Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Genious subdued or youthful idealism?

You tell me.

A designer, a worker and a rich man meet. Rich man gives the designer a block of marble and says 'build me the most beautiful fountain in the world!'. Scribble scribble sketch sketch - eureka! The designer has drawn up the most beautiful fountain never seen before that will fit perfectly in the rich man's garden. Now the designer hasn't got the skills to actually carve the marble himself so he asks the worker this: 'A rich man has asked me to design the most beautiful fountain in the world, and here is my design, I want you to build it out of this piece of marble' So away goes the worker and chisle chisle chisle he goes..but his tools aren't strong enough and so they break trying to carve the intricate design. He goes back to the designer with the design and tells him that his design is too intricate and cannot be built, besides the rich man will not want that. And so the designer comes back the next day after a sleepless night designing something less intricate and perhaps less beautiful. Again the worker says he cannot build it. This happens again and again. Until one day the designer comes to the worker with a fountain that he saw at I dunno, Ikea. The worker says 'FInally! something I can build!' And so the finished copy goes back to the rich man who sees it, hates it and smacks the designer on the head, chops off his hands and leaves him to bleed to death.

This is how it feels everyday.

At Senthil's leaving party Kyle and I got talking to Senthil's dad about architecture briefly after we cleared up a few things:

Uncle: So how did you manage to get a job in Singapore?
Me: Easy, just used the internet and had a few good interviews *cheeky wink (meant to imply that it was dead easy to get a job, geez do I have to spell it out?)
Uncle: You know you can get expelled from the country. Jailed maybe.. if you are working like that.
Me: OH no no no we have proper working permits and everything its perfectly legitimate (nervous laugh then slowly move away from assuming father)

He caught up with us again and we got talking again. He said something like this: 'the world's greatest architect, I.M.Pei of course, has a building in Singapore.' Now everyone is entitled to their opinions of course so I didn't say anything to protest such a bold claim (that I.M.Pei is the greatest that is. The paper Today a few days ago, had an article about the lack of patents coming from Singapore, not as much innovation as we should have yada yada yada... and so its been on my mind ever since.

Now a number of projects have been built over the years on our little island by some of the international bigwigs out there. Biopolis 'by' Zaha Hadid and the New Supreme Court 'by' Norman Foster to name a few..oh and not to mention the big willies (literally) on Clarke Quay are 'by' Alsop a little birdie said to me.

Why the 'by' you ask? According to the press, both Sir Norm and Zaha don't have the nicest things to say about 'their' designs. Before I carry on here are images of the proposals made:

Sir Norman, when asked about the mothership reportedly claimed that it wasn't his doing and rather it was the choice of the judges. Zaha reportedly stormed out of the project because of, well, creative differences between her and the contractors I believe. I don't have any photos of the mothership but I managed to get a couple sneaky photos of biopolis while I was there.

As a result, you get watered down Zaha where Zaha should be queen of all that is abstract and manic. Oh and a mothership that has landed to defragment the criminals of Singapore and transport them into outerspace. Try googling 'Norman Foster Singapore' on google. The six image hits are oh so sad. Now try googling 'Norman Foster China' and you get a cocktail of images from his one buliding there.

Working in a Singapore office you can see the slump in morale, the lack of passion, ziltch towards that feeling in your stomach that tells you something is actually good yada yada yada.. BUT its not their fault. Okay Zaha might be known for not being the easiest person to get along with and neither is Sir Norm but that's just how creative people are. Alot of architects I've met here are, okay, slightly eccentric - but that goes with the territory, no? And yes they do have very strong opinions about how things should be done, but they aren't that difficult. They still have an idea as to what is possible and what isn't in terms of buildability, costability, designability and *ugh* saleability.

THIS isn't why I slogged my guts out at Uni! I feel so deflated (seriously, quite literally deflated) and disenchanted...

Common scenario (think Little Brit stylee)
Client: Build me a pool on the roof
Architect: Ok, here's a pool on the roof plan.
Contractor: Won't do it.
Architect: But its what the client wants..
Contractor: Nope. Won't do it. I want that one.
Architect: But thats a pool on the ground floor. You said that pools on the ground were cheap leaky holes made for the great unwashed who don't live in condos.
Contractor: Yeah. I know.

And so on..

The problem as I see it, and is by no means constrained to our humble shores but is probably a problem everywhere else in the developing world is that (and this is only talking in architecture terms ok) the architect who should be at the top of the food chain has slipped further and further down to that of a pygmy elephant. All noise and no boot.

A boom some 10-20 years ago meant everyone in the building industry had it good. After that the architects continued going back to school to re-educate themselves while their contractor buddies stayed at home drinking Tiger while missus was working two shifts. Its no wonder Singapore is shitting itself scared that Malaysia is going to 'overtake' , because at this rate, we'll all be fat on Tiger with no money to pay the neighbours for water i.e Singa-poor. xxw


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