Singapore’s moment: critical regionalism, its colonial roots and profound aftermath

Crinson, Mark. “Singapore’s Moment: Critical Regionalism, Its Colonial Roots and Profound Aftermath.” The Journal of Architecture 22, no. 4 (2017): 689-709.

Crinson made an extensive analysis of how Singapore chose to adopt modernism as a start to search for her national identity and suppress the past of colonial background.

He first brought out Frampton’s theory of critical regionalism which was a balanced idea between ‘national culture’ and ‘universal civilization’ and try to examine under Singapore’s context. For Singapore, he believed that her own version of ‘universal civilization’ was created by high economic growth and export-oriented industrialization (Crinson, 2017, page 589).

I agree that Singapore’s context at the time flavored the adoption of modernism as the way out. Since Singapore has a diverse cultural background since the British colonial period and the society was formed by several ethnic groups. Meanwhile, the limited land supply and natural resources made the nation inevitable to survive by trading with the external markets and nations. While modernism was held high during the corresponding period of time, the idea of modernism also started to immerse into the nation.

Meanwhile, Crinson also stated that western education for Singaporeans was also a reason to take the modernist side. For instance, the three founding members of the Malayan Architects Co-Partnership: Chen Voon Fee, Lim Chong Keat and William Lim were educated in the West. Their education dedicated on modernist ideas inspired their design ideas and tried to integrate with local elements from their cultural backgrounds (Crinson, 2017, page 592).

In my opinion, the introduction of western modernist ideas could be a double-edged sword for Singapore to find her own identity. Strictly to say, their design mindsets and ideologies were strongly influenced by the West, which was also one of the colonial powers back in time (ie. United Kingdom). Although the idea of modernism might not be tied directly with imperial ideologies, the indirect relationship between the educator (the former Imperial West) and the receiver (Singapore, as a former colony of United Kingdom) becomes interesting to see like how regionalism with the integration of Western modernism and local cultures and elements could really create a new and distinctive identity disconnected from its colonial past.

2 Comments on “Singapore’s moment: critical regionalism, its colonial roots and profound aftermath

  1. Hi Haydon, this is an interesting perspective to take on the reason for Singapore’s pursuit of modernism, although you might consider clarifying what ‘modernism’ means as “the way out”, as opposed to development.

    Also, I’m not so sure about “western modernist ideas” being “a double-edged sword”. Perhaps to add on, rather than disconnecting her colonial past while in search for her national identity, Singapore went on to embrace heritage by conserving colonial architecture from the 1980s.

    • Hi Matthew, thank you for your comment. I believe that ‘modernism’ was a new tool at the time to change the cityscape of Singapore to make a contrast from the existing colonial and vernacular architecture. Meanwhile, the minimal use of decorations and ornaments makes ‘modern architecture’ becomes a more neutral image from articulated decorations that might carry religious or ideological identities that might amplify her colonial background.

      And mentioning about the ‘double-edged sword’, I believe that the content is more focused on the incident of the redevelopment project rather as an overview of the situation. I agree that conserving colonial architecture is one of the ways to educate future generations about the dynamic Singaporean history. Yet, it took a more absolute approach to consider rather Singaporean modernism at the time was a brand new local solution or a refined version of Wester modernism that it was easy to relate with each other.

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