Recap | From Shanghai to Jalan Sultan by Kay Ngee Tan

Watch the entire talk here:

By Eddie Koh
Year 4, History Major

I had the pleasure of attending an immensely thought provoking talk delivered by a well known architect, Kay Ngee Tan. During the talk, he exposed the audience to a wide range of experiences, approaches and dilemmas that he encounters with regards to the designing of spaces around the world. 

Citing numerous past projects, from the designing of local buildings such as the Singapore Management University (SMU) with its open atmosphere concept and the Breadtalk Headquarters which was shaped like a bread, he moved on to his overseas projects such as "Commune by the Great Wall", the Singapore Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo and the designing of the Kinokuniya main store in Sapporo. With the aid of ample preliminary sketches, photographs and beautifully rendered designs, Kay Ngee walked us through how ideas crystallize with passionate and thorough explanations.Through the different cases, Kay Ngee highlighted how he responded to the varied scenarios that stretched and tested the limits of thinking creatively while meeting the specific demands of each project. In other words, the audience was also presented with an insight into the architectural dilemma, of forming one's own perception and principles with regards to the fields of practice and the subsequent application of these beliefs upon the design of each new building.

I must admit, before the talk began, I was wondering about what possible relation between architecture and curating the nation could there be? But my doubts were soon challenged as Kay Ngee began to vividly illustrate the historical concerns that had been "built" into his buildings. Being a strong believer in how the history of a place should shape designs of buildings, he often made sure his buildings were able to connect to certain historical contexts the actual site held. The designing of SMU was one such example, where he recognized the historical significance the ground on which the University was to be built upon. He therefore attempted to structure the building in such a manner that it emphasized on negotiating the design of the University alongside the presence of other historically important buildings in the area, like the Singapore Art Museum and the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. The Singapore Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo represented an effort to portray a certain historical narrative about Singapore to China. It was designed in such a way that served as a challenge to the convention of taken-for-granted perceptions of Singapore and its people. At the same time, it emphasized upon certain historical aspect that Singapore had taken upon itself with pride, like its identity as a "garden city".

One particular point he made that I found to be quite inspiring was his mention of designing buildings, especially within historical spaces, in such a manner that they would have some form of 'dialogue' with each other. This idea of a dialogue between buildings points to the concept of buildings as forms of historical narratives, at times complimenting and at times competing with each other, telling different stories and perspectives about different historical periods. That if one looked closely enough, it is possible to discern the historical memories and narratives that might had been composed into the designs of the buildings, contributing to the efforts by different scholars in the telling of a nation's history. Kay Ngee is also an accomplished writer, and I managed to find this link where he discusses his concept of Magnetic Fields of Cities. Click here


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