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The Kitsch and Its Cast

Part 2 Project 2009
Elita Mei Lin Ong
National University of Singapore Singapore
The ‘kitsch-ified’ Singapore.

Singapore, today, has become a pastiche of everything kitsch – buying into the lifestyle of vicarious experiences and rapid bombardment of temporary pleasures, leaving us yearning for more, seeking “What’s new? What’s next”.

Is there a place in this age of spectacle and speed for a pause from this endless chase of immediate consumption?

This 'kitsch-ified' chase is devoid of architecture, thriving only in the spectacle. This is very apparent along the Singapore River – the image of Singapore portrayed to the world – where architecture is engulfed by the mask of the spectacle, the kitsch. If the reading of the city is through its architecture, then what is read of Singapore is the cultural mindset knee deep in the quicksand of kitsch. And again I stress, the ‘kitsch-ified’ Singapore.

This thesis is to create its counterpoint, resulting in architecture that would space for itself, bringing architecture to its intrinsic fundamentals of sculpting space.
Dynamics of the cast and the mold, and works of Rachel Whiteread are explored, resulting in architectural spaces that reveals the ghosts of what it used to be, a trace – redirecting one’s gaze from the subject to the familiar instead. This led me to define and create a familiar but yet a counter-place for the modern day Singaporean – proposing a space for the ‘modern day monk.’

A non-defined program of an amalgamation of a hotel, monastery and prison, where this modern day monk would have temporary stay (like a hotel), but live apart from the secular society – the kitsch – in a more ascetic monasteric manner. Like a prison, these ‘monks’ would have to work for what they consume – very unlike that of the vicarious indulgence of a hotel stay.

Sitting across the Singapore River from Clarke Quay – the epitome of all things kitsch – five non-descript blocks sit, arranged around a public axis creating a familiar cast of Clarke Quay. They are connected underground, creating an introverted architectural labyrinth below – a hidden autonomous subterranean city. Receive, Learn, Sustain, Work, Reflect – all within a compound.

As such, the ‘modern day monks’ dwell through their own means, within the intrinsic nature of architecture of truth.

Elita Mei Lin Ong

Elita presents her scheme with beautiful and atmospheric drawings. The thesis is a very intelligent reflection of themes that surround Singapore’s vibrant self indulgence, consumption, and the entertainment industry of a young capitalist economy. She questions the demoralized pattern of living for materialistic satisfaction without romantic morality and uses architecture as an ironic and critical statement.

Situated on high-value land adjacent to the historically significant Singapore River, the design is a sculpted opposite of Clarke Quay, a flamboyant nightlife kaleidoscope with bars and restaurants, entertainment spots, and retail shops. As an antithesis, she proposes a retreat for the urban citizen. Creating archaic yet very aesthetic spaces, she plays wisely with the asceticism of a monastery where guests become voluntary prisoners of sobriety and contemplation for a short period of time. Herein she finds a synthesis of modern living in such a lovely place that you can check out any time, but never leave.

As a basis for the architectural discourse, the art of Rachel Whiteread and Jeff Koons is explored and, with it, the artificiality and kitsch of the existing urban setting. Uniquely tailored for the site, the interpretation of the positive and negative creates a transformation between the mould and the cast. This reflexion was used to define a strong urban position and to create an image of monolithic solidity.

She uses a neo-rationalistic language with subtle irony to counterpoint her architectural response to the urban kitsch of Clarke Quay, whereby the effigy cast of the spectacular becomes an artifact of art per se. Finally the question of kitsch in Singapore becomes redundant.

Mr Asst Prof Florian Schaetz
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