S’pore’s Third Attempt to Set-up a Design Centre

Singapore will soon have a National Design Centre at 111 Middle Road. Consisting of a Design Gallery, Design Shop, and a Design and Innovation Academy, it will provide a “one-stop centre for design”, helping to promote design to the industry and businesses, said Minister Lui Tuck Yew at the President’s Design Award Ceremony on Friday.

It is not the first attempt to give the design community here a home. Back in 1964, the Economic and Development Board started promoting design to manufacturers as a way to make Made-in-Singapore products more competitive and exportable. It started a Product and Design Centre in the then John Little Building to showcase good design products so as to show businesses the need to use design.

In 1967, the centre was handed to the Singapore Manufacturers’ Association (SMA) and renamed the Product Display Centre. When SMA moved out of the building in 1973, it set up a display centre for Made-in-Singapore products in its new offices at Colombo Court Building. A year later, the government’s design promotion efforts were transferred to the Singapore Institute of Standards and Research (SISIR) where it was to remain till it became the work of the Trade and Development Board (TDB) in 1985.

The end of the 1980s saw a period when the government aggressively promote design when it began organising the International Design Forum and gave businesses money to use design. In 1992, the TDB opened The Design Centre at North Bridge Road. Consisting of three levels, The Design Centre had TDB’s design promotion offices, a design shop, an exhibition space to showcase good design, and a library stocked full of design books.

Many design students then paid the small membership fee to use the library as it was the only source for design books other than browsing at Basheer Graphic Books and Page One. However, just three years after it opened, the centre closed down when TDB moved into its offices at Bugis Junction. Many of the books were transfered to the National Library Board, and if you flip through a design book in the library today, you may just find a chop on the page that says “The Design Centre”.

So will this new design centre be third time lucky? Will it outlast what seems like the government’s cyclical support of design in Singapore? I sure hope so.



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