Sunday, March 30, 2008

Singapore 1:1 Exhibition at the URA

Had a chance to attend the Singapore 1:1 Forum last week, held in conjunction with the Singapore 1:1 Island exhibition at the URA Gallery, the second in what I hope is a (longer) series of exhibits on architecture in Singapore. The first was Singapore 1:1 City two years ago. The exhibition documents key architectural highlights in Singapore, chronologised into 'ages', from the 1960s til today.

Moderated by Larry Ng, director of the Architecture and Urban Design Excellence (AUDE) programme at the URA, the forum was given its kick-off by Dr Wong Yunn Chii, the curator of the exhibition, who spoke on the processes behind curating the exhibition, and the mode of selection of its theme (and projects). In so doing, the audience was given a live commentary-cum-critique on many of the selected exhibited schemes, which felt like a Brief History of Modern Singapore Architecture 101 (in a most positive way, of course). It was enlightening, as it was my first time listening to a talk on curatorial thought processes, and on viewing the exhibition after the forum, it lended additional credence to the exhibition itself. The photography for some of these projects was pretty impressive as well.

Mr Arthur Aw of Jurong Town Corporation later gave his insight on his eight or so years of working at the Jurong Town Hall, itself a Brutalist-styled design from 1969 (by Architects Team 3) which still commands much awe, if audience response was anything to go by. A quote from Mr Aw: "If someone joined JTC, in the old building (Jurong Town Hall), I would have got to know him within three months. Now, if someone joins JTC, in the new building (Jurong Summit), it would take me a year to get to know him."

This simple comment brings forth further, deeper questions of modern office-space typologies, and is a silent criticism on developers' quests to go for taller, lower-footprint skyscrapers. The latter little more than fulfilling efficiency, and, in the case of Jurong Summit, are probably far less of an architectural marker in time, than buildings designed to make their presence felt - Jurong Town Hall would be a case in point.

Ms Rohani Baharin from CPG Airports then gave a detailed talk on everyone's favourite airport - Changi, documenting the progress it's made since the opening of Terminal 1 back in the 1970s. This was a very refreshing point of view - one uses or views an airport on a very microscopic level, compared to the people who are actually planning it, everything from its masterplanning to its infrastructure to the little architectural details that contribute to the airport being runaway best-in-the-world for several years running. (Nugget of interesting information: There are baggage carousels running underground from terminal to terminal, below the existing MRT line!)

The audience was treated to a video of the conceptualisation process behind T3 as well, with details of the now-famous skylighting flaps, and the green walls and large expanses of curtain-wall glass. Ms Baharin's talk ended off with optimistic hope for T4, which has now been confirmed to be in the pipeline.

Mr Tan Kok Hiang of Forum Architects gave an enlightening talk on the thoughts and design processes behind three of his projects - the Henderson Community Centre, the Assyafaah Mosque (model pictured above) and the new entrance for the Singapore Science Centre. Cultural significance and relevance lend themselves to Forum's projects, and these show up in details, both highly microscopic - for instance, in the Arabesque screens of the Mosque - and macroscopic, in the primordial Fibonacci Sequence system that guides the new landscaped plaza leading to the Science Centre. It left the audience with the feeling that architecture indeed innovates, and is meant to innovate, while serving more fundamental demands of space, form-making and client/programmatic demands.

The forum concluded with a colourful Q&A session, in which the speakers furthered their respective talks with commentaries on the future of architecture and architectural innovation in Singapore, while keeping true to what we've held proud thus far - efficient and "pleasant" design. This is a timely shot in the arm as we are seeking a myriad set of answers to the perennial "So, what's next?" question, in the context of local architecture.

All in all, it was a talk that neatly wrapped up the Singapore 1:1 Island exhibition, itself a neat set-up. I bought the concomitant book - even with slight reservations on its graphic design - as I know it will become a handy historical document on how far Singapore architecture has come, as it is itself a history-documenting book.

The Singapore 1:1 Exhibition has been extended til April 11th, and can be viewed during the URA's opening hours.