The designer is becoming endangered. The individual who marries form and function to produce physical things — such as books, automobiles, clothes, interiors and buildings — has been reclassified by some as the “classical” designer in recent years. Judging by how popular “classical music” is, the new term suggests that the designer as we have long known is increasingly regarded as a thing of the past, or even worse, archaic.
But far from going extinct, the designer is undergoing a redefinition because of the profession’s growing status. Once regarded simply as technicians who supported industrialisation, particularly in making products visually attractive, designers have since climbed their way into corporate boardrooms, and even the offices of policymakers. This has been fuelled in part by a frustration with the status quo and in response to technological disruptions in the profession. As the act of designing has become more accessible with software and templates, designers have been confronted with the existential question of who they really are.
As more data centres are built to power the city-state’s digital transformation, the design of these high-tech boxes become ever more important.
What do “The Internet” and “The Cloud” look like to you? Even a Google search turns up nothing more than diagrams of seemingly invisible networks that connect the world’s computers, phones and devices. Well, stop looking up and start looking around, because the world wide web exists in plain sight across Singapore. Inside buildings known as “data centres” are the racks of computers that form part of the network which we increasingly depend on in our everyday lives.
They are alongside motorists as they travel down the Ayer-Rajah Expressway—between the flyovers at Buona Vista and Portsdown. One is a neighbour to residents living in the public housing blocks along Serangoon North Avenue 5. Another greets students across the road from Corporation Primary School. These data centres are where information is collected, stored, processed, distributed and accessed, and they are all part of a web of similar facilities connected around the world via fibre cable and satellite.
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.