Delirious New York, Hilarious Singapore (Or a Diatribe on Singapore Architecture)

4 06 2006

Today in the papers there was a discussion on the architecture of the new Integrated Resort (IR) at the New Downtown. While I’m personally not a fan of Moshe Safdie’s designs, the new IR will certain anchor the urbanscape of the New Downtown. An article was written in today’s papers on how the designs of the IR did not go down well with the fengshui masters because the hotel blocks resemble ancestral tablets.

IR Design

While I am not to argue with the feugshui masters, somehow URA’s bid to ‘revitalise’ the aging Singapore skyline has largely been dictated by factors such as the tourist money and the commercial visibility that it brings. While such considerations has always been the lynchpin of Singapore’s continued economic excellence, I would have thought that greater issues should have been given equal weight. Values such as social benefits and the impact on the fabric of society, so often expounded in urban design texts, seem relegated to the end-notes in the design considerations.

IR Visualisation

Rem Koolhaas, in his seminal dissertation Delirious New York, had expounded that the designs of New York, its urban planning and architecture, had been based on an irreconcilable shameless bombast of forms and designs, one striving to outdo the other, and the resultant hodge-podge had become the hegemony of urban planning in cities around the world. Yet in comparison, Singapore seemed so contrived, so manufactured. How is it that New York, with its lack of control in its urbanscape, or at least in relation to Singapore, can attract so many visitors every year, while Singapore, with billions poured into the tourism industry (nearly everything in Singapore is related to the tourism industry), still fail to attract visitors who come here to see the sights of the city?

The Singapore selling point had been the quaint charms of historic shophouse districts and the colonial legacy amidst towering steel and glass epitaphs of modernism. Yet, we are ignoring that; continually pouring in money, creating iconic buildings one after another, like another Dubai, where the industry joke there being that as long as the building is bigger and louder than its neighbours, it is a good building. The New Downtown is in danger of becoming that.

As prominent Singapore architect Tay Kheng Soon, often known as the founding father of Singapore architecture, commented on iconic nature of the IR design being a problem, for “nobody wants a casino to be their city’s icon”, one wonders how much more iconic does the other designs need to be to outshine it. The IR stands out on sheer scale of its design.

Also, the numbers of foreign architects doing projects here (Safdie, Toyo Ito, Norman Foster, KPF, SOM…) is strangling the local industry. Are we less competent than the other design firms? Will this become another 1980s, where the presence of foreign architects then (IM Pei, Kenzo Tange) nearly killed off the local industry? But this is for another time…

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One response

11 06 2006
Rachelle

I don’t know what they were thinking either! such a typical waste of our money …

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