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With the new 10-storey Jewel being completed at Changi Airport by world-renowned Moshe Safdie, this sparked conversations at our second QP event around urban planning and how cities reflect the dreams and aspirations of each generation’s leaders and inhabitants.

Uncovering the Past

Using Singapore as a case study, we invited clients and partners on July 20 to join us for a sharing workshop exploring her past, present and possible future trajectories.

Special guest Aaron Kao, researcher at the Archaeology Unit of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, brought us through pre-modern archaeological digs he was part of around the island e.g. Victoria Hall, Fort Canning and National Gallery. Through analysing the locations, depth of excavations, as well as found artefacts, he shared how these can help us understand the movements of each civilisation, their socio-economic structures and cultural system – which then affect how spaces are utilised. With every layer of different coloured soil representing a wholly separate civilisation, sifting back through time becomes a visual and visceral affair.                                 

Picture of: Empress Place Dig (2015), Copyright: Aaron Kao 

Defining the Soul of a City
Following Aaron’s presentation, the group launched into a visual “mapping” exercise using a giant map of Singapore. Armed with red, green and yellow stickers, all were encouraged to plot spaces which embodied the soul of the city – green for ‘most soulful’ and red for ‘least soulful’. 

Picture of: Heartlands in Singapore, Copyright: Nguan

Turns out, many felt most connected to green lungs within the island such as the Botanic Gardens and MacRitchie Reserve, which they felt were spaces to relax, reflect and recharge away from the maddening crowds. Other vibrant spots such as Little India or the East Coast were chosen as they encompassed more vibrancy – often due to the mixed congregation across socio-economic classes, all engaged in a variety of activities from the daily hustle to religious and social gatherings.

Where to, next?

In the round-up discussion, the ‘soul’ of any city was defined in opposition to anything that seemed artificial, pre-empted and official. There is a certain subconscious resistance to control which is felt – one which restricts and polices the movement and behaviour of any free individual.

In contrast, efforts of organic and participatory place-making e.g. personalisation of public spaces through spontaneous cricket/football matches or making the heartlands home through the creation of community gardens and recreation areas, are met with positive approval from the city’s inhabitants.

In a city which encompasses the dreams of not just its leaders and citizens, but also its foreign labour force, the tussle between pre-emptive and participatory planning will continue, even as land scarcity and economic flows dictate the island’s landscape.

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