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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 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.

Next to KPO Cafe Bar along Killiney Road is this patch of land that has become a mini bicycle parking space. It is probably an indication there there is nowhere else to park in the middle of Orchard Road. But, where do these bicycle commuters go to?

Sembawang Town Council has introduced an interesting initiative to handle door-to-door flyer advertising…

I’m not sure if it has cut down the number of flyers outside resident’s doorsteps.

On another note, it would have been even more interesting if the town council had branded this as a “Community Corner” as well to encourage residents to post interesting snippets about residential life. While most posts would still end up being advertisements, perhaps residents would be encourage to post a poem? Photos? Complaint letters?

Lucky Plaza, Far East Plaza, Far East Shopping Centre and Tanglin Shopping Centre are four shopping malls in Orchard Road recently identified by The Sunday Times as malls in need of upgrading

Unlike the glitzy malls around them, this quartet from the 1970s stick out with their plain facades. Shopping inside is also a different experience : A hair salon next to a chicken rice store, bargains being hawked next to electronics and gizmos, a jewellery store next to a 7-11 convenience store — an eclectic mix of neighbours that seem to make no sense.

It turns out that who owns the malls makes for the very different shopping experiences. Unlike most malls today which are owned by one developer who dictates the mix of tenants, these four are strata-title malls. As individuals own each shop unit, this model means “minimal management of the mall”, explained Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon to the newspaper. This worked in the past, said the marketing professor from NUS Business School,  “You went to a place because you knew the owner of the shop, not because the mall was nice or there were other shops there that would be attractive to you.”

But, is such a model no longer relevant today?

Interesting Malls
Without central planning from a developer, these four malls have acquired an interesting mix of tenants. The developer-owned malls, however, stick to a formula that brings in the most profits and traffic, resulting in standardised layouts filled with the same big brands. This makes the old malls stand out even more relevant because they provide a diverse shopping experience. After all, not everyone wants to squeeze with crowds and when it’s time for coffee, not everyone wants a Starbucks.

Malls with Interests
Also, these older malls, being spared the constant redevelopments of others because it can only happen if a majority of tenants agree, have actually developed their own unique identities. Lucky Plaza is known as a Filipino enclave, Far East Plaza is popular with teenagers, Far East Shopping Centre is for golfers and Tanglin Shopping Centre is place for art and antique. This is something the other malls can hardly claim because they often try to provide everything instead.

Whose city is it?
More importantly, these malls answer in some ways the question of how space is used in Singapore. We can see for ourselves the different results in letting a major developer dictate land use and one where individuals come together and create a shopping mall. The former is no doubt more profitable but also breeds a sameness and thus a constant need for upgrading. The latter may make no ‘shopping sense’, but it nurtures communities because shops stay around longer too.

While most Singaporeans will be in favour of these malls going through facelifts, let’s pause to ask why, and what we may be losing. At least, let’s not just get just another shopping mall.

Posted on: 30 March, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

Above is a designer’s take of a advertisement flyer found along the streets of America. The original one looked like this:

This is just one of the twenty flyers CarbonCopy redesigned as part of a mission to over power “their message with a new visual language”. It got me thinking, what if the street advertisements and flyers that are the bane of so many Singaporeans’ living spaces were actually well-designed? Would they still be seen, at best an inconvenient necessity, but mostly plain annoying?

It’s something street advertisers should think about. This way of promotion is cheap and effective, but it can be beautiful too! And maybe, it’ll also earn them the respect for how creative street advertising actually is.

URA is conducting a public consultation on how land will be used in Singapore in the next 40 to 50 years. You can let them know what you think in a 10-minute online survey where you get to tell them what you’ll love to have in the space around you and how they are faring in the moment. We think it’s a good opportunity to “reclaim” back your land, so have your say!

It was great to read about people making full use of ‘State Land’ in Singapore for casual community use in today’s Sunday Plus. In fact, this policy to open up spaces for public use should continue and even be expanded.

Such help develop communities and a sense of ownership as the people who use them will take the initiative to maintain it. More importantly, space should be ‘open’ to all races, ages and walks of life. Too often, spaces here are built exclusively for those of a certain age group or class, such as shopping malls. The zoning of spaces for residential and commercial use also limits space to just a single use. What is built is then a city of communities divided by interests, age, class; and hardly any interaction amongst them.

By ‘opening’ up space, people can come together in a more casual and coincidental manner. Just like how we make land developers create spaces for greenery and the arts in their buildings, there should be a law to have public spaces too. These spaces should be kept open to all and there is no need for any expensive furniture except some seats and tables — let the people fill in the rest. This will no doubt be a more messy environment as things are less planned, but the interaction of different people in an open space will help build a more tolerant and creative society.

What happens when a generation of Singaporeans used to communal living in kampungs are relocated into modern public HDB housing estates? Sidewalk Easement is an on-going photography project by Song Nian in a search for the ‘kampung’ spirit in the HDB environment.

In these initial seven photos, he documented households that had placed their personal belongings in the common corridor outside their apartments that is a public area. This, he said, highlighted the blurring of personal spaces in the communal area of public housings.

“This series started off as a study on the relationship between people and their surroundings, and through our intervention on our immediate spaces, the affect that we impose on landscapes and vice versa,” said the photographer who is currently pursuing a degree in photography at the University of the Arts, London.

Through his explorations for this series, Song Nian has seen how little interventions by households have changed their modern living environment. “A lot of these households have actually made these spaces into an inviting communal area that encourages interaction between neighbours and others who’re staying in the vicinity,” he said.

In his images of sidewalks stacked with religious artifacts, plants and furniture, Song Nian also hopes the invite viewers to question the background and story of each family. “This is especially important to me when I’m making my work because i believe that art should be throwing questions, and not providing answers.”