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 National Museum of Singapore may want to consider renaming itself the “Nostalgia Machine of Singapore”. The on-going “OFF/ON” exhibition on everyday technology that changed everyday life in Singapore between the 1970s to 2000s is really a gallery of stage sets for reliving yesteryear.
Youths banged furiously on typewriters older than them while Tiktoking away. Families queued up for portraits to be reproduced in a “dark room” that was just a digital simulation. As I overhead yet another adult squealing “I remember that!”, I wondered if the exhibition was actually about how wonderful technology was in recreating the past.
I get it that the museum wants to offer interactive experiences to entertain—which they undoubtedly achieved. But so do theme parks! Despite the rich histories of the everyday technologies on display—typewriters, pagers, computers, cameras, video games etc—I emerged (escaped) hardly learning anything. The curatorial wall texts were light on details, and a challenge to spot. It’s as if the museum feared any suggestion of education might disrupt the Instagrammable tableau?
Unlike the technology showcased in the exhibition, this nostalgia machine cannot simply be turned OFF/ON. So if you fancy a blast from the past, you will get more than that. Don’t forget to come with fully charged phones.