FRAME: Why Singapore architects need to create a more equitable partnership with their builders

Singapore – From a starring role in the Hollywood flick Crazy Rich Asians to the backdrop of the science-fiction television series Westworld, Singapore has in recent times become a city for all sorts of fantastical projections. It is easy to see why. Skyscrapers such as the Parkroyal on Pickering hotel and the Marina One mixed-use complex are wrapped in lush greenery reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There is also the neo-futuristic domes of the Gardens by the Bay and the swooping Marina Bay Sands next door. Singapore is a playground for architects from around the world to imagine the buildings of tomorrow.

But the glitzy architecture in the city centre distracts from another reality. On the edges of Singapore, some 400,000 migrant workers live in starkly different conditions to the fancy buildings they help construct and maintain. Many workers are housed in dormitories built by profit-seeking operators that meet state requirements to the letter but are hardly liveable. The need to provide a minimum of 4.5 m2 of living space per dorm resident, offer a toilet facility for every 15 residents and meet the needs of their cost-sensitive employers equals drab industrial housing, where up to 20 workers are housed in a room packed to the ceiling with double-decker beds.

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Huat Ah!

They were once found everywhere around the city. Tickets to the Singapore Sweep used to be strung across the counter of mamak shops (local convenience stores), neatly lined up on the tables of newspaper vendors and even peddled at the hawker centres by enterprising individuals. For a dollar, and eventually, three dollars, these slips of paper offered anyone a small chance to hit the jackpot. This monthly lottery, organised by the Singapore Pools since 1969, was one of the earliest forms of legalised gambling in the country. It was also its most visible—coming in eye- catching designs that even became a collector’s item.

This colourful chapter of the national lottery ended in July 2018, when the Singapore Pools began printing its tickets in the form of receipts like the company’s other popular lotteries, such as 4D and Toto. We look back at the Singapore Sweep’s design history to discover how its tickets were not just about form but function too.

1969: Singapore Sweep Goes National


Establishing a legalised national lottery was a controversial decision in 1960s Singapore as some feared it would encourage gambling. But the practical need to bring in revenue for the young nation and stamp out illegal gambling eventually outweighed this concern. In 1966, the Singapore Turf Club started a “Singapore Sweep” to raise funds for charitable causes. After the government established the Singapore Pools as its national lottery operator in 1968, the Singapore Sweep became part of this new organisation’s plan to raise funds for the construction of the country’s first national stadium. This is why a model of it featured prominently on this ticket printed for the lottery that was held on 28 February 1969.

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A City for Nature

Singapore designs not just for its people, but its animals too.

Three months after its operation, Jary wears his designed casque with pride. PHOTO: DON WONG

With its long yellow beak topped with a prominent “helmet”, Jary looks just like any Great Pied Hornbill. This species is well known for its distinctive casque, which helps to broadcast the bird’s harsh staccato cackling that goes “Yak-yak-yak!”

Jary’s “casque”, however, does all of the above—and more. But only an eagle-eyed visitor at the Jurong Bird Park would notice the line of screws holding down what is actually a prosthetic on the hornbill’s beak. Last year, when the 22-year-old was diagnosed with cancer on his casque, the park’s veterinary team surgically cut out the affected area and installed this specially designed casque.

“Our first reaction was, ‘Wah! Why (is Jary) like that’,” recalls industrial designer Eason Chow who created Jary’s prosthetic as part of a team from the Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Centre, the NUS Smart Systems Institute and NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing.

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