Singapore is an ideal business hub, a powerhouse economy and the gateway to Asia. It’s also English speaking, forward thinking, well educated and clean. Some call it ‘Asia 101’ or ‘Asia for beginners’, but there is no doubt that, whether new to Asia or Asian born, if you can stand the heat, then this is the kitchen to be in.
With such a focus on business, power and money, there would seem to be little time for, well, anything fun. But a new generation of Singaporeans are emerging – ones who let their children study art instead of economics at university; ones who demand a balance of culture with their career-driven lives; ones who want to see the beauty within, behind and surrounding their homes.
This is great news for the Singapore design scene, which may be young, but is exploratory in architecture, interior design, and even accessories. Thanks to its geographical location, it’s also a great place for East and West design cultures to meet.
Case in point is the Singapore–London creative consultancy company, VW+BS. It’s a one-stop shop for designers, architecture, accessories, lighting, PR, branding, even magazines. The key word here is versatility.
As a multidisciplinary agency representing a variety of interests, they are better situated to adapt to the changing market of design and architecture, especially as they also endeavour to merge design markets between Western and Asian cultures.
‘We’re often working with Asians buying into the London market, so what we’re essentially doing is bringing the two cultures together,’ says Ian Macready of VW+BS.
According to Macready, the beginning of a shift in modern architecture and design can be pinpointed to 1997 with the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Designed by Canadian-American ‘starchitect’ Frank Gehry, The World Architecture Survey credits the Guggenheim as one of the most important works completed since 1980. In fact, due to the overwhelming success of the museum in terms of its revitalisation of the somewhat lagging Bilbao, the term ‘Guggenheim effect’ was coined in reference to how the museum transformed the city.
Much has changed, however, since 1997.
In the digital world, the advent of social media, for example, has helped create an international dialogue about design concept and theory. In the real world, construction in emerging markets has grown by 128%, and the predicted growth of the population is 46% between 2000 and 2050 (with as much as 70% of the world’s population living in urban areas). Not only is there the need for a different approach to design and architecture, phenomena such as the ‘Guggenheim effect’ demonstrate how architecture plays a significant role in the modern world as well as modern economies.
Singapore is synonymous with luxury. What about design?
Luxury markets as well have a whole new take on high-end design. Consumers of luxury goods are demanding more than quality that comes with a high price tag – they want to know where the product comes from (provenance), and they want their product or experience to be unique. This is true whether purchasing a new home or a purchasing a holiday experience (or even a dinner out). Above all, the experience is what the luxury consumer is buying.
With the third highest per capita income in the world, Singapore knows something about luxury markets. It would seem that Singapore also has a vested interest in expanding its design scene. An official arm of the Singapore Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts is the DesignSingapore Council. The council not only oversees the ‘adoption of design by enterprises’, they have the specific directive to develop Singapore into a city where design innovation drives economic growth.
Singapore as a creative hub
The recent 100% Design expo at the Marina Bay Sands, curated by VW+BS, is another example of the emerging design scape in this small island nation. The theme of the event was 55:75:95, which are respectively the standard heights for lounge, dining and kitchen surfaces. It is an exploration of how we live, work and play and how these numbers might be used differently in the East and West.
Macready and his partner, Voon Wong of VW+BS, specifically selected young, new and exciting talent from around the world, but especially from South-East Asia.
‘100% Design is new to Singapore. This year’s expo is small because we were anxious to get it started. With more planning, we expect next year’s expo to be significantly bigger,’ said Wong.
Singapore was chosen for the design expo not only because of its geographically ideal location, but also for its dedication to design. Macready explains, ‘London’s
100% Design is about 15 years running, set up originally by a group of designers who realised there was no design show in London. There were trade shows, but no design shows. It then became the cornerstone of a much wider festival of design in London and the expo became part of the ‘rollercoaster’ that saw London become a creative capital. ‘The DesignSingapore Council were aware of how the 100% Design expo had been instrumental in creating London as a creative hub.’
Singapore-based property developers are winning international awards (Keppel Land and CapitaLand are but two recent examples). And Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) also recently announced the winners of the URA Architectural Heritage Awards (2012) that honor projects with exceptional work in heritage building conservation and restoration. Among the five winners is The Sultan, which the URA describes: ‘Ten outstanding specimens of ornate “Late” to “Art Deco” shop house-style buildings, circa 1900 to 1940s, have been imaginatively transformed into a regal boutique hotel where vintage charm has checked in for a long-term stay.’
Yet another example of recent cutting-edge architecture in Singapore is the addition to Raffles Place – dubbed Tower Two. The original Raffles Place tower was architected by Professor Kenzo Tange in the 1980s and it is a signature landmark in the city’s business district, as well as an iconic image on the Singapore skyline. Professor Tange’s son, Paul Noritaka Tange, was the architect for Raffles Place, Tower Two.
But if you want an extreme example of creative design at work in Singapore, look no further than the Gardens by the Bay and the super cool Supertrees. Project leader Peter Morris came to Singapore from England to work on the city’s national aquatic centre, but stayed for the Gardens by the Bay project.
Morris says the Supertrees are more than an indication of Singaporeans’ open mind towards creative design. They are ‘an invitation to sustainable, green design.’ Not only do they look space age, they are ‘environmental engines – they convert sunlight into solar power, act as air venting ducts and collect rainwater,’ explains Morris.
When asked who initiated the idea for the project, Morris responded, ‘It was driven by a love of plants by the client – which was the National Parks of Singapore. It’s a passionate manifestation of a city in a garden concept.’ Passionate, versatile, global and even sustainable design has already arrived in Singapore. Compared to other cities like Milan or even London, Singapore’s design scene may be young, but its evolution is in response to a changing marketplace and merging cultures which, at least in part, is why the designation of ‘creative hub’ is close at hand.
Photo credits: (1) Supertrees, National Parks of Singapore. (2) VW+BS partners: London-based Ian Macready, Singapore-based Voon Wong and Kuala Lumpur-based Benson Saw. (3) Virgin Atlantic first-class cabin bar, designed by VW+BS. (4) Ferrara Asiapac’s Recargo. (5) Porada’s Daisy chair. (6) Natanel Gluska chair – Made in Singapore. (7) Peter Morris of SPARK who also project managed the design of the Supertrees.