Venice Biennale exhibit illustrates Singapore's compact housing model
By Grace Chua
A slice of Singapore
IF THE world were built like Singapore, its entire population could be housed on a plot a little larger than Texas.
That is the premise behind an exhibit at the upcoming Venice Biennale's architectural section, demonstrating the viability of Singapore's compact, high-density housing model.
Of course, the designers are not really proposing this. But the model, commissioned by the DesignSingapore Council and the Singapore Institute of Architects, argues that Singapore's example is a possibility and the urban sprawl of many world cities is unsustainable.
While Singapore is dense, it is not all that crowded. Just a third of its land is built-up. The rest of it comprises water catchment areas and land for defence, parks, transport, industry and so on.
People here may think the island-state is cramped, but that may not be the case, contends Mr Khoo Peng Beng, lead curator of the project and founder of architecture firm Arc Studio.
'It's the rapid pace of life they are reacting to,' he said, noting that congestion is relative. A Hong Kong city resident might find Singapore spacious.
The exhibit aims to highlight urban-sustainability issues, which will loom large in the future. By 2050, a total of 70 per cent of the world's population could live in cities, particularly in the developing world.
The 35m-long model depicts a 'slice of Singapore' from Tuas to Pulau Ubin, representing the various proportions of land use here. It also has snapshots of buildings and life here, such as of senior citizens at the void decks of HDB blocks.
If Singapore can house its projected 6.5 million people in just 710 sq km of land, Mr Khoo and his team say, the world population of 6.5 billion could fit into a thousand times that area.
That 710,000 sq km is less than 0.5 per cent of the globe's land area, and is a little larger than Texas in the United States.
The exhibit, entitled 1,000 Singapores - A Model Of The Compact City, will officially open in Italy on Aug 26.
After the Biennale ends on Nov 21, it will be brought back to Singapore.
But while the thousand-Singapores equation works mathematically, its architects themselves admit it is not perfect.
Singapore's food and energy still have to be imported, they say, and only in the past couple of decades has access to clean water not been a problem.
Curator and National University of Singapore architecture don Erik L'Heureux also notes that the constant rebuilding is ultimately not sustainable.
'Too much energy is consumed in the production of buildings and then they become irrelevant too quickly,' he said.
Sustainability advocate Tay Lai Hock, 46, who runs the environmental and social non-profit group Ground-Up Initiative, pointed out that social and financial equality must be part of urban sustainability.
'You can't just talk about recycling chutes, solar panels and clean water. Where is the human factor?' he asked.
In response, Mr Khoo said the exhibit aims to raise these sorts of questions about sustainable consumption.
[Yes. The constant renewal and rebuilding is wasteful. Also, Singapore is both blessed and cursed. While there are no natural resources, there are also few natural disasters. Is it possible to find 1000 sites which are equally "safe"?
The energy and food supply chain is also a weakness. Singapore's location as a crossroads means that supply is generally not an issue. Even energy. But again, how can this be replicated 1000 times?
That said, if the lesson is for compact development instead of urban sprawl, then yes, that is a possible solution. This reduces our impact on the environment, reduces our carbon footprint in general, allows for efficient planning and implementation of transit, utilities, and municipal services. And that would be environmentally friendly.]