Monthly Archives: August 2013

Contributing Editor for


From November 2012 to early February 2013 I had the honour of looking after the design and architecture news website (IDLA) while its regular editor, Janice Seow, was on leave. As the site’s Contributing Editor I filed eight stories per week and drafted a newsletter every Thursday. I take my hat off to Janice for keeping up the pace on a prolonged basis!


I’ve been contributing stories to IDLA for some time, and continue to do so now. It was great to get to know the Indesign team better, as well as make new connections with designers and artists, and with those working in the design-related commercial arena here in Singapore.

During my stint I relished the opportunity to report on some insightful individuals from Singapore and around Asia, as well as some from further afield who have been active in Asia. I’ve gathered a couple of quotes below from people whose words and work have stuck in my mind. Thanks to all who contributed!


“One of the major drivers for the future of landscape design in Singapore is the fact that we live in dense, high-rise housing. The kids that live up there are really disconnected from the ground. When you’re disconnected from the ground, you lose an appreciation of what is required to maintain a balance. I think it’s important for the profession to give them a reason to come back down to the ground so they can understand the issues that confront us. These issues extend beyond Singapore.” – Leonard Ng, Director, Atelier Dreiseitl Asia

Read the full story on Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park here.


“To paint involves a kind of mastery of spontaneity. When you look at my paintings, I hope that in your mind you see this movement across the space and reconnect with the energy. It’s a memory of this act, but I hope it is a vivid memory – not dead. There’s still movement in the space.” – Fabienne Verdier, artist

Read about French artist Fabienne Verdier, who trained in Chinese calligraphy, and the exhibition she held in Singapore here.



Upcycling: converting a disused object or waste material into something of greater value without degrading the material with which it’s made.


The third and final book I wrote for an\b editions has been on sale for a little while now. The concept sprang from the observation that while upcycling has gained popularity as an at-home craft, it holds immense potential for reduced material use when applied to the design and manufacture of consumer objects.

Additionally, as demonstrated by some of the early 1990s furniture and lighting designed by Tejo Remy, ‘upcycling’ can thoroughly challenge preconceptions about the aesthetics of form. Remy’s early work (distributed by Droog) focused on radical reinvention and memory, but today it could also be viewed trough the lens of sustainability.


Upcycle! presenting products, accessories, furniture, and lighting by designers in twenty-five countries, whose work reuses materials in the following general groups: cardboard and paper; cement, ceramic, and clay; cork; glass; metal; plastic; rubber; textile; and wood.

I made some delightful discoveries while compiling the contents – the ability of designers to make beautiful jewellery out of discarded bicycle inner tubes (Nikolay Sardamov, Bulgaria) or old tins and coasters (Melissa Cameron, Australia); to make tables from slices of old furniture (Oormerk, The Netherlands); or to make creature-like lights with the bases of old office chairs (Giovanni Delvecchio and Andrea Magnani for Resign, Italy).

One of the other joys of the research was discovering how witty designers could be in their efforts. Here are some examples:

Animal Skin Rugs by Agustina Woodgate (USA), made with the fur of pre-loved stuffed animal toys.


Stitch by Studio Pepe Heykoop (The Netherlands) – discarded chairs nurtured back to life with new hand-stitched covers and stuffing.


Relumine by mischer’traxler (Austria) – altering the character of old found lamps with a new and energy-efficient light source.


Multi-vase Lighting by Atelier Remy & Veenhuizen (The Netherlands) – compositions of glass objects that seem to have been thrown in the air and frozen in time.


Thanks to all the contributing designers and photographers, and to Jacinta Sonja Neoh (co-publisher) and Lara SH Loi for their art direction, design and layout.

What does ‘home’ mean?

What is home?

Habitus magazine invited me to contribute to an exhibition exploring the question: ‘What does home mean to you?’ I wrote a story. The exhibition will be displayed during Sydney Indesign, 15–17 August 2013, at the Galleria in Sydney.

*  *  *

I didn’t sleep well the night before our appointment with the HDB. We, and the sellers of the 1979 ‘four-room’, were to sign the final round of paperwork. Fear struck my heart – not so much for the thought of the binding and inflated debt we were about to assume, but for the impending interrogation by an officer of a Singaporean government agency. Would our finances be deemed to stack up adequately? Did we properly follow all the e-filing rules for last year’s tax returns? Would the prescribed ‘ethnic quotas’ of the estate allow for a foreigner like me? Would there be any issues with my home-based business? Did we fill out the application forms correctly? Will we comply with all the regulations? Well, Mindy, our youthful HDB officer, wasn’t the stern, severe-haired toughie I’d expected. A mini dress, a mismatched oversized aircon-busting jacket, slippers, flowing locks, and a Hello Kitty pen. But her getup was not to say that she wasn’t by-the-books. In the span of around thirty minutes, she printed and waved what seemed like half a ream of paper past us. We signed about fifteen sheets. The speed of her meek voice suggested (yet somehow demanded) minimum time for detailed scrutiny of each sheet. We proceeded, as you tend to do in Singapore, rather like cogs in a machine, trusting our research and putting our faith in the idea that with 82 per cent of Singaporeans living in government flats, millions have done the same and survived. Surely the government wouldn’t shaft us! Anyway, it’s not like we could bend any rules. So, spat out from the HDB headquarters and a renovation later (and I won’t start on those rules), here we are at home, where I’m a ‘spouse’ by marital status (that is, female) and an ‘other’ by racial profile (that is, not Chinese, Malay, or Indian). The neighbours don’t seem to mind my colour (as far as I can tell), or my gender. The mortgage is cheaper than the rent was. The train station isn’t far away. We’ve made friends with the cleaning guy, the teh tarik uncle, and a lovely aunty down the corridor. It’s a great neighbourhood. By the time we finish paying off the mortgage, our flat’s value – according to the government-issued home insurance scheme – will be about 10 per cent of its purchase price. I doubt that we’ll be here by then.

*  *  *

Behind Chinatown

Chinatown Complex

When I used to tell people I lived in Singapore’s Chinatown, I usually saw raised eyebrows and heard a confused “Oh.” The four years I spent there provided an education that would be hard to find in the ‘burbs. In Chinatown I experienced a social ecosystem sliced and bound by up to eight lanes of traffic, where the constant and the variable are mashed up into an entity that bears different identities depending on where and when you look.

The sanitised, candy-coloured tourist streets are one thing. But the more ‘hidden’ sides of Chinatown began to fascinate me as I tried to understand and find ways to reconcile with some distressing social situations – particularly homelessness and scavenging among the elderly. Many evenings, closed souvenir stalls would become makeshift beds.

For the communities living in Chinatown’s high-rise housing, the daily grind plays out against the tourist tides and the yearly cycle of festivals. In a way, life for them is partially a spectacle played out in gritty concrete vertical cities.

Badminton atop the podium of the Chinatown Complex:

Badminton at Chinatown Complex

Breakfast (also for the resident podium cat) at the same place:

Chinatown breakfast

The night before lingers at the Chinatown Complex:

Chinatown Complex

The chess corner at Sago Street is inhabited 24 hours a day:

Chinatown chess 2

Chinatown chess 1

Chinatown chess 3

The unofficial recycling station at Spring Street:

Chinatown Recycling Station

Life’s debris. Hopefully it was of use to someone else who needed it:

Life's debris at Chinatown Complex

The food centre in the Chinatown Complex – an important social space:

Chinatown food centre

Between worlds:

Motorcycles, Chinatown

Colonising a laneway:

Chinatown laneway

Fire on the streets for the hungry ghost festival:

Chinatown hungry ghost 2

The street cats have their haunts, and their adoptive parents:

Chinatown cat 1

Chinatown cat 2

In 2009, I walked past a collection of old furniture and recyclables on Jiak Chuan Road. It took me a minute to realise it might have been a person’s home or perhaps a makeshift work station of some kind:

Jiak Chuan Rd 1

Jiak Chuan Rd 2

Jiak Chuan Rd 3

Jiak Chuan Rd 5

Jiak Chuan Rd 4