Through a lens of social and architectural histories, the book uncovers the many untold stories of the Southeast Asian city-state’s modernization, from the rise of heroic skyscrapers, such as the Pearl Bank Apartments, to the spread of utilitarian typologies like the multi-storey car park. It investigates how modernism, through both form and function, radically transformed Singapore and made its inhabitants into modern citizens. The most intensive period of such change happened in the 1960s and 1970s under the rise of a developmental state seeking to safeguard its new-found independence. However, the book also looks both earlier and later, from between the 1930s to the 1980s, to cover a wider range of histories, building types and also architectural styles, expanding from the International Style and Brutalism and into Art Deco and even a touch of Postmodernism.
➜ Read more about this book I co-authored with Chang Jiat-Hwee and Darren Soh
The 1970 edition of “The ‘Whos’ in Business” is an over 400-page tome listing the who’s who of corporate Singapore and Malaysia. It is like any directory: lined with columns of bland corporate histories, occasionally accompanied by a mugshot or two of executives in ties. But page 467 jumps out. A dashing man gazes out of the top half of the full-page advertisement. Underneath the half-lit portrait are three lines that boldly declare:
he is new
he is very good
he is ours
It is a dramatic introduction to William Lee, the creative director and founder of Central Design. Just as “he” was styled in this advertisement like a hero in an action movie, Lee became a heroic figure in Singapore’s graphic design scene during the 1970s and 1980s. He gave many of the city-state’s corporations and public organisations a modern makeover by helping them adopt the “International Style”. The modernist visual language—as seen in this ad, with its san serif headlines set in single case and contents arranged rationally with ample white space—was advocated and adapted by William in multiracial Singapore to help it become internationally recognised as a modern nation-state.
➜ Read more in Further Reading Print No. 3
High-rise housing may dominate Singapore’s skyline, but its homes have traditionally been more grounded. Dream Spaces brings you access to these remarkable properties, retracing their origins and transformation. Each episode explores a housing type and living ideal — the shophouse, the kampong house, the black and white bungalow, historic mansions as well as multi-generational living — to learn how they have been transformed for modern lifestyles, and continue to influence the shape and form of the Singapore house today.
➜ Watch the five-part series on Channel NewsAsia