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Posted on: 26 November, 2009 | 2 Comments | Tagged as: , ,

Two integrated resorts, ION Orchard, the Singapore Sports Hub — it’s funny how a small Singapore always has such grand plans for its city.

But sometimes, the way to go is starting small.

Small changes are appealing for many reasons. They’re cheap, for one thing. Also, what works can be easily expanded, and what doesn’t work can be as easily terminated or altered.

This is from a short article in City Journal, where several examples of how small changes in other cities have made it a better place to live in. In this city so enamored with the grand and the glitzy, we think that this is something our city planners can pay better attention to — all the small things.

Posted on: 16 November, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

By Horst Kiechle

Last weekend’s Straits Times Saturday Special Report by Tan Hui Yee took a look at one of Singapore’s more interesting architecture space — the void deck. This is usually found on the ground levels of public housing and it’s deliberately left empty for residents to use it for various purposes. These could range from weddings and funerals to more interesting activities such as bird-singing and parkour practices. The report, What’s up downstairs, also showcased future models of void decks conceptualised by four young designers who suggested adding technology and integrating the space with greenery.

While the void deck holds great possibility for community-building and for people to reclaim as their own, in reality, the space is often avoided. To hold events, a resident has to get the permission of the Town Councils who manage these spaces. As these spaces are so open, they also attract illegal activities like gambling and the Town Councils’ solutions are often swift and heavy-handed.

Two series of photographs by Horst Kiechle, an Australian architect and artist, reflect this issue. One documents the space itself, and the other, the seating provided in the void deck. Both show how void these spaces are, but also the occasional human intervention in the form of a resident-provided furniture.

The future of the void deck is to loosen up control over these spaces and encourage residents to grow them as their own. We love to hear stories of anyone doing that right now, so let us in if you know of any!

Posted on: 10 October, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as:


It was a simple question she asked at the end of an interview with us, but what Professor Ooi Giok Ling got us to consider became the starting point of Reclaim Land.

We first learnt about her through her book The Future of Space. It guided us in the course of pursing the stories on this website and showed us another side of Singapore we had failed to see. When we finally met her for an interview, her warmth and hospitality touched us. From the vigour and delight she took in answering our questions, we failed to see that she was already battling an illness then.

So it took us by surprise when we learnt that she departed this week on 5 October 2009. We only knew her through her writing and that one encounter, but we think she has left those living in this city that changes so quickly and easily an important question to ponder, “Whose city is it anyway?”.

Posted on: 07 September, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as:


Thanks to the support of the National Arts Council and the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, we made the trip to see Multipli-City on exhibition in the Ormeau Baths Gallery at Belfast!

Posted on: 30 July, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as:


The A2-size prints that are on their way to Belfast

Multipli-City, one of our photo galleries, will exhibiting for the very first time and all the way in Ireland as part of this year’s International Symposium of Electronic Art (ISEA). It was selected as part of the juried exhibition that will be on from 8 to 29 August at the Ormeau Baths Gallery in Belfast.

While we won’t be there for the opening, Kang Li (the photographer) and myself (Justin) will be attending ISEA from 23 August till 1 September so we will post some pictures of the exhibition from there!

Thanks goes out to the ISEA 2009 committee, especially Cherie Driver, for extending the opportunity and helping to make this possible!

“…[N]egotiated territories are nevertheless, authentic and creative attempts by city dwellers in shaping their own immediate environment. What these territories lack in sophistication and refinement of professionally conceived spaces are compensated by the ingenious use of limited resources at hand, the improvisional response to site and the solidarity of collective local actions…”

What we have identified as “reclaimed land” was labelled as “negotiated territories” in  a paper that Assistant Professor Thomas Kong of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago wrote in 2001 about Singapore. Despite the striking similarities in our project, this is actually the first time we’re seeing this paper! Kong’s approach is much more academic but the insights and conclusions reached are highly similar to ours even though 8 years has passed between the two. The meticulous field work done by Kong and his assistants make this a worthy read for the details of how people “reclaim land”.

Posted on: 07 July, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as:

Singapore is a small city with a big problem — most space here is in the hands of just a few people. In late June, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong lamented how residents still regarded the maintenance and management of housing estates as the sole responsibility of Town Councils instead of theirs. Yesterday, a Straits Times (ST) special report looked at how over-regulation of small spaces in public housing town centres deterred small-time retailers from setting up shop.

In both instances, the regulation of every inch by just one entity — the Town Council — has made these public spaces inaccessible to residents and retailers. The solution: break space into smaller pieces.

Responding to SM Goh’s comments, ST’s Aaron Low wrote an op-ed called for a more micro-level of residential space management so as to get residents involved. For instance, small committees could be formed to look at how to improve the estate environment they live in. Indeed, reducing the scale of things not only brings home the message that the public housing space is owned by the residents, it encourages involvement because space is carved into a more manageable size.

As for the over-regulation of the little red boxes outside the shopfronts of town centres, the rules should be re-looked in favour of smaller retailers. Disallowing tenants of such small spaces from selling different things as the main shops makes little sense to retailers and shoppers. For one, such small spaces allows people to get in and out of business easily — those with little skills and capital can earn a decent living and people can experiment with retailing new products and services. Consumers stand to gain too as there will be a more diverse mix of retailers and lower prices due to cost-savings from rent such retailers enjoy.

Singapore climbed up four places this year to number 18 on Monocle magazine’s Top 25 Most Liveable Cities. According to Monocle, this year, it re-looked the criteria that measures over 40 cities based on public transport, education, cultural outlets, crime, hours of sunshine and global flight connections. In addition, the magazine also looked at factors such as chain store pollution (the number of international brand food outlets and retailers versus the total mix), ease of opening a business and major infrastructure improvements currently underway.

The upcoming casinos in Singapore and its reputation for being a business-friendly city definitely score in these new factors and probably  explain this year’s rise. Monocle’s also suggested that one way to fix the city is to allow more media freedom.

Going by comments to the Straits Times (ST) report on this survey, Singaporeans readers seem to agree with Monocle’s view on media freedom as some see ST’s coverage as nothing more than part of a government agenda to make the city look good. As for the actual results, many think that Singapore is more liveable for the rich businessman than ordinary citizens.

Posted on: 23 June, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as:

The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, which seeks to “recognise individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions to the creation of vibrant, liveable and sustainable urban communities around the world”, is a biennial award now open for nominations till 18 September 2009. Organised by Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and Centre for Liveable Cities, the eventual winner will by picked by a panel of judges chaired by Chairman of Temasek Holdings, Mr S Dhanabalan and includes overseas urban planners such as Dr Pierre Laconte of the International Society of City & Regional Planners and Mr Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Nominations will be judged on a criteria that includes good planning principles, resource-efficiency, environmentally friendliness, economic benefits and whether it helps builds a cohesive community. And as with all things Singapore, the prize stresses solutions that are “practical, cost-effective and easy to replicate” said Prof S. Jayakumar when he launched it yesterday.

Taking a closer look at the eligibility for nomination of the prize, one wonders if there is a public relations exercise element to the prize. In order to be nominated, it is explicitly stated that one has to be an elite in the field or deemed “fit” by the nominating committee itself — no criteria for what that entails.

Posted on: 16 June, 2009 | 2 Comments | Tagged as: ,

“It is pure intention: If there is chaos, it is authored chaos; if it is ugly, it is designed ugliness; if it is absurd, it is willed absurdity.”

This was how architect Rem Koolhaas described Singapore in his book S, M, L, XL (1997), a city that was completely regulated and planned by the state. While we have taken a more optimistic reading of this city in Reclaim Land, we like to encourage you to attend his free public lecture, “OMA*AMO; What Architecture Can Do”, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy this Friday. Details are as such:

19 June 2009, Friday
5:45 – 7:00 PM
Auditorium, Level 3
Block B, Faculty of Law, NUS Bukit Timah Campus
469G Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259772
Do indicate your interest at

Speaking about optimism, here is party you should check out. Party of Tomorrow is the final-year project exhibition of the first batch of visual communication graduates from  NTU’s School of Art, Design & Media and two of them in particular present intriguing re-imaginations of living in a city

Concrete Euphoria by Mintio looks at the city through the lens of a large-format camera with multiple exposures while Stockpiles in Singapore by Chan Poh Ling recreates scenic landscapes in urban Singapore through photographs of the very raw materials used to built it.

The exhibition is on at 2902 Gallery @ Old School and will last till 21 June 2009.

A Sunday Times report yesterday, Overgrown Orchard, looked at how three new shopping malls coming up in Orchard Road in the next few months was making it over-retailed. The report looked at Singapore’s shopping district purely from a retail and consumer point-of-view and suggested that the issue isn’t in terms of quantity but quality — a greater variety of retailers will enhance the shopping experience.

Perhaps another variety that would aid this district is more public places where people can come together, sit around without the pressures of being treated solely as a consumer. Such places that allow informal public life to gather or what Ray Oldenburg calls “great good places” help bring all sorts of people together as a community. This is unlike the malls where strategic leasing of retail space segregates consumers according to their purchasing power. The foyer in front of Takashimaya comes closest in my mind to being a “great good place”, but the lack of proper seating and shelter, plus the fact that an event usually happens there, deters it from becoming one.

The lack of a great good place in Orchard Road might explain why the MRT stations become convenient meeting points for the public. It is the only space in the district where people can sit around without feeling the pressure of having to spend. In my view, Orchard Road is overgrown with malls, and to enhance the experience and make it A Great Street, mall space should be opened up for more.