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This Saturday, spend your evening with us as we’ll be presenting Reclaim Land at Really AR? 5. We are honoured to be invited by re:act to share the platform at the rooftop of Illuma with speakers such as architect William Lim. This session of Really AR? 5 is organised together with the exhibition Uniquely Singapore – Distinctively London: a GENERICITY project as part of ArchiFest 2010. The opening reception of this exhibition is happening an hour before the talk, so if you’re keen to attend, please RSVP at

Really AR? 5
Saturday, 9 October 2010
7 pm
Illuma, 201 Victoria Street, S(188067)


Empty spaces in cities have traditionally been sites waiting to be built on. These undeveloped lands are usually seen by its owners as a loss of income, or even worse, seen by the state as a sign of a city decaying. ZERO, is a new project by Professor Thomas Kong that challenges these negative values, and argues for a more positive one instead. Citing Asian philosophies and art theories, Professor Kong zeros in on sites in Beppu, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore, to produce what he calls the “new attitudes in a post economic bubble age”.

ZERO challenges the traditional role of architects by looking at why there are empty spaces in a city, and how people make use of them. “…We have been trained as architects that the only thing we could present to society is a building, to fill the void again,” writes Professor Kong. But, he questions if this is feasible in a time when “the myth of continuous economic growth is shattered”, and capital for development can no longer be taken for granted.

In Singapore for instance, I helped him document how students make use of the airport to study. The vastness of the airport and its temporal nature of use opens up this space for students to reclaim and use it in other ways. Reclaim Land’s stories also easily fit into ZERO as they happened on spaces that are empty, and ‘open’ for appropriation.

Through this project supported by the 3rd Jaap Bakema Fellowship, Professor Kong is using ZERO to call for the return of the “commons” as an alternative to private property ownership. Instead of commodifying spaces and clearly demarcating them as public or private, there should be collective ownership. Along with this new ownership structure, he has listed out ten new attitudes on how we use spaces so as to keep them fluid and open for possibilities. The project is a fascinating read that challenges our ideas of empty spaces and suggests that we should look at it all over again — starting from ZERO.

…This is home truly
where I know I must be
where my dreams wait for me
where that river always flows…
Kit Chan, Home


The Singapore river may feature prominently in the nation’s history and our daily lives, but will you be able to sketch out its shape? This was the struggle that led artist Debbie Ding to embark on \\: The Singapore River As A Pscyhogeographical Faultline, a month-long exhibition that is running at The Substation till 26 September 2010.

More than just the place to party in town or once the heart of Singapore’s economy, Debbie’s project looks at the river as a psychogeographical faultline, a site where our personal memories interact, merging and coming apart with time. She attempts to bring these out with two interactive installations in the exhibition.


Just as cartographers often leave an imaginary element on the maps they draw so that they will be able to identify its as theirs, Debbie has created a board game around this idea. People who come to the exhibition are invited to leave a recollection of the area around the Singapore river on cards and mark them on top of a 1.5 metre x 3.75 metre hand drawn map of the area. This could be a personal memory or entirely fictional, and it is left to others to assess whether they believe it or not by pasting stickers on your card. Since the exhibition started, Debbie has also begun documenting the recollections left on this website.


Debbie, who is also an interactive designer, has also created a map installation. Unfortunately, it was not working when I visited. I was told that it is a map of the Singapore river that changes shape according to how you move some circular pieces over it. I’ll definitely go back to see it again. If you’re interested in the mechanics and how it was created, see Debbie’s site. She is quite a geek.


Finally, the catalogue for this exhibition is a little flipbook that contains Debbie’s illustrations of how the Singapore River has changed over the years and her impression of its future. Inside this limited edition catalogue designed by Asylum is also Debbie’s write-up on the project. You will also find an essay by Tania De Rozario that succintly explores the place of the Singapore River in our art scene and the significance of Debbie’s work.

Posted on: 06 September, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as:

If you’re in London between 16-19 September 2010, do check out this exhibition I was involved in. Thanks to Calvin, Johnny, and my fellow correspondent Lingxiu for getting me into this project that “questions and rediscovers the uniqueness of urban spaces through the most generic and banal scenes of everyday life.” It is being exhibited as part of The London Design Festival. Come October, it will be exhibited in Singapore as part of ArchiFest 2010.

In a city like Singapore that changes so fast, the aptly titled documentary, Old Places, is a pill of relief for the nostalgia-stricken people who have grew up here. This documentary by Royston Tan, Victric Thng and Eva Tang recently debuted on okto channel to celebrate Singapore’s 45th birthday, and it was so popular that it was re-run today.

Shot over 10 days, the film features just under 50 locations in Singapore that have been around for some time. These include, old cinemas, kopitiams, playgrounds, shops and even a bus stop! More importantly, these places meant something to a Singaporean. They were picked from a list contributed by Singaporeans who listed their favourite spaces and stories about why it mattered to them. So, even though many of the locations were run-down and even closed, one is still captivated by how these places transcended their physical form to be a memory box for a Singaporean.

In an interview with Civic Life, Royston said: “Singaporeans still love Singapore in their own special personal ways. Maybe not in the big picture, but everyone has their own favourite little haunt, their own little space. And because we have so little space, it matters so much more to them.”

While Singapore prides itself on building a city of great physical infrastructure, we often take up the space for personal memories too. Yet, it is these memories that make a city ours — a feeling one gets while watching Old Places. In the film, one never gets to see the famous Singapore skyline that frames our corporate brochures and tourist postcards, yet one can can recognise it to be Singapore.

This is the power of a city built with your memories, it is truly Your Singapore.

Tourists arriving at Singapore are often greeted at the airport by teenagers… … studying. Whether it is at the aviation gallery, eateries like McDonalds, or empty corners of the airport, Changi Airport is home to students looking for somewhere quiet and comfortable to hit the books. As part of Professor Thomas Kong’s ‘ZERO’ project, I had the chance to do some fieldwork on this phenomenon.

Students mainly come to the airport in groups to study on weekends when the schools are not open. During the weekends, the house is full of distractions because it is bustling with people as parents are not at work. Moreover, there is also the television and the computer. Thus, many students choose to study outside.

The airport is a big draw because it is quiet and air-conditioned. It is also very easy to get too — just a bus or train ride away. The airport also has  many popular youth hangouts like McDonalds and Coffee Bean or cheap places like a canteen or foodcourt. And, while there are also air-conditioned eateries around their estates, those are usually packed with people, unlike the airport, which is big enough to accommodate them.

However, this phenomenon is not so welcomed by the airport…

As you can see, some of the spaces ban studying outright. Others reserve sections or allow studying only at certain times of the day. The students I spoke to all had an experience of being chased away at these spaces. Some were told to keep their studying materials, some told to give up their seats to others during lunchtime, while others were told that certain seats were reserved for tourists. Often, instead of giving up their seats, the students stop studying and buy food and drinks and chat with their friends instead. By and large, however, they have been left alone.

While exploring the nooks and crannies of the airport I also discovered some students practicing their dance moves at the basement of Terminal 3. As you can see from the directory, B3 is just an empty space. “This is nowhere. It just leads to the carpark,” one of the dancers told me.

The two girls on the left are facing the lifts, using the reflections on the glass doors to check out their moves. The couple lying on the floor are from a dance crew that come to this space regularly to practice instead of renting studio space.

I’m not sure if other airports around the world have been ‘reclaimed’ by youths to be used in such ways. The airport in Singapore was clearly not built for such uses, but it being air-conditioned and large has incidentally made it attractive for students seeking studying spaces. The students are also encouraged to come to the airport because it is easy to get to. Most importantly, despite the signage, the students have by and large been allowed to continue their activities. Besides, what better impression to leave our tourists leaving or entering Singapore than to showcase our future generation working and playing hard?


The National Museum of Singapore is holding an exhibition that looks at the rich history of street hawking in Singapore. Surviving the Streets: Peddlers and Artisans in Early-Mid 20th Century Singapore is a free exhibition on now till 22 August 2010 on the second-level of the museum.

“…Their lives on the streets highlighted not only disparities between class and race but also the conflicting perceptions between the government and the people. The colonial administration, enchanted with modernity, insisted on clarity and order. In contrast, the people on the street appeared to dwell in chaos and confusion.”

Posted on: 28 June, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

I was recently asked to contribute a blog post to Civic Life, a project that is documenting Tiong Bahru estate in a film and website. Read my post on my dream to live in this charming little neighbourhood one day.

Posted on: 05 June, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

This project had a category of “reclaiming” that we had planned for, but never explored — virtual reclamation. We saw that many Singaporeans were creating spaces online to do things that were harder to do in the physical Singapore. For instance, having forums to discuss very niche interests and blogs to broadcast alternative perspectives. It’s easier to do these virtually because it is cheaper (often, free) and hassle-free (no need to apply licence or find suitable location).

Looking back today, there seems to be two stages of development in how virtual space has been reclaimed. At first, it was just about creating spaces that could not be created in the physical world. Now, it’s about recreating extra dimensions of the physical world, like its past, online. Here are three examples:

i is a National Library initiative that attempts to document historical events and changes on to Singapore maps of past and present. It looks a little overwhelming at first, but play around you’ll find it is actually quite impressive to be able to compare physical changes side by side.

Civic Life: Tiong Bahru is documenting a unique residential district in Singapore. Tiong Bahru houses a unique neighbourhood that were built by the British administration instead of the present day public housing authorities. The project is also partnering with two UK film makers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy to create a community film about the area. The pair have done several such films where they invite local residents to take part in the process of making a film about their community, including acting in it as well!

A Map Of Our Own — Kwun Tong Culture and Histories is  a Hong Kong example, but it is very relevant to Singapore. The site is archiving this district in Hong Kong that is undergoing a massive urban renewal through images, sounds and videos. In Singapore, the city changes so fast that perhaps we should seriously consider something similar. Maybe, the Urban Redevelopment Authority can consider doing a project like this everytime a space is undergoing massive change.

The Singapore’s Economic Development Board is sponsoring a series, Singapore Sessions, that publishes views from one professional working in Singapore and three others around the world in response to a question related to their field of work. These bite-sized responses have appeared in top magazines like Monocle, Wired and The New Yorker.

In the latest session found in Monocle’s June issue, the question asked was “Where will people congregate?”

The CEO of our Urban Redevelopment Authority represented Singapore and her response, was not surprising:

Therefore, through careful planning on all scales, we strive to make Singapore a greater sum of its distinctive districts and neighbourhoods, and create a city that is enriching, lively and enjoyable for all.

Yes, planning on all scales, that’s Singapore for you!

In contrast, the only other urban planner in the session, Jamie Lerner gave a much shorter response. He said that good cities have to deal with sustainability, mobility and socio-diversity. How so?

if you want creativity, cut a zero off your budget; sustainability, cut off two; if you want solidarity, make your identity count while respecting diversity.

Or, urban planners should do less for more.

Posted on: 23 May, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as:

When we started this project a year and a half ago, we weren’t thinking even about using the web until our supervisor suggested we try that option. On retrospect, it was a good choice because it has extended the longevity of the project through this blog and one new story we’ve added in since.

Publishing online has also allowed a local project to reach a global audience. We were recently selected to be featured in the British Council’s Show Us Your City project and a Open Spaces online exhibition by the International Communication Association.

It’s also great to see the next batch of students publish their work online too. These are a few encouraging efforts that help put Singapore stories in a world that Singaporeans are so well connected with:

Food Waste Republic
These students go through rubbish and even go undercover to uncover the problem of food wastage in Singapore, the food lover’s paradise.

Kababayan: Faces of Filipinas in Singapore
A photojournalism project jam packed with stories about the Filipinas community in Singapore

自闭•不封闭 | autism: enclose worlds, open minds
A very thoughtful piece of journalism in Chinese on the problem of autism in Singapore.