Category Archives: public programs/talks

Design as Text: A seminar for Archifest 2013

Design As Text

<< UPDATE, 23/9/13: CAPACITY EXPANDED! More tickets now on sale! >>

I’ll be presenting a seminar about design writing at this year’s ArchifestSchool of Urban Ideas‘. I’ve just checked the bookings and there’s one ticket left! Are you the lucky last attendee? Click on through to the event page! And check out the rest of the Archifest program while you’re there. I’m looking forward to meeting all the attendees on 5 October at the Archifest Pavilion.

Here’s the seminar synopsis:

Has a building review ever changed the way you think about a city? Has an interview with a product designer made you reconsider your relationship with everyday objects? A thoughtful and lively architecture and design culture needs equally thoughtful communication and criticism to support its development and enhance awareness. The most engaging writers, whose words resonate long after they are published, are skilful storytellers. Equally important is their ability to balance their responsibility to readers, publishers and the wider industry. This seminar will offer practical tips for those keen to write about architecture and design, as well as some perspectives on critical discourse.

The session will be presented by Narelle Yabuka, who has been writing and editing in the field of architecture and design in Singapore and Australia since 2002.

Reclaiming urban spaces: Hub-to-Hub public art program

“It is a deadly paradox for Singapore to be risk averse as a nation when Singapore’s very survival depends on its ability to coolly and rationally deal with the uncertainties, dangers and risks that constantly confront [it].”

– Tay Kheng Soon, ‘A World Class City Deserves a World Class Architecture. How to Get There From Here,’ Architecture Journal 1987 (School of Architecture, National University of Singapore, 1987): 38.

Uncertainties, dangers, and risks: factors that make for intriguing urban environments, yes? I don’t refer to a physical sense of risk and danger. I’m talking about surprising conditions that grab hold of our mental faculties, senses, and powers of perception until we come to terms with what we’re experiencing.

Encountering risk and uncertainty in public spaces often results in an affecting experience – the learning of something new, and an enhanced feeling of connection to a place. It can happen on Singapore’s sanitised and orderly streets, but not that readily. More often than not, you need to have an inkling of the areas in which it might occur, and make a project of seeking it out if you’re so inclined.

My curiosity was piqued when I heard about the Hub-to-Hub temporary public art project, which is currently being staged at seven sites in the Bras Basah and Bugis area. Risk is at the heart of its agenda – in both its animation of public spaces and its collaborations between creative professionals (and students) from diverse disciplines and nations. For this, I applaud its curators.

One of them, Prof Steffen Lehmann of The University of South Australia, revealed at the ‘Hub-to-Hub 2011 Symposium’ (held on Sunday 16 October at the NLB) that he hopes the art event will be a tri-annual one, encouraging Singaporeans to reflect on and “interrogate” the role of public space. Sounds great. Is it happening?

The sites offered to the creative teams ranged from the semi-Arcadian (Dhoby Ghaut Green), to the semi-commercial (outside The Cathay), to the intimate and tucked-away (Stamford Green), to the prominent and prestigious (outside SAM and 8Q), to the understated and circulatory (Waterloo Centre).

The varied installations connect with their sites to greater and lesser extents. The works I enjoyed the most, however, are those that thoroughly invite the passerby into an exploration and mental collision with the installation:

  • Stilt House at Dhoby Ghaut Green by Team Europe. I wondered, “Is it safe to climb it?” and “What are its walls made with?”
  • III Movement at Stamford Green by Team Aural. I thought, “This is an interesting way to listen to the city.”
  • Multiculturalism and the Giant ‘Mop’ at SAM@8Q by Team Australia. I temporarily asked myself, “Do the creators want me to walk inside it or stay at the edge?”

The seven interventions will be in place until 4 November 2011. You can download a walking map with info about each project from the Hub-to-Hub site, as well as background info on the program’s aims and curatorial topics. Taking in each work involves an easy walk from Dhoby Ghaut Green to the Waterloo Centre.

Hub-to-Hub was co-organised by re:ACT and its main sponsor is the URA’s A+UDE program.

Burn, bury, or recycle?

‘Recycling in Singapore’ – Green Drinks at TAB

In 2010, Singapore produced enough waste to fill Marina Bay to about human height every week, according to Veolia Environmental Services Singapore. To be exact, it threw away 6,517,000 tonnes of material. 40% of this waste was incinerated; 2% was sent to the landfill on Pulau Semakau; and 58% was recycled.

That sounds like a pretty rosy recycling rate, but the main contributor to it was industrial waste such as construction debris, ferrous metals, and used slag. When it comes to municipal waste alone, Veolia estimates that Singapore recycles less than 10% of its rubbish.

That’s a far cry from Austria’s 69%, Germany’s 59%, South Korea’s 49%, and the UK’s 38% municipal recycling rates. The majority of Singapore’s municipal waste is burnt in the island’s four incinerator plants – one of which is in north, and three of which are in the west.

Veolia’s Mathieu Davy presented these facts during a talk organised by Green Drinks Singapore (local branch of Green Drinks International) and the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS). The presentation was titled ‘Recycling in Singapore’ and was held at TAB on the night of Wednesday 12 October 2011.

Veolia sponsored the evening, using its talk to encourage recycling and advise on recycling dos and don’ts. The session shed light on some interesting facts about how Singapore deals with its waste, and on how this can be related to the design of waste management infrastructure in our buildings.

Mathieu got the audience members squirming about their own rates of consumption by revealing that the average amount of domestic waste produced per person per day in Singapore is 1kg. This is a significant amount – particularly in Asia. In comparison, Vietnam produces 0.4kg, China produces 0.6kg, and Taiwan produces 0.9kg. Clearly, there’s a relationship with GDP. The amount produced by the average European is 1.6kg, and for someone in the USA it is a hefty 2.1kg.

About 30% of Singaporeans’ daily 1kg of waste is food waste. Although food waste presents opportunities for the creation of compost and energy (via the gases produced), Singapore’s only food waste recycler (IUT) closed a few months ago. The high recycling rates of Austria and Germany, said Mathieu, are partly due to the fact that these countries do recycle food waste.

Mathieu believes that the biggest barrier to recycling in Singapore is the rubbish chute, which makes it too easy for high-rise residents to simply make their waste disappear. He shared that in his home city of Paris, all chutes have been sealed. This, suggested Mathieu, forces a more direct personal responsibility for one’s waste, and hopefully encourages the contemplation of separating recyclables as everything must be carried down to the one bin area. In his experience, dual chutes (one for rubbish, one for recyclables) don’t work without intense and ongoing education programs.

The Singapore government is targeting increased rates of recycling in Singapore. Today’s rate of 58% is an improvement on the 40% rate of 2000. The government is targeting 60% by 2012 and 70% by 2030, revealed Mathieu. While this would be good news for anyone who thinks about sustainable living, it would also be great for companies such as Veolia, who profit from our rubbish.

To his credit, Mathieu pointed out that the professionalisation of the recycling system in Singapore will endanger the traditional Singaporean recycler – the karung guni. We should also consider the wider social dimension of recycling in Singapore – and the potential impact on the community’s poorest members (often elderly), who survive by selling the cardboard, newspapers, and cans they extract from bins and dumpsters.

Veolia Environement is a French business. Its Singapore subsidiary is one of four companies undertaking waste collection and treatment here, the others being locally based Colex, Sembwaste, and 800 Super. Privatisation of the industry began in 2001, and Veolia now manages three of Singapore’s nine waste sectors: Tanglin/Bukit Merah, Bedok, and Pasir Ris/Tampines.

Most of Singapore’s recycled materials are exported for reprocessing. A little reprocessing of metal is carried out here, explained Mathieu. Glass often heads to Malaysia, and a lot of Singapore’s paper goes to Indonesia and Thailand, he said. It does make you wonder why ‘green’ Singapore is missing this link in the material-recovery chain.

This Reuters article from 2008 offers some perspectives on why recycling is now becoming a big business in Singapore.

The Rail Corridor: Singapore’s backyard? A connecting spine?

ArchiFest Public Forum and URA ‘Re-imagining the Rail Corridor’ Exhibition

Singapore’s newest ‘site’ continues to ignite passion and encourage debate. The former KTM railway land was discussed at length during yesterday’s ArchiFest Public (AFP) Forum. Along with the URA, Singapore’s designers and the wider community are keenly contemplating the possibilities for this unique land. The AFP Forum provided an opportunity for some of the online chatter to be aired in person. The URA did not give a presentation.

A couple of concepts emerged that resonated strongly (at least with me). The idea of regional connectivity as a shaper of rail corridor interventions is perhaps the most poignant. This idea was mentioned and alluded to by some of the speakers and reinforced by ‘Herbert’ – a member of the audience. Contributing to a surprisingly lengthy Q&A session at the end of the forum, Herbert aptly pointed out that many maps of Singapore fail to show neighbouring countries, instead illustrating Singapore as an isolated island. Neighbourly connections, he suggested, could be the story of the KTM land, informing interventions and art installations, and at the same time reinforcing history and place. He made a valid point.

The lovely idea of a green rail corridor as a ‘backyard’ for the residents of Singapore (the ‘front yard’ being the Gardens by the Bay) was also raised during the forum. This idea apparently first emerged during the ‘Re-imagining the Rail Corridor’ workshop, held on 8 October (which I didn’t attend).

Now for more detail …

The ArchiFest Public Forum was organised by the Singapore Institute of Architects and held at the National Library Building on the morning of Sunday 9 October 2011. The forum did not set out to discuss specific concepts for the KTM railway land, but rather, ideas and possibilities.

Speakers included Dr Lai Chee Kien (Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, NUS), Dr Shawn Lum (President, Nature Society Singapore), Tobias Baur (Director of Atelier Dreiseitl), Seah Chee Huang (SIA council member and Chairman of ArchiFest Organising Committee), and Dr Tan Beng Kiang (Deputy Head, School of Design and Environment, NUS).

A Q&A session was moderated by Kelley Cheng (Editorial Director of Singapore Architect magazine and Founder/Creative Director of The Press Room). The forty-odd-strong audience seemed to consist of people from the architecture/design community and the general public.

I found Dr Lai Chee Kien’s presentation, titled ‘Railway Heritage in Singapore,’ rich and illuminating of the past and present. With the aid of a wonderful set of historic images, he revealed how:
–       the Singapore rail line was once heavily used on Sundays by Singapore residents heading to gambling dens in Johor Bahru (with ferry transfers between Woodlands and JB)
–       Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Ipoh were three of the main stations on the line, offering hotel accommodation
–       On the Malaya Peninsula, the line’s location near the west coast allowed for proximity to rubber estates
–       Hindu temples along the Singapore line catered to Tamil labourers
–       Duxton Plain Park is a remnant of an earlier branch of the Singapore line (hence the topography of the park today)
–       The original Singapore line was deviated from Bukit Timah southwards due to flooding in the Orchard Road section of the line

Dr Shawn Lum presented ‘Perspectives from Nature’s Viewpoint,’ emphasising the ecological value of connected nature areas. He asked the audience to think of the nature areas near the KTM land (including the unprotected Clementi forest) as ‘islands.’ General ecological rules suggest that large, interconnected, and topographically heterogeneous islands will support more species than smaller, distant, homogenous ones.

The KTM land, said Dr Lum, offers the potential to create clusters of habitats along its length. Habitats along the rail corridor could link with existing surrounding nature areas to create a chain of habitats encouraging pollination and migration across a substantial area. He highlighted the possibilities inherent in management for biodiversity.

Tobias Baur alluded to the landscape architecture opportunities of the rail corridor (and the possibilities that could arise by linking with waterways) via a selection of international projects. These included the Sagrea Linear Park (Barcelona), concepts for Kaohsiung Port Station (Kaohsiung), Solar City (Linz), Zoll Hallenplatz (Frieburg), Tanner Springs Park (Portland), and Bishan Park (Singapore).

Seah Chee Huang presented five adaptive reuse projects – the High Line (New York), Cheonggyecheon (Seoul), Kraanspoor (Amsterdam), Tate Modern (London), and the London Old Gas Cylinders and Shunt Lounge.

Dr Tan Beng Kiang showed preliminary student work from an architecture studio at NUS, which is also currently on display at the URA. The ‘Rail Ideas’ project aims to emphasise the rail corridor as a connector for heritage, nature, mobility, communities, and education. Dr Tan pointed out that 1.12 million people live within 2km of the rail corridor. Among the student ideas were a food village, a skate park, a farmer’s market, a bicycle hub, and an edu-farm.

Dr Tan shared a great stop-motion-style video compiled by NUS students called ‘Operation KTM Street View.’ It’s composed of shots taken every 10m along the rail corridor.

The Re-imagining the Rail Corridor exhibition at the URA Atrium presents student concepts (from various design schools), information about the corridor, and a handful of concepts from professional designers. FARM, for example, proposed a gigantic seesaw for pedestrians sited within an existing bridge. FARM described it as “a whole new way to ‘ride’ the old railway tracks.” Sounds fun.

More info about the Rail Corridor here and  here.

Keeping it real. Engin Celikbas of KesselsKramer speaks for The Design Society

On 29 August, I attended a lecture at LASALLE College of the Arts organised by The Design Society and presented by Engin Celikbas, CEO of Dutch creative agency KesselsKramer (Amsterdam and London). The lecture was titled ‘Past, Present & Future of KesselsKramer’.

If you’re familiar with KK’s work in branding, communications, and publishing, you’ll know it resides on the wonky side of things. It generally has a gritty, raw, and irreverent vibe. (Visit their website and you’ll know what I mean.) True to brand, one of Engin’s opening comments was, “I have no idea where this industry is going.” As you’d surmise, he didn’t talk much about the future of KK; but this omission said more about the agency’s way of working than trite predictions would have.

The well-attended session provided a good opportunity to see past work such as campaigns for the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Ben, and Citizen M Hotel. Engin also showed KK’s satirical royal wedding souvenir plates, which ended up selling in the thousands. Some publishing work was featured, including In Almost Every Picture #1 – a collection of hundreds of photos taken by a husband of his wife in the 1950s and ’60s. The photos were found by Erik Kessels at a Barcelona flea market. The resulting photo book seems an interesting study of habit, fascination, and amateur skill, yet perhaps it also resonates with a slightly opportunistic undercurrent.

I can’t help but admire KK’s stance of valuing honesty and cohesiveness in their portrayal of people, places, and objects. There’s fortitude, too, in their decision to stop entering industry awards competitions, instead using the entry fees to fund independent projects. The agency has more or less capped its own growth (aside from the birth of more satellite offices) with its operational structure – no account managers. KK’s planners, creatives, and producers each take on management roles at different stages of a project. This results in more direct (and hopefully more open and lasting) relationships with clients. The structure limits the agency’s growth, but as Engin said, “We don’t want to be everything for everyone.”

At the end of the session, an audience question about KK’s Amsterdam office space (a collection of wacky scale-bending insertions in a former church, designed by FAT) yielded an admission from Engin that would have pleased any spatial designers in the theatre: “The space affects your mood.” (He meant in a good way!) He also mentioned that the church’s location in the centre of the city – with connectivity to people, places, and events – was a mood enhancer. It did make me pity anyone about to trudge back to an office in an industrial park.