Monday, September 24, 2007

My Wishlist for Architecture in Singapore

1) Creation of a Department of Architecture and Design in the Singapore Art Museum (Or alternatively, a museum of architecture and design)
The department would be the guardian of Singapore’s design heritage, would be a home for a permanent collection of design drawings, documents etc related to Singapore architecture, and would provide dynamic and critical curatorial direction to affect critical discourse. (I’m thinking along the lines of how exhibitions like Henry Russell Hitchcock’s 1932 “International Style exhibition” , Paolo Portoghesi’s 1980 “Presence of the Past” or Mark Wiggley’s 1989 “Deconstructivism” left a profound impact on the movement of architectural discourse. ) Exhibitions on Singapore Architecture need to be more than just “showcasing Singapore’s design to the world” at fancy international biennales.

2) A permanent architecture column in the Straits Times, with a qualified resident or rotating architectural critic
I mentioned this in a previous post. If Singapore is serious about the development of architecture, we must also be serious enough to devote space in our print media to educate the public on the role and place of architecture in society and why good/critical architecture matters and what makes compelling architecture.

3) An annual speculative architecture competition for a temporary architecture installation/pavilion that goes up for 3 months each year.

I was thinking of something along the lines of MoMA’s annual PS1 competition that temporarily transforms their space in Queens every summer with a winning installation. It is often a rite-of-passage for up-and-coming architects before they “make it big”. It could alternatively take the form of a commission for temporary follies like the yearly Serpentine Pavilion or Kumamoto Prefecture’s Artpolis project.

4) Creation of a National Trust Fund for Historic Preservation (possibly a tax-free endowment fund) that will heavily fund or subsidise the acquisition, repair, maintenance, and adaptation buildings of heritage value that cannot withstand the onslaught of the free market and developmental pressures independently.
We all witnessed the controversy of the Butterfly House and the we-have-no-choice-but-to-tear-this-down-for-development lame argument. Singapore cannot rely on URA alone to safeguard our heritage because their ultimate responsibility is to focus on development. (note that R in URA stands for Redevelopment)

If any emotionally valuable piece of architectural heritage cannot stand up to the test of the free market, then it deserves a subsidy that is commensurate with its heritage value / design merit (that is often never factored in when people tear stuff down to rebuild and redevelop)

(As a loosely parallel example, Central Park in New York was restored after decades of degeneration with private money by way of the Central Parks Conservancy, independent of municipal authorities)

5) A set of incentives to encourage developers/clients to commit to innovative architecture. (e.g. a tax rebate on rent earned for every project that passes the scrutiny of a design jury, or that wins the President’s design award, etc)

Alternatively, we can tax ugly insensitive buildings. Like the Supreme Court. (just kidding) I prefer carrots to sticks.

But otherwise, I think URA and Design Singapore are coming up with a fascinating slew of initiatives. I only wish their intentions were more pure than "making Singapore a design hub of the world". ..... *sigh*