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Archiving the Anaesthetised Landscape

Part 2 Project 2010
Lee Hui Lian
National University of Singapore Singapore Singapore
The thesis is a critique on the development of Singapore’s urban development as an anaesthetised landscape. It questions the selective erasure of history and the meaning of land through looking at archivisation from various perspectives.

Singapore, a city and a country, in its aim to be both marketable and idealised, projects a future that constantly displaces the past before the ripening of the present. This often results in a dramatisation and orchestration of the urban landscape – transplanted trees (and now Super Trees), crafted vistas of high-rise living next to beaches and parks by the sea (especially along the expressway from the airport to the city centre) and carefully outlined skyline at the central business district. The ‘real’ is hence compromised; it has become an anaesthetised landscape where selective history, and memory, is kept.

Thus, the archive of Singapore has to be resuscitated, not merely in the form of an entity that documents and expands the autonomy of archivisation, but also a physical body that archives the transformations in the Singapore landscape. It deals with the mode and process of knowing, the physicality of which aims to connect to the real beyond the cosmetic patch up of urban planning. It anticipates a forgetting of a land- seascape displacement during land reclamation. The use of large underground spaces serves to dichotomise the surface and subterranean development; the subterranean archive metaphorically attempts to capture the real. In essence, the project is manifested in three categories: archive as architecture, archive as document, and archive as mnemonic. It continuously expands or destructs, reacting to the changes in landscape and theurbanscape. It will never be complete. It grows, corrodes, extends and destructs.

The site, Marina East, was chosen as it was the first major reclamation project in Singapore that altered the land and coastal profile in a series of phases. Katong Fort that marked the original coastline of Marina East, was as a result, buried, discovered and reburied in what became Katong Park that we see today. The artificial reclaimed land has since been seamlessly stitched into the original landscape, the past conveniently forgotten.

Lee Hui Lian

Singapore has constantly gentrified its national land to increase its marketable value and to perpetuate its myth; the green city. The grand scenery dramatized through an expressway successfully expresses its economic development and perpetuates the myth, but not without any cost. The transformation and expansion of land perfectly erased its original condition and transforming process, while diminishing an opportunity for people to trace their history and identity.

The project critically engaged with such an issue in an unconventional manner. Focusing on the actual soil and sand, the investigation was conducted to find out where they were excavated and how they were brought to and compacted on the reclamation site from 1970 onwards. Furthermore, such investigation was extended to a future scenario for the reclamation – how and what extent Singapore will reclaim its land in the future, based on the existing available technology. The outcome of these technical/historical investigations was subsequently examined in relation to the way people engage with the soil and sand. Here, the project rigorously pursued a strong impact and sensation that the people feel when they are in contact with such material, instead of domesticating it by presenting it with descriptions and narratives seen in museums. And it was the only way to distinguish the attempt from the domesticated and dramatized landscape of Singapore and criticize such landscape.

The underground space proposed reveals actual strata of the different soils and sand, while exposing footings and piles of the existing buildings and the fort constructed in the 19th century. What it reveals is not only the past but future elements: the project extends to an actual construction site for the future reclamation where the dried seabed, caissons and flow of soils are exposed to the people’s eyes in an unmediated manner. The ontogenetic approach and bold attempt that this project demonstrated is intellectually thoughtful. Such attempt is supported by a series of precise investigations which give a reality to the project. Furthermore, the expression by the drawings and models are coherent to the intent of the project. Therefore, the project, definitely I believe, deserves the President Medal.

Prof Sakamoto Tsuto
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