to gather : The Architecture of Relationships

Singapore Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia

4. Provision Shop in Hawker Centre, Clementi, Singapore, Photography by Open Narrative.jpg
Syncretically, Eclectically - Haw Par Have We Come - Image credit: Ernest Goh
Syncretically, Eclectically - Haw Par Have We Come - Image credit: Ernest Goh

May 2021, Singapore – to gather: The Architecture of Relationships, Singapore’s seventh showcase at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia examines the different ways in which we share space — in our city, with one another, and with nature. The exhibition is co-commissioned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and DesignSingapore Council and curated by the National University of Singapore.

The sixteen projects exhibited this year investigate the relationships within and between communities through four overarching themes – Communing Relationships, Framing Relationships, Uncovering Relationships, and Imagining Relationships.

Starting with built structures that house layers of histories in Communing Relationships, ‘Hawker Centres in Singapore’ and ‘Syncretically, Eclectically – ‘Haw Par’ Have We Come?’ discuss spaces for recreation, leisure and heritage well-loved by Singaporeans and foreigners alike. ‘Pulau Ubin Lives’ documents ongoing efforts to restore four wooden Malay houses on the offshore island of Pulau Ubin. Paying homage to the past whilst looking to the future, ‘Common Ground’ offers insights into how buildings can engage with their surroundings and community.

An Ode to Smell, Image credit: Brian Khoo
An Ode to Smell, Image credit: Brian Khoo

‘Kampung Admiralty’, ‘Our Tampines Hub’ and ‘Temasek Shophouse’ follow this train of thought in Framing Relationships, offering architectural solutions to what it means to frame different modes of living and working together under one roof. With the pandemic, these solutions have become even more relevant to the built environment. ‘Rail Corridor: Choa Chu Kang Integrated Housing Development’ demonstrates how nature is becoming an increasingly important part of community spaces.

Our relationship to the environment is also uncovered in the tactile and aural spheres. ‘Lighting Detectives’ and ‘An Ode to Smell’ radically redefine one’s understanding of a familiar environment in Uncovering Relationships. In ‘HABIT©AT’, we view void decks through the perspective of a clowder of community cats. ‘Both Sides, Now’ uncovers the latent potentials of the void deck through hands-on collaborations and workshops.

Imagining shared spaces for the future is the domain of projects such as ‘Rewilding the Sky’, where a post-Anthropocene landscape is posited, with nature lush and wild once more. ‘Architecture of the Sharing Culture’, ‘Future Hybrid High-Rise Commune’ and ‘We Are Millennials, Mobilised’ harness the potential of augmented and mixed realities to probe into how technology is redefining the way we navigate space, online and offline in the last theme, Imagining Relationships.

to gather: The Architecture of Relationships

Exhibition from 22 May to 21 November 2021

11 am to 7 pm daily, ticketed admission

La Biennale di Venezia, Arsenale.

 

For more information visit us at to-gather.sg

The projects and exhibitions by the participants of the Singapore Pavilion are outlined below.

Theme 1

COMMUNING RELATIONSHIPS

  • Common Ground by Red Bean Architects
Common Ground - credit - Red Bean Architects
Common Ground - credit - Red Bean Architects
Common Ground - credit - Red Bean Architects
Common Ground - credit - Red Bean Architects

Common Ground is a three-storey project in the heartland of Bedok that rejuvenates a thirty-year-old building. The heartland, a term used to describe residential neighbourhoods in Singapore, is an important centre for civic activity and communal gathering. ​ Formerly a public library, the building now brings together various social enterprises under one roof.

Accompanied by visuals of the project, the exhibit presents a sectional architectural model to showcase the spatial narratives and relationships inscribed within the project.

  • Hawker Centres in Singapore by Lai Chee Kien
Hawker Centres in Singapore by Lai Chee Kien
Hawker Centres in Singapore by Lai Chee Kien

Gathering spaces in Singapore take on many forms and the hawker centre is an excellent example of such public community spaces. They can be found in neighbourhoods and town centres, and host tenanted food stalls offering a variety of dishes. This project offers a historical look into how hawker centres have developed in Singapore.

The project is represented through the exhibit where stacked coloured melamine crockery, along with the trays typically used to carry plates of food, are arranged around the table. Each stack of coloured plates explores a different aspect of the hawker centre’s socio-political roots, design evolution and cultural revival, ranging from tropical architecture and its forms, to the hawker centre’s history, culture, and sanitation concerns.

  • Syncretically, Eclectically - ‘Haw Par’ Have We Come? by Studio Lapis + Eugene Tan + Jerome Ng Xinhao
Image credit: Ernest Goh
Image credit: Ernest Goh

Historically, recreational spaces in pre-independence Singapore were few and far between. Given this context, Haw Par Villa stands out in the collective memory of many Singaporeans. Haw Par Villa was built in 1937 by Aw Boon Haw, a businessman and philanthropist. It housed the Aw family mansion, and its gardens were open to the public. Known for its fantastical depictions of Chinese mythologies and philosophical stories, it became an important site for public education, leisure, and cultural history.

Built in collaboration with artists Eugene Tan and Jerome Ng, this installation draws on the visual language and narratives of dioramas, which have become synonymous with Haw Par Villa. The compound’s rich architectural history is conceptualised as three main portions, each corresponding to key landmarks in the park: the mermaid pool, the rockery changing room and the Villa itself. The exhibit brings together and re-interprets memories of the numerous artefacts and intricate settings within the park.

  • Pulau Ubin Lives by Studio DO: Pulau
Image credit: Studio DO: Pulau
Image credit: Studio DO: Pulau

Pulau Ubin is an island that sits northeast of mainland Singapore, and houses a number of wooden Malay houses that are raised slightly above ground. The settlements on Pulau Ubin are called kampung, a term which comes from the Malay verb berkampung (coming together). Houses on Pulau Ubin have typically functioned as gathering spaces in facilitating dialogue within the community. The proposed restoration of four wooden Malay houses on Pulau Ubin presents a new frontier for architectural and landscape conservation in Singapore, and this installation introduces the houses as objects of interest and sites of knowledge exchange and interaction.

The exhibit includes a historical timeline of Pulau Ubin and a summary of its recent developments. Selected architectural models are used to discuss kampung houses in relation to vernacular architecture, construction and building codes. It highlights the relationship Pulau Ubin shares with mainland Singapore and its role in Singapore’s nation-building efforts. These materials are further enriched by interviews conducted with the island’s residents.

 

Theme 2

FRAMING RELATIONSHIPS

  • Kampung Admiralty by WOHA
Image credit: Patrick Bingham-Hall
Image credit: Patrick Bingham-Hall

Completed in 2017, Kampung Admiralty is Singapore’s first integrated public housing development for seniors. Complementing the housing units for senior citizens are a mix of public facilities and services in this one-stop integrated complex. The 0.9-hectare site employs a layered ‘club sandwich’ approach, with a community plaza at the lowest level, a medical centre at the middle level, and a community park with universally-designed apartments at the top level. These integrated services, as well as other social and commercial amenities, support intergenerational bonding and turn the development into the new heart of the community.

The exhibit presents a series of videos illustrating how the residents inhabit, engage, and interact within this unique development.

  • Our Tampines Hub by DP Architects
Image Credits: DP Architects
Image Credits: DP Architects

Our Tampines Hub is an integrated lifestyle town hub in the neighbourhood of Tampines. An existing single-use stadium and sports hall was transformed to accommodate a variety of facilities. Our Tampines Hub holds over thirty community, sports, cultural, civic and lifestyle facilities, while designing co-sharing spaces for twelve governmental agencies and statutory boards. This integration is manifested in the interlocking spaces and cluster of facilities within. Through participatory design, it is co-created for, by, and with the residents of Tampines as a truly people-centric community destination for all.

The project showcases a pulled-out architectural model accompanied with videos documenting the different spaces in this integrated hub.

  • Temasek Shophouse by Surbana Jurong
Image credit: Kenny Pek, Stillusion Photography
Image credit: Kenny Pek, Stillusion Photography

Temasek Shophouse is nestled in Dhoby Ghaut, a prime retail area in central Singapore. Currently, it is a co-working facility and a testbed for sustainable initiatives. The shophouse building was originally built for wealthy Chinese merchants in the 1920s and had undergone multiple change of hands before it was left vacant for almost a decade prior to its reincarnation. The architects struck a balance between respecting the shophouse’s architectural fabric and refreshing its interior for its present purposes.

Using augmented reality (AR), interiors of the shophouse are projected onto an architectural model to bring to life the different spatial narratives within.

  • Rail Corridor: Choa Chu Kang Housing Development by MKPL Architects
Image credit: MKPL Architects
Image credit: MKPL Architects

The Rail Corridor: Choa Chu Kang Integrated Housing Development was a scheme submitted for a competition held by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The Rail Corridor was a railway line that connected Singapore to the Malay Peninsula. This scheme reimagines the corridor as a 24-kilometre belt that celebrates Singapore’s biodiversity. It proposes that it is possible to integrate both nature and the built environment. This allows ecological growth to take place alongside strategic construction and development. The nearby Pang Sua Canal is re-conceptualised as a natural floodplain, dissolving its hard concrete boundaries and making it an integral part of the design. By doing so, land is freed up to accommodate a 50-metre linear forest down the length of the site. It infuses the Rail Corridor with a green function, to reflect a deeper connection between community and nature.

This investigation of our spatial relationship with nature, unique to the Rail Corridor site is brought up in the architectural model presented at the Singapore Pavilion.

 

Theme 3

UNCOVERING RELATIONSHIPS

  • Both Sides, Now by Drama Box, ArtsWok Collaborative and Forest & Whale
Image credit: Zinkie Aw
Image credit: Zinkie Aw
Image credit: Zinkie Aw
Image credit: Zinkie Aw

It is sometimes said, with both candour and a tinge of macabre humour, that the two main events which bring families and friends together, are weddings and funerals. A humanised city must give dignity to death and dying. Both Sides, Now is a project that uses artistic processes to normalise end-of-life conversations in public spaces.

To bring across this project’s narrative, the participants have placed a floral arrangement of Asiatic lilies in the centre of the table. These flowers are often seen in condolence wreaths, which are common gifts and symbolic gestures of sympathy for a family’s loss. The installation further draws upon the typology of the table used. These round tables are common fixtures in Chinese funerals, particularly those that are held in the void decks of housing flats. Visitors are encouraged to spend time contemplating the questions provided. As a poetic reflection of these discussions, the lilies are allowed to wilt naturally as the exhibition runs.

  • Lighting Detectives by Lighting Planners Associates
Image credit: Lighting Planners Associates
Image credit: Lighting Planners Associates
Image credit: Lighting Planners Associates
Image credit: Lighting Planners Associates

Given the immediate impact lighting has on our perception of space, Lighting Detectives was conceived as a group dedicated to the study of lighting culture. With an aim to review the present state of urban environmental lighting, the group engages in fieldwork and community activities to observe how light is used in the city.

The exhibit is presented through a lighting installation. A series of fabric panels is suspended from the ceiling, showcasing the history of lighting in Singapore. Automated to ascend and descend at regular intervals, the panels alternate to reveal the historical lighting fixtures within. By simultaneously revealing and concealing these lights, the group hopes to pique the visitors’ curiosity. The table surface features a comprehensive overview of Lighting Detectives’ public engagement activities in Singapore, which also showcases the non-profit group’s mission.

  • An Ode to Smell by Hyphen Architects + Brian Khoo + Mary Ann Ng
Image credit: Brian Khoo
Image credit: Brian Khoo

An Ode to Smell is part of an ongoing research project that examines the tumultuous relationship Singapore shares with its weather, in particular, how heat, rain and humidity shape our environmental perception. It taps into a full-bodied and sensorial experience by prioritising experiences that focus on the sense of smell, and the scent memories we have of a space.

Materials from eight locations were collected across the island, and their scents were extracted through various mediums. Visitors are invited to find out more about these scents by scanning the QR codes on the bottles and sending postcards of the selected scents to others. The project explores how scents can be subjective to each person, and how individual sensorial experiences can be shared.

  • HABIT©AT by Atelier HOKO
Image credit: Atelier HOKO
Image credit: Atelier HOKO

Built environments that are familiar to us can often look very different to someone or something else. Since we share our urban landscape with animals, we can reinvigorate our own perspectives by understanding how they navigate or experience public space. Initially conceived as a publication, HABIT©AT is an inquiry into how street cats in Singapore inhabit man-made spaces and urban landscapes. Street cats, or community cats as they are affectionately known, can be found in many public housing neighbourhoods around Singapore. As creatures of habit and resource, their behavioural patterns directly inform how they discern their surroundings.

This exhibit follows the daily routine of four community cats — Sister, Hua Mao, Friend and Goma — as they wander around a block of public housing flats. By following the cats for a 24-hour cycle, visitors are presented with a refreshed understanding of structures that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, such as gutters and pavements, and how they are used by these community cats as enclosures, backrests or sunbeds.

 

Theme 4

IMAGINING RELATIONSHIPS

  • Architecture of the Sharing Culture by NUS-Tsinghua Design Research Initiative: Sharing Cities
Image credit: NUS-Tsinghua Design Research Initiative: Sharing Cities
Image credit: NUS-Tsinghua Design Research Initiative: Sharing Cities

Amongst the speculative futures offered by the projects featured in this exhibition, the proposition by the NUS-Tsinghua Design Research Initiative – Sharing Cities leans towards the notion of living together sustainably and equitably. This project’s title, Architecture of the Sharing Culture, is both a provocation and a proclamation. In a sharing culture, individuals participate in sustained practices of togetherness characterised by the co-creation, co-management, co-ownership, and co-consumption of resources.

The exhibit illustrates how architectural spaces are shareable assets as well as an enabler for more effective distributing processes within a city.

  • Future Hybrid High-Rise Commune by Michael Budig and Oliver Heckmann
Image credit: Michael Budig
Image credit: Michael Budig
Image credit: REAL Lab/Urban Housing Lab
Image credit: REAL Lab/Urban Housing Lab

Architects, designers and researchers have been grappling with what it would mean to live, work and play together in the future. With housing, future solutions might incorporate hybridised or amalgamated forms. Future Hybrid High-Rise Commune is a conceptual design research project that explores socially and environmentally sustainable residential buildings. It emphasises regeneration and adaptability.

The exhibit presents an imagined permanent support structure, complemented by infill modules constructed out of timber, a native Southeast Asian resource.

  • Rewilding the Sky by salad dressing
Image credit: Fabian Ong
Image credit: Fabian Ong

Amidst possibilities around Singapore’s future and how we will continue living together, a shift in bioethics might become plausible. Rewilding the Sky imagines Singapore as an urban vertical landscape where every building is crowned by a nature reserve. Today, Singapore is a city in nature and a model of biodiversity.

Going beyond our current reality, this exhibit introduces a speculative scenario that develops these ideas further. It portrays locations within Singapore’s eastern and western regions. The eastern front presents a rain city integrated with greenery. The western front depicts Bukit Timah, home to Singapore’s primary forest. The artwork is also enveloped by three smells that correspond to the Earth’s three shields: water, ozone and the magnetosphere. The artwork references binaries such as the constructed and the natural. By acknowledging the intertwined nature of ecosystems, we can work towards new modes of co-existence.

  • We Are Millennials, Mobilised by Millennial Nomad Space
Image credit: 2019, Law Kai Xiang and Keng Onn Chew©
Image credit: 2019, Law Kai Xiang and Keng Onn Chew©

In theorising prospective futures, imaginative and alternative ways of being, living and convening are actively being discovered by the millennial generation. They generate an interesting space for investigation and postulation. We Are Millennials, Mobilised articulates the millennial mindset and their digital capacities. With the virtual and digital increasingly overlapping with the real, we begin to observe a blurred division between the two.

A speculative model accompanied by a video projected on the architectural model’s table space features the projects conceptualised by millennials. Visitors are invited to take a glimpse into the various technologies adopted to express and critique how comfortably we have come to inhabit the real and the virtual simultaneously. ​

About the Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore (URA)

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is Singapore’s land use planning and conservation agency. Our mission is “to make Singapore a great city to live, work and play”. We strive to create an endearing home and a vibrant city through long-term planning and innovation, in partnership with the community.

We have successfully transformed Singapore into one of the most liveable cities in Asia through judicious land use planning and good urban design. Adopting a long-term and comprehensive planning approach, we formulate strategic plans such as the Concept Plan and the Master Plan to guide the physical development of Singapore in a sustainable manner. Developed to support economic growth, our plans and policies are focused on achieving a quality living environment for Singapore.

We take on a multi-faceted role to turn plans and visions into reality. As the main government land sales agent, we attract and channel private capital investments to develop sites that support planning, economic and social objectives. Through our regulatory function, we ensure that development works are aligned with our plans. As the conservation authority, we have an internationally recognised conservation programme, and have successfully conserved not just single buildings, but entire districts. We also partner the community to enliven our public spaces to create a car-lite, people-friendly and liveable city for all to enjoy.

In shaping a distinctive city, we promote architecture and urban design excellence, and innovate to build a resilient city of opportunity that fulfils the aspirations of our people.

Visit www.ura.gov.sg for more information.

About the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg)

DesignSingapore Council’s (Dsg) vision is for Singapore to be an innovation-driven economy and a loveable city through design by 2025. As the national agency that promotes design, our mission is to develop the design sector, help Singapore use design for innovation and growth, and make life better in this UNESCO Creative City of Design. Our work focuses on three areas. First, we help organisations and enterprises use design as a strategy for business growth; and for excellent delivery of public services. Second, we nurture industry-ready talents skilled in design and innovation; and engender a design-minded workforce for the future economy. Third, we advance the Singapore brand through raising design appreciation on home-ground; helping local design talents and firms go international, and making emotional connections with people across the world. The Dsg is a subsidiary of the Singapore Economic Development Board.

Singapore was designated UNESCO Creative City of Design in December 2015. The designation supports Singapore’s development of a creative culture and eco-system that integrates design and creativity with everyday life. It also expands Singapore’s opportunity to collaborate with cities from the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). The City of Design Office is sited with Dsg which coordinates and implements programmes that respond to UCCN’s mission.

Visit www.designsingapore.org for more information.

About the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Department of Architecture

A leading global university centred in Asia, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is Singapore’s flagship university, which offers a global approach to education and research, with a focus on Asian perspectives and expertise. NUS has 17 faculties and schools across three campuses. Over 38,000 students from 100 countries enrich the community with their diverse social and cultural perspectives. NUS also strives to create a supportive and innovative environment to promote creative enterprise within its community.

The Department of Architecture, which is part of the NUS School of Design and Environment, was established in 1958. Today, NUS Architecture offers a wide range of programmes, including landscape architecture, urban design, urban planning and integrated sustainable design. Building on the strength of its rich heritage and visionary leadership, NUS Architecture is poised to remain at the forefront of global excellence in architectural education and research, with a focus on high density Asian cities in the tropics.

For more information on NUS and NUS Architecture, please visit www.nus.edu.sg and sde.nus.edu.sg/arch/.

Judith Fereday

 

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About DesignSingapore Council

The DesignSingapore Council was established in 2003 to help develop the nation’s design sector. This follows from the Singapore’s Economic Review Committee report, which identified the creative industry as one of the three new sectors (including education and healthcare) for economic growth. Developing the design sector can help to enhance Singapore’s value proposition; as well as contribute to the country’s economic growth and social progress.

The vision of the DesignSingapore Council is for Singapore to be an innovation-driven economy and a loveable city through design by 2025. As the national agency for design, the Council’s mission is to develop the design sector, help Singapore use design for innovation and growth, and make life better in this UNESCO Creative City of Design. Our work focuses on three areas. First, we help organisations and enterprises use design as a strategy for business growth; and for excellent delivery of public services. Second, we nurture industry-ready talents skilled in design and innovation; and engender a design-minded workforce for the future economy. Third, we advance the Singapore brand through raising design appreciation on homeground; and making emotional connections with people across the world.

Singapore was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Design in December 2015. This designation supports the development of a creative culture and eco-system in Singapore that fully integrates design and creativity into everyday life. It is also an opportunity for Singapore to collaborate internationally with the cities of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). The City of Design Office is sited within the DesignSingapore Council to coordinate and implement programmes that contributes towards the UCCN mission.