, What is Contemporary Design?, weblog, Homedit, viewed 23 January 2017, < http://www.homedit.com/how-to-define-contemporary/>

The Best Singapore 2016, The 5 Best Hawker Centres in Singapore, weblog, Singapore, viewed 24 January 2017, <http://www.thebestsingapore.com/eat-and-drink/the-best-5-hawker-centres-in-singapore/>

Wallflower Architecture + Design 2015, Secret Garden House, Portfolio, Wallflower 624, Singapore, viewed 24 January 2016, < http://wallflower624.firstcomdemolinks.com/webdemo/secret-garden-house/>

Images:

Secret Garden House 2015, Wallflower Architecture + Design, viewed 26 January 2017,<http://wallflower624.firstcomdemolinks.com/webdemo/secret-garden-house/>

Singapore: The Evident Poverty

When the name ‘Singapore’ is mentioned in a conversation, it is often connoted as a lively tourist-hub that attracts travellers from all around the world; or as the article Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism suggests:

“…the jewel of Southeast Asia where residents enjoy a high standard of living and a stable socio-political environment.” (Hong et al. 2014)

This blogpost will explore to what extent this statement is true, and go deeper into how and why Singaporean residents are able to enjoy such high standards of living. It will be done so by revealing an evident poverty line in its society, containing illegal domestic workers that are exploited by those who can afford to.

On the surface, most social media websites promote Singapore as a bustling, tourist-filled country that is rich in food culture and diverse in race (Destination Flavour Singapore 2016), as seen in this video below of a commercial television program that showcases the ‘unique flavours’ of Singapore, hosted by Adam Liaw.

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 1.24.32 pm.png
Screenshot of Destination Flavour Singapore

However, as diverse and multicultural and multi-racial a country can be, Singapore’s racial hierarchy draws a border between itself and its female migrant domestic workers who have much less freedom in a thriving and wealthy nation (Kobayashi 2015). An everyday life for a migrant domestic worker is far from ‘enjoying a high standard of living’, as they are not only in the house for domestic service, but also of domestic abuse (Huang & Yeoh 2007).

From this short informative documentary provided by Al Jazeera English, it can be seen that young non-Singaporean girls from poor families are taken advantage of when they dream of being employed to earn money for a decent living. Girls, as young as 15 years old are interviewed in this video, had to live under a false identity in order to gain employment as a domestic worker in Singapore. As Steve Chow investigates the illegal workers’ circumstances, he highlights the fact that there are Myanmar and Singapore laws that were “written to protect [these] girls”, however not a single authority has taken action. (Al Jazeera English 2016, 22:40)

According to Timothy Mcdonald reporting on BBC News,

“Singapore is famous for its strict rules, discipline can have a very real impact [on the country’s economic state].. Doing business is easy and corruption is minimal.” (BBC 2015)

And yet there are still infamous exploitations of young domestic workers, placed in Singapore under illegal working visas and are often beaten, abused or even locked away.

So the statement: ‘Singaporean residents enjoy a high standard of living and live in a stable socio-political environment’ could be  considered fairly true, and a third party would also agree upon brief glance, however, with deeper understanding and research on the social hierarchy that stands in this multicultural country, it can be seen that there is a transparent mask that attempts to hide the young cogs that aid in a flourishing society. The evidence is there and the world can see what is being done to the illegal female migrant domestic workers, but they can also see what is not being done to solve it. This issue has been brought to light for over a decade now and yet the Singaporean government are more concerned about the economic and commercial impression it has to its surrounding countries (BBC 2015).


Reference List:

Al Jazeera English 2016, 101 East – Maid in Singapore, video recording, Youtube, viewed 19 January 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQbd2XZGyXg>

BBC 2015, Singapore: From third world to first, United Kingdom, viewed 17 January 2017,< http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32012069>

Destination Flavour Singapore 2016, television program, SBS On Demand, Australia, 12 January.

Hong, J., Leong, C., Lim, S. & Yang, W.W. 2014, ‘Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 43, part A, November 2014, pp. 13-21.

Huang, S. & Yeoh, B.S.A. 2007, ‘Emotional Labour and Transnational Domestic Work: The Moving Geographies of ‘Maid Abuse’ in Singapore’, Mobilities, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 195-217.

Kobayashi, Y. H. 2015, ‘Renationalisation of space in everyday life in Singapore’, Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 410-422.

“Asia’s Greenest”

Only forty-two years young and Singapore is considered to be ‘The Greenest City” in Asia (Senthilingam 2016). At first, one is to question whether the term green here means immature, foolish and gullible (Green 2011) or whether the term refers to the environmental green. According to the CNN article, it would mean to be the latter. Having such a label in this century is without a doubt an impressive feat considering the global urgency to counteract the cause and effect of global warming. The path towards Singapore’s results were aided by the establishment of the design initiative that is the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Scheme (Building and Construction Authority 2017), which is aimed to bring about environmental sustainability using a rating system to evaluate every building’s impact and performance on the environment (Senthilingam 2016).

So is this considered a green, innocent way of thinking? As adults would call infants green in thought, too young to understand that most things in life are irreversible and undeniable, such as global warming, would Singapore also be categorised into this green class? Is Singapore being too naive to think that a complete country could become environmentally sustainable by designing a way of life that incorporates a seamless cooperation of architecture and nature? This blogpost will explore the design initiative of the Green Mark Scheme, specifically looking at how current and future man-made technology is able to preserve and challenge the cultural and social heritage of Singapore through the art of architecture.

The importance of preserving a place filled with cultural and social heritage, as well as embracing a newly evolving and fast paced lifestyle with technological advances is certainly not an easy task. However, Singapore has grown to become that place; incorporating the bits and pieces of history in its landscape and architecture whilst fusing the beauty and design of a diverse future into its society. Singapore has transformed itself into a place which values the nostalgia and memories of the land amidst its growing technologically focused nation (Kong & Yeoh 1996). By adapting a modern way of thinking, the country has shown that it is in fact not green-minded but is receptive and progressing in a world that is deteriorating from the lack of care for the green environment.

As mentioned above, the Green Mark Scheme is a rating system on every building in Singapore to evaluate its impact and performance on the environment, which is ideal for statistics and acknowledgements; however, that would mean that there must be buildings in order to be rated. This contradicts the label of being green because preoccupied space must be cleared for there to be new infrastructure developments, hence challenging the existence of Singapore’s cultural heritage landscapes.

 

Avatar
Singapore’s Botanic Gardens: Supertrees (2010)

 

Singapore’s landscape plays a significant part in its cultural heritage, as less than a century ago, it was classed as a third world country (BBC 2015), thus ridding its native terrain would disrupt and challenge Singapore’s identity and history. And though there are buildings such as The Beach Road project by Foster & Partners, and the supertrees at the Gardens by the Bay, which both aim to amplify the power of natural energy supplied by the atmosphere, they are still technically developments that require space and produce waste to make and maintain. The true hero to reconcile the initiatives that challenge Singapore’s cultural and social heritage is the introduction of The Heritage Road Scheme in 2001, which conserve some of the scenic, tree-lined roads of Singapore that contain some of the country’s oldest trees. These mature trees are reflective of the hard-work and dedicated care and growth of the country, and are worth considered heritage (National Parks 2015). The Green Corridor should also be noted as it was a successful people-led movement to conserve the land (Senthilingam 2016), which portrayed society’s care for their land and heritage.

Singapore is indeed a ‘green’ country, and most likely Asia’s Greenest in terms of advancing in environmentally sustainable infrastructures and schemes that not only embrace, but challenges its cultural and social heritage. The country itself, as young as it is, has transformed into a well respected city-state that many of the first-world countries should reflect and learn from.


Reference List: 

BBC 2015, Singapore: From third world to first, United Kingdom, viewed 17 January 2017,< http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32012069>

Building and Construction Authority 2017, About BCA Green Mark Scheme, Government Information Website, Singapore, viewed 17 January 2017, <https://www.bca.gov.sg/greenmark/green_mark_buildings.html>

Green, J. 2011, How did the word “green” become synonymous with “new” or “inexperienced”?, forum, Quora, viewed 16 January 2017, <https://www.quora.com/How-did-the-word-green-become-synonymous-with-new-or-inexperienced>

Kong, L. & Yeoh, B. 1996, ‘ The Notion of Place in the Construction of History, Nostalgia and Heritage in Singapore’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 52–65

National Parks 2015, Heritage Roads: The Heritage Road Scheme, Singapore, viewed 17 January 2017,< https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/heritage-roads>

Senthilingam, M. 2016, Singapore: Concrete jungle or greenest city on Earth?, weblog, CNN, United States, viewed 16 January 2017, <http://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/11/travel/singapore-greenest-city/>

Images:

Singapore’s Botanic Garden 2010, photographed by F. Bianchi, Flickr, viewed 17 January 2017, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/fibia/13088395595/in/photolist-kWzs22-7jFZKg-cLUjNC-dRvho8-7N133Y-4BxBP3-5MgXT4-7tjivR-2x4hvP-cZGPa7-csaWas-NAnqy-d21UWq-dAgQ6N-9WngZQ-qHw8zX-aTBne8-cZGJm1-NAnqN-NAnqW-nqrKh-iMsK6Y-47qmJX-iMqrPp-aAKYya-iNMbzZ-aVP3ut-c9KMiQ-drDYtm-dVRA5D-NAnqC-7AdaVE-cdCuo5-8hih5R-9VJuXZ-gmoRS-cnhfqs-cosEw7-cFpXkL-cosoiS-afg6QA-cNzmc3-9Ct6LC-sgbho-cosPMQ-6mNLdn-ctY1w9-dRf6H2-dmTeNc-2pmC7J/>