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A City Memorial

Part 2 Project 2001
Mun Kit Chan
National University of Singapore Singapore Singapore
The history of the development of Singapore is never continuous. It is made up of “stops and starts, of presences and absences.” The architectural history of our city attest to a development made up of these “presences” and “absences”. The presences are gazetted as “conservation sites” and “national monuments”, of parts that are vital to a history organized into narratives or images. This act of incorporation of history into our urban fabric however, is often also one of selection. Where the determining forces are weak, voids exists between these “presences”. The absences are in turn marked as “historic sites” which can only be filled by memories of our city.

This thesis thus reexamines the limitation of the architecture our city as collective memories for its people and the existing process of incorporating history in our built environment. It addresses the importance of collective memories to form the guiding thread of the entire complex of urban structures and its inherent conflict with urban development. As much as these “presences” are important to the development of the city, the presence of the “absences” are crucial as for “without memory, without reading the traces of past, there can be no recognition of difference, no tolerance for the rich complexities and instabilities of personal and cultural, political national identities.”

A “city memorial” is strategized to occupy the historical voids between these “presences” offering potential alternatives to complete the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of our built heritage. The memorial comprises essentially of an archive that preserves and keep detail records of our built heritage and a stage that provides the link for the relationship between the past and the respective present. Unlike the city, the memorial gains significance through the changing landscape of the city. The proposed memorial is located at Bras Basah Park, a significant void in the heart of the Civic and Cultural District. The development of the CCD is a testimony to the selective process of incorporating history in our built environment and the site offers an alternative to these existing processes as a symbolic locus of that historical void.

Mun Kit Chan


“The project is a memorial archive and museum of the built environment. It is devised as an alternative to existing processes of the city as collective memories for its people. It sought to work together with and complement the existing system of preserving the built heritage.”

In this design, the student reexamines the limitation of the architecture of the city as collective memories for its people and the existing process of incorporating history in our built environment. “It addresses the importance of collective memories to form the guiding thread of the entire complex of urban structures and its inherent conflict with urban development. As much as these “presences” are important to the development of the city, the presence of the “absences” are crucial as for without memory, without reading the traces of past, there can be no recognition of difference, no tolerance for the rich complexities and instabilities of personal and cultural, political and national identity of Singapore”. Thus, the design language here takes intentionally a non-formal approach, which tries to avoid a physical “presence” of memories; instead, the history is represented and presented in an “eventual” fashion. The whole building is designed into underground, which frees the upper space as the public park, here history is offered as an alternative, rather than imposed as a compulsory. This “eventual” language is even carried through consistently into interior space: the conventional walls, which work as separations are here turned into positive “containers” of “events”.

The merits of the design lie in the way that the new intervention responds to and serves surrounding conditions, without losing it’s own identity. The design shows clear and sensitive understanding of the balance between the resolution of function and poetic interpretation of space.

2001
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