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.
En-bloc fever has descended upon Singapore yet again. In the past year, over 20 estates have been sold for redevelopment or been the subject of attempts for collective sale, including several of the country’s modernist marvels: Pearl Bank Apartments (Archurban Architects Planners, 1976), Golden Mile Complex (Design Partnership, 1973) and People’s Park Complex (Design Partnership, 1973). Despite their historical and architecture merits, these are first and foremost homes and private properties. Those in favour of conserving them have come up against the challenge of changing the minds of multiple unit owners whose lifestyles have not only changed but who also must now contend with buildings that have aged considerably over time.
Around ten years ago, designer Dominic Hofstede witnessed the induction of veteran practitioners Alistair Morrison and Geoff Digby into the Australian Graphic Design Association’s Hall of Fame. He realized he knew next to nothing about the pair; then discovered there were very few resources around to change that.
That’s how Australian graphic design archive Re:collectionwas born. “I began a fruitless search for information on their careers. There was a dearth of research relating to not just them, but Australian graphic design history in general,” recalls Hofstede, now the design director of MAUD Melbourne, and who previously ran his own studio for almost two decades.
What started as a personal blog has since grown into a resource featuring more than 200 works including books, posters, album covers, stamps, and other miscellany painstakingly sourced from personal collections, secondhand shops, and eBay. These are displayed alongside biographies and articles focusing on Aus [pronounced “Oz”] graphic design from the years 1960-1990.