Friday, January 12, 2007

Response to "Then and Now"

I had trouble posting a comment on the blog (which will be ironed out once the interface and template are ported over to the new Blogger), which resulted me in typing the following three times. (The first two times I was stupid and uninformed, the third time I had an epiphany and decided to type in MS Word instead!)

In any case, this is a response to Ronald's previous post, "Then and Now". First up, thanks, Ronald, for the very interesting posts and the very evocative imagery (particularly in the Cambodia post!!) that you've given us over the past week. Most enlightening (again, thanks the Cambodia post - I'd never encountered these architectural gems before.)

Well, here goes nothing. ;)


“Which do you prefer?” That’s pretty hard to answer. Which do I prefer, simply by looking at the two photographic images? (Which are inherently propagandist and nonobjective by virtue of the selection of the scene by the photographer?)

Or, which do I prefer, by virtue of the architect’s expressions in tandem with the “spirit of the age” in which they found themselves?

It seems unfair to either building that either of them has been made to compare with the other, without any basis for comparison, and without anything new learned even if I told you which I preferred. It seems unfair that either building has been reduced to an image to be compared with, as an image and not as a space, not as a product of any inherent cultural/artistic catharsis that may have happened to result in either building.

Perhaps the only similarity they share is that they’re both performing arts venues. Whether they’re both in Singapore or not is irrelevant as neither image suggests that, but yeah, that’s another similarity. As you rightly pointed out, they were borne out of different times, different desires for the nation to express itself (and express itself with), and (this we all know) different architects.

Well, I can’t respond to either of the above questions, simply because I have to explore a piece of architecture in order to know what it does (or does not do) to me. Naturally I can’t do that for Alfred Wong’s theatre now – if only I’d been born earlier / if only they hadn’t torn it down. I can’t respond to the second question either: “which of the architecture (vis-à-vis their ‘spirit of the age’) do you prefer”, as I wasn’t around in the 60s and 70s, (nor had I the intelligence in the 80s and 90s to make my own opinions).

That said, I DO in fact like the Esplanade building. Well, I’d say “complex” rather than building, because I like it as a whole complex. If you’re talking about the “shells” themselves though – I prefer the space under the shell, rather the shell as a form (but even that in itself has an intrinsic, evocative, cultural reference). The space under the brise-soleil provides for excellent photography, and the quality of light that comes through can be brilliant, depending of the time of day. I’d imagine that space to retain an equally charming quality – if not even more charming – if the Esplanade wasn’t air conditioned. The weave of spikes in the Esplanade’s shell brings to mind the basket weave (or more recently, plastic weave) that your moms and aunts used to cover your food with to prevent flies from getting to it. In fact, when I first visited the Esplanade, the first thing that came to mind was one of those food cover things – is there any nomenclature for those things? – rather than a durian or a fly’s eye or a bra cup that the Esplanade has so often been associated with. This has probably got to do with the weave-pattern skin. It would be interesting if the Esplanade were non air-conditioned – the experience beneath the brise soleil shell would be very different indeed.

Another thing it brings to mind is a large giant fishtrap (again because of its skin, and some deviant imagination on my part). Which does lead to the interesting question if the building were not air-conditioned – what would the “pigeons flying in : pigeons finding a means to escape” ratio be? (Again, fishtrap inference – once in, can’t go out.)

Hmmm. Yet, from the various photographic remnants of Wong’s National Theatre, and with a very small leap in imagination, I imagine myself liking to be there as well. A few factors contribute to this: the nice lawns out in front with the nice fountain (I really like the coconut-cusp form from which the fountain jet emerges – that really looks ahead of its time!!), the “retro-whore” that I am, the spokes (also partly reminiscent of Niemeyer’s cathedral and the Institute of Foreign Languages in Cambodia which you earlier posted), and reminiscent of the ribs of animals used to line the side of tribal drums, for stretching the animal-hide to create the diaphragms for these drums. Yes, I’m very piqued by the culture-specific references and the resulting feelings that such forms evoke.

Both buildings are naturally evocative in terms of the feelings they have evoked in me, as far as cultural references are concerned. It’s a pity though, that I can’t experience the space behind the drum spokes (or within the building for that matter) of the National Theatre, nor imagine what it would be like. It’s in fact a little sad that that potentially remarkable (and environmentally-relevant, as your ballerina has avowed for) space has been reduced to a nice picture postcard, which is the only form I’ve seen it in. Sure, the exteriors are highly iconic and possibly emblematic during its time, but I’m sure there’s more to that building than meets the eye. To Alfred Wong – R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Yet, as it is, there is little basis of comparison between the two highly meritorious buildings.

Well, to “which do you prefer”… which do YOU prefer? ;)