Tag: Singapore Design

Constructing Singapore for the Venice Architecture Biennale

From its first foray into the Venice Architecture Biennale over a decade ago, Singapore has sought to project an image of a city-state defined by progressive architecture and urban planning. As part of efforts to develop itself into a creative city since the millennium, the city-state began participating in both the the art and architecture editions of the Venice Biennale, a world’s fair for the avant-garde.

But while Singapore’s participation in the art biennales have largely been driven the interest of individual artists (and handled by the National Arts Council), the architecture pavilions commissioned by the DesignSingapore Council, the national design agency, are closely tied with how the state sees the city. From the claim that the world’s population can be housed in a thousand Singapores to the latest presentation on how the state is co-creating a city with its citizens, here is a lookback at Singapore’s 5 architecture pavilions. (This piece was inspired by The Substation’s on-going competition to dream up alternative visions for Singapore’s participation in 2018.)

 

Catalogue cover for the “Singapore: Second Nature” exhibition.

2004—Singapore: Second Nature
Commissioner: Dr. Milton Tan, DesignSingapore Council
Curator: Dr. Wong Yunn Chii, National University of Singapore

As part of a strategy to promote local designers overseas, the then newly set-up national design agency, DesignSingapore Council, makes a debut at the biennale with Singapore’s first national pavilion. In response to the 9th biennale’s theme of “Metamorph”,  the pavilion “Second Nature” (originally titled Tropical Genteelity) explored the relationship between architecture and nature, and how it affects Singaporeans’ lifestyles. Inside a mosaic room featuring the city’s skyline was a collection of images of buildings and places of significance as well as four timeline panels archiving Singapore’s history and cultural statistics In all, some 15 works from 13 local architectural firms and the National Parks Board were featured to. Lead curator Dr. Wong explained, “Second Nature highlights the city-state’s creative ways of responding to and transforming Nature in its urban landscape. The selection illustrates the emergent conditions and the response of Singapore’s architects that is unique and exciting. It is a phenomenon that extends to a wider discourse of design.”

 

2006—Singapore Built & Unbuilt
Commissioner: Dr. Milton Tan, DesignSingapore Council
Advisor: Toyo Ito

Design: ECO.ID (Space Consultant) / H55 (Graphic) / Dear Design Studio (Installation Artist) / Designation (Space Designer)

Controversy overshadowed Singapore’s second showing at Venice. Just two months before the pavilion was unveiled, the original curators—Dr. Erwin Viray, Randy Chan (DesignAct), Christopher Lee (Asylum), Tay I-Lin and Budi Wijaya (PlasticSoldierFactory)—quit after a last-minute rejection of their proposal, Singapore Shopping. According to a press release, the “Singapore Shopping” pavilion promised to be a “flagship store” and “metaphor” that celebrated shopping and how it transformed the city and its people. It was the winning entry selected from 18 proposals.

Dr. Viray told The Straits Times that their entry was approved as Singapore’s response to the theme of “Cities, people, society and architecture” until they presented it to Dr. Tan Chin Nam, then permanent secretary of the former Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, which oversaw the national design agency. He felt the idea of shopping misrepresented Singapore and the team was asked to come up with alternatives. They chose to resign instead.

DesignSingapore director, Dr. Milton Tan, said this a surprising and disappointing turn or events. Eventually, Ito, who was also an international advisor to DesignSingapore, worked with a new team to put together a showcase of  built and unbuilt proposals of architecture in Singapore. These included the winning proposal for Marina Bay Sands, as well as the finalists for several design competitions, including the School of the Arts and the public housing for Duxton Plain.

 

2008—Singapore Supergarden
Commissioner: Dr. Milton Tan, DesignSingapore Council
Co-commissioner: Richard Hassell

Curator: FARMWORK, DesignAct, and ReallyArchitecture [re:act]
Design: FARMWORK (Pavilion) / MAKE (Graphic) / Eeshaun (Illustration)

More images on FARM’s website.

In response to the biennale theme of “Out There: Architecture Beyond Building,” this edition did not showcase buildings but presented Singapore’s emerging design culture instead. The works of 22 of the country’s new generation of creatives—including Ministry of Design, Donna Ong, Outofstock, Lekker Design, &Larry, amongst others—were placed on a lawn to show the creative network that made up a Singapore Supergarden. The pavilion was developed by three young architectural groups which were selected following an open call for nominations. Co-chairman of the commissioning panel, Mr Richard Hassell, said this next generation of Singapore creatives who were fluid in identity, highly networked, global in outlook and the first to exist in a design eco-system supported by the state.

 

2010—1000 Singapores: A Model of the Compact City
Commissioner: Jeffrey Ho, DesignSingapore Council
Co-commissioner: Ashvinkumar, President of the Singapore Institute of Architects
Curators: Khoo Peng Beng (ARC Studio), Belinda Huang (ARC Studio), Assistant Professor Erik G. L’Heureux and Assistant Prof Florian Schaetz

Designers: ARC Studio, Assistant Professor Erik G. L’Heureux and Assistant Prof Florian Schaetz (Pavilion) | H55 (Graphic) | Plate Interactive (Website)

Arguably Singapore’s most provocative pavilion to date, this national pavilion put forth the idea that 1000 Singapores could house the entire world population using only 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s land area. Using a 35-metres tube as a scale model to represent a slice of Singapore, the pavilion highlighted the city’s compact nature in response to the biennale’s theme of “People meet in Architecture.” The pavilion won a Design of the Year at the 2011 President’s Design Award and was re-staged in Paris and later Singapore as 1000 Singapores: Eight Points of the Compact City.

 

2012 and 2014—No national pavilions

Singapore sat out the 2012 edition to shift its focus events to more trade-focused and product centric events such as the Maison et Objet in Paris and International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. There was notably no public outcry from the local architecture community unlike the Singapore arts community who publicly petitioned against the government’s decision to pull out of the Venice Art Biennale in 2013. The petition saw the country return to the art biennale in the next edition.

Architect Edmund Ng of Suying Metropolitan Studio | GETTY IMAGES

While Singapore continued to sit out the architecture biennale in 2014, two Singaporeans stepped up to fly the national flag. Local architect Edmund Ng (Suying Metropolitan Studio) and interior designer Peter Tay both showed works at the Time Space Existence exhibition organised by Dutch non-profit group Global Art Affairs Foundation.

 

2016—Space to Imagine, Room for Everyone
Commissioner: Jeffrey Ho, DesignSingapore Council
Co-commissioner: Tai Lee Siang
Curator: Dr. Wong Yunn Chii, National University of Singapore
Co-curators: Tomohisa Miyauchi, Teo Yee Chin

Design: Teo Yee Chin (Exhibition) | Do Not Design (Branding)

Singapore returned to the biennale with a feel good exhibition that showcased the state’s public housing and community-building efforts in response to the theme of “Reporting From the Front”. The highlight was a installation of 81 glass lanterns that each contained images showcasing the interiors of public housing. Alongside it were other examples of groups working with the state to design the city, all examples of “participatory design, which is softening Singapore’s hardened edges,” explained curator Dr. Wong. After the show ended in November, it was showcased the following year in Singapore’s National Design Centre.

What Hitting Rock Bottom Taught Singapore Studio Liba About Love and Design

Handbook for TELC. Courtesy LIBA

Two years into running his graphic design studio Liba, Aaron Wong hit rock bottom. “Business was so bad to the point that I started to doubt whether my beliefs made any sense,” he says. “I was looking at a project and wondering, does the aesthetic not fit? Is my way of working not valuable to clients? Or, is it that I’m just not good enough?”

It didn’t help that Wong was working solo for the first time and felt uncertain about practising in Singapore after returning from a two-week summer school in Europe. During the revelatory ISIA Urbino / Werkplaats Typografie course he’d seen a “different synergy” that he felt would be compromised back home. Liba’s financial struggle seemed only to confirm this: Wong’s dogged pursuit of process and having a point of view—key takeaways from his stopover in Europe—were not working out in what he saw as Singapore’s trends-driven, solutions-based market.

➜ Read the full story in AIGA’s Eye on Design

 

A Surprising Side of Singapore Design

Surprising Shots of Singapore (1987)
A CIS advertisement from the September 1987 issue of the International Defense Review.

“Singapore design” today conjures up images of porcelain plates and nostalgia-inspired souvenirs, but few would think of guns, tanks and naval ships.

Over the decades, this UNESCO Creative City of Design has grown from a mere importer of military equipment to one designing and selling them as well. These include the Singapore Assault Rifle – 21st Century (SAR 21), the Bionix armoured fighting vehicles and the Endurance-class landing platform dock ships—all equipment Singaporean men, who have to serve a mandatory two-year military service, would be familiar with today.

As early as 1966, the newly independent nation-state began developing an armament industry with the establishment of the Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS). Its first products were manufacturing 5.56 mm ammunition for the Colt AR-15, the then standard rifle for the Singapore Armed Forces, and minting Singapore coins. Over the decades, the defence company took on bigger equipment, eventually developing Singapore’s first locally designed artillery weapon, the Field Howitzer 88 (FH-88). The plan to develop the country’s very own 155 mm/39-calibre towed gun in 1988 was in response to the low reliability and high cost of servicing the SAF’s existing Israeli-designed and developed guns. By the nineties, the FH-88 became fully operational in the Singapore military, and the success helped CIS create the FH-2000 and Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer 1 (SSPH 1) Primus.

Beat That. (1989)
An advertisement for the FH-88 from a 1989 issue of the International Defense Review.

By then, Singapore’s defence industry had also grown considerably with over 16 companies serving the military in areas such as aerospace, marine and even food. In an effort to rationalise the industry so as to cut waste and better coordinate activities, the Ministry of Defence drew up The Singapore Defence Industries Charter in 1987. This essentially pushed the industry towards commercialisation, which probably explains the genesis of these advertisements published in the monthly military magazine, International Defence Review. In 1989, the Singapore Technologies (ST) group was formed as the umbrella corporation for the many local defence companies including CIS.

Known today as ST Engineering, the country’s sole arms manufacturer was the only firm from Southeast Asian on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) list of the world’s top 100 defence manufacturers in 2012. According to the institute, the company owned by Temasek Holdings has sold equipment to Indonesia, Chad, Nigeria, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil. Although the multi-billon dollar company refuses to divulge details, it has trumpeted its 2008 success in supplying the designed-in-Singapore Bronco All Terrain Tracked Carrier (ATTC)¹ to the British army.

We Just Keep Growing (1986)
A CIS advertisement from the November 1986 issue of the International Defense Review.

While Singapore still imports most of its military equipment—the country accounted for 4 per cent of global weapons import and is the fifth-largest buyer in 2012 according to SIPRI—ST Engineering continues to develop equipment tailored to the needs of the country’s defence. Most recently, its marine arm designed and built the Littoral Mission Vessel, the country’s first locally-designed navy vessels. ST Engineering has also diversified beyond defence, bringing its design and engineering capabilities into other sectors of Singapore too. In 2014, its subsidiary Innosparks worked with local industrial design consultancy STUCK to create the Air+ Smart Mask. This was the world’s first protective mask with a microventilator and one of the few made for school children.

This transfer of design knowledge from a military to an everyday context is reminiscent of how American designers Charles and Ray Eames work for the military during the Second World War. By helping develop wooden medical splints and even a pilot seat, they gained the knowledge to apply to their later furniture designs, including the now iconic Lounge Chair Wood. One wonders what parallel examples are there in Singapore’s design history too?

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Note:

  1. There was a dispute that this was designed in Singapore by Swedish defence firm Hagglunds. More at Senang Diri.

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