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.
What do we need to carry out work today? A table, a chair, and for many of us, some kind of electronic device. Whether it is preparing documents, organising schedules or even meeting colleagues, ‘work’ is mostly done through interactions with machines – ranging from the photocopier to the computer to the smartphone.
Yet, conversations revolving around the design of work environments are largely stuck on the physical work space. Even as designers update office furniture and rearrange layouts toward new definitions of ‘ergonomic’ and ‘productivity’, the virtual office where workers spend their time tapping, clicking and typing away – often in silent frustration – is regarded as the domain of the IT department.
Before we all had smartphones in our pockets, some of us had a PDA. The Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) may no longer elicit any public displays of affection, but this handheld device was a trailblazer in the nineties and noughties. Designed for managing appointments, sending emails and even reading handwriting, PDAs emerged from the convergence of telecommunications and information technology, foreshadowing the world of tablets and smartphones that we live in today.