Author: Justin Zhuang

JUSTIN ZHUANG is writer and researcher with an interest in DESIGN, CITIES, CULTURE, HISTORY and MEDIA. I run a Singapore-based studio In Plain Words and a recent graduate from the MFA in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts, New York.

No Longer Apart, but A Part Of

When a landscaped pedestrian mall was introduced along Orchard Road in the 1970s, it seemed like a perfectly good idea. A tree-lined retail boulevard would bolster Singapore’s then emerging ambitions to become a ‘Garden City’, and offer shoppers shade as they went from mall to mall. Today, the stretch (over two kilometres long) is invaded by thousands of birds. Roosting on the canopies of the Angsana trees, the birds poop on the mall, terrorise patrons at the alfresco cafes and declare their presence every evening with a deafening cacophony.

A greener environment has made Orchard Road ‘A Great Street’ (as its tagline goes) not just for people, but ‘pests’ too. As urbanscapes become increasingly designed with and for nature, such conflicts are sure to grow. Trees and shrubs are not objects designed for users. Nor are they simply another material on a mood board. These living organisms are part of an ecology that architects, designers, clients and users must become more aware of for us to truly live in works that embrace nature.

➜ Read the full column in CUBES #97 — Re-Nature (Oct/Nov/Dec 2019)

Dear Friend

Dear Friend,

It has been two weeks since I returned to tropical Singapore. The sweltering heat outside makes me yearn for the cooler weather during my recent trip to Tallinn, Copenhagen and Helsinki. More than comfort, I find that living with the seasons makes one more sensitive to the environment. The daily need to respond to the weather — be it making plans or dressing accordingly — reminds us of how we relate to nature. But weather along the equator is significantly less drastic. In fact, I used to think we had no seasons until I attended a discussion on produce in Singapore last week. One of the chefs reminded us that different species of fish thrive in the seas around our island depending on the time of the year. But as few of us cook and shop in supermarkets selling only imported produce, we have lost such knowledge of how nature works…

➜ A project by Sandra Nuut and Ott Kagovere for the Estonian Academy of Arts

Thinking Beyond the Box

A cardboard box, a poly bag or a padded envelope – these generic pieces of packaging define the ubiquity of e-commerce today. Regardless which online retailer one patronises, it is probably impossible to tell the difference when the package arrives. While e-commerce boasts of designing all sorts of interactions, including predicting customers’ preferences and nudging more purchases, its delivery of an online purchase in real life remains unsophisticated and in need of better design.

➜ Read the full column in CUBES #96 (Jul/Aug/Sep 2019)