What started five decades ago as a government-led project to build Singapore into a clean and green city, has today become a dialogue between the state and its citizens.
A Straits Times photo of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launching Singapore’s first-ver tree planting campaign in 1963 best depicts how the idea of building Singapore into a Garden City first took root. As Mr Lee bent over to dig a hole with a changkol to plant a Mempat tree in Farrer Circus, Singaporeans stood around and watched — none of them offering a helping hand.
Fast forward to 2012, and one finds a different landscape of Singapore’s Garden City. In August, a group of residents in Limau estate petitioned the government to conserve a stretch of greenery near their homes instead of selling the land for development. This was not an isolated case. In that year alone, residents in Dairy Farm, Pasir Ris and Clementi also clamoured for green plots near their estates to be preserved, using what has since become a tried-and-tested method of engaging the government: banding together to write petitions and meeting their Members of Parliaments to convey their thoughts and concerns.
The air-conditioner is the greatest invention of last century. That’s according to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding prime minister of Singapore, a bustling city right in the heart of the tropics.
In a 2001 documentary chronicling Singapore’s rapid rise from Third to First World in just over three decades, Lee not only revealed his choice, but also how he kept the temperature in his office at 22 °C (71.6 °F) and his bedroom at 19 °C (66.2 °F) when Singapore’s equatorial climate averages around 30 °C (86 °F).
Air-condition technology certainly allowed Singapore to rapidly modernize to standards of Western cities by importing its architecture wholesale. Steel skyscrapers and glass buildings could thrive anywhere because this technology allowed them to ignore climatic conditions.
Such modern buildings quickly replaced tropical architecture, however, as seen in the image above. Air-condition units are attached to the back of shophouses which originally were designed with features to keep the interiors cool without the energy-guzzling air-condition. The rise of architecture that ignores local climates and the loss of tropical ways have gave rise to unsustainable lifestyles in Singapore. Today, its people adopt Western fashion like cardigans and suits while eating food from all round the world.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain this city’s artificial climate, and it has become ridiculous. In 2008, when asked about climate change Lee said that he now needed warm clothing more often in Singapore than when he traveled to Europe because the air-conditioned offices were freezing!
———– Written for Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi’sCultural Theoryclass at D-Crit in response to “Beyond Sustainability: Architecture in the Renewable City” by Peter Droege
This is an on-going project where I attempt to question the cultural, historical and social building blocks of Singapore on pieces of A4 through works that based on facts but expressed via imagination. They are available on PDF for anyone to download and distribute.
With this first piece I wanted to highlight the fact that Singapore has more than one founding father and that they have all retired except one. I hope by putting a face to the names, Singaporeans can start remembering that the Singapore story is more than just about one man’s struggle.