Sunday, January 28, 2007

Singapore 2019: state of architecture pt.1

This is the first in a new series of 2 or 3 posts that will hopefully fire up our imagination. Most of us have come together wanting to question the establishment and find alternate ways to achieve compelling architecture through alternate processes. Much as it is easy for us to comment/criticise the less-than-desire aspects of Singapore’s architecture scene, a big question still looms – what is our desired end result?

With this question in mind, I thought it would not be a bad idea to fictitiously visualise a scenario on Singapore’s architecture scene in 2019, the year of Singapore’s bi-centennial (from the perspective of a major architectural publication). It is also far enough into the future, but near enough for us to be able to impact it. This project may hopefully fire our imagination over the Singapore we desire for 2019. So here goes.

Ten years ago this month, Moshe Safdie’s monumental casino complex opened to the aesthetic chagrin of the city’s inhabitants, bearing its oppressive presence on Singapore’s waterfront. As if to add insult to injury, Michael Graves’ gaudy resort opened soon after, thereby knocking the last nail into the coffin of post-modern architecture. If anything, many were angry that post-modernism’s tomb had to vandalise the view of Singapore’s habour and not some other city’s. Other local inhabitants with less aesthetic inclinations bemoaned Singapore’s damaged fengshui-scape.

fengshui vandalism 10 years ago, back in 2009

That was an era when Singapore’s urban architecture carried both the hits and the misses. The insecurity complexes of a city-state then on the tip of cultural maturation erroneously inspired the mindless outsourcing of imagination to brand-name celebrity architects for an icon that would project that elusive “identity.” (like the gadzillion cities jumping on Bilbao’s bandwagon) Whereas many cities picked the forward-looking ones to advance the cause of architecture, Singapore picked the outdated ones.

Thankfully for the balances of yin and yang, such aesthetic failure bore the seed of equivalent success in the work of locally-rooted practices. The decade witnessed a slew of critically imaginative works by Singapore practices engaging in a local architectural dialogue. These projects included a spectacular subway station roofed with a glass reflecting pool, a cosmopolite’s re-interpretation of the mosque, a biomorphically ephemeral youth activities centre, as well as an imaginative arts school campus bathed in vegetation.

A critical re-interpretation of the Mosque
at the dawn of the new Millenium

Ten years on, today in 2019, architectural Singapore is buzzing confidently like never before. If a mere breeze of change passed through Singapore ten years ago, the breeze has since intensified into a torrential storm. In the line-up are a slew of imaginative private and public projects, driven by an increasing willingness to speculate on new ideas. Ranging in cost and scale, many of these projects were the result of a confluence between new directions in architectural patronage and a bottom-up activism spearheaded by creative agents in the local scene, thereby effecting an “ideas revolution” in architecture.

New speculative directions: the result of
an "ideas revolution" in architecture

The annual “Archi-Follies” competition for a 6-month long temporary installation at the Clementi Town Centre is, by now, a closely watched event by architectural critics and curators for new trends and directions. The “Urban Tree-Houses for Civil Society” initiative has also given many Singapore NGOs a uniquely urban presence – on the grand rain trees that line Singapore’s Orchard Road. The first tree-houses for the NGOs Singaporeans for Democracy and People Like Us opened four years ago to much public fanfare.

Singapore’s architectural buzz is, no doubt, a cultural reflection of the flowering of democratic pluralism in this city state, spurred by a newfound willingness to question prevailing ideology. The recently convened “What is Singapore?” project, organised for the run-up to Singapore’s bi-centennial celebrations, is the clearest testament so far of this new courage to question.

NGOs and the advent of democratic pluralism...

...and Singapore's architectural answer

Carrying epic proportions, the month-long symposium gathered local and regional, politicians, theorists, academics, global thinkers, creative practitioners as well as Singaporeans from all walks of life to critically investigate the void at the heart of this national/urban construct of Singapore. On a heroic scale never seen before, the energy generated by this symposium will polemically impact Singapore’s cultural discourse and production.

On the occasion of her bicentennial, the Global Architecture Review is proud to celebrate Singapore’s dynamic diversity in this month’s issue. We feature ten recent works of architecture that imaginatively express the city-state.

"The Melting Tower" urban speculation
by RL.

1) Centre for Singlish Research

2) Pelangi Centre for Sexual Diversity

3) Vertical Creative Community Project (Public Housing Adaptive Re-use)

4) W Party Headquarters

5) The Inter-faith Spiritual Cavern

6) Tree House X

7) Sri Mariamanammam Hindhu Temple

8) Bukit Bintu Hawker Centre

9) National Human Rights memorial

10) Singapore Architectural Museum

(To be continued in Part 2)