Delibirate Constraint -- Dubai learns from Singapore Yet Again

Exuberant Singapore.
A Love Story of Radical Ambition in the Face of Ecological Catastrophe.

written over the past 4 years….yet a work in progress
Erik G. L’Heureux

Utopia and Singapore; has anyone realized how amazingly similar the map of Sir Thomas More’s utopia and the plan for Singapore are?

This is a story of Singapore’s desire to remain relevant. And a story of its continued foresight and ambition. But more than anything, it is a story of Singapore’s survival and the strategies required to overcome its historical burden and self created geographical challenges. It is also a story of Singapore’s unique history of perpetual transformation. It is a projection. A projection of a future Singapore. A sustainable Singapore. A future to sustain itself. And yet it is a projection based on, to use De Koninck’s term; Topophilia – for a love of topos, a love of place, a love of Singapore. The battle for more Topos (topography) is the basis for Singapore’s continued transformation and continued reinvention. Topos is fundamental to its existence. Without topos, would there be such an amazing Singapore Story? And yet the amazing story is that the topography has been entirely constructed. At least 25% of its original size has been artificially added.

Singapore is a fully constructed landscape inside and out. An engorged perimeter, an artificial 365 day green interior. By cutting down its topography Singapore has vastly increased its surface area. Yet this self surgery has left Singapore vulnerable to the very sea that it is transforming into new land. In this landscape of continual transformation, we see the traces of Utopian aspirations: A city in constant change, a city that is at once an idea and a process in of becoming. An island made of new towns, as Sir Thomas More alluded to in his 54 towns in Utopia. In Singapore there are only 24. A perfect economic space of seemingly unlimited potential.

Singapore is the closest thing to utopia and at the same time the farthest thing from it.
Yet utopias are fictions and never lived realities. But Singapore is a real place and a model influencing the development and growth of Dubai, China, and Russia. Singapore has simulated its city experiment, exported to Tianjin and Suzhou.

To Know Singapore is to know where the urbanized world is heading. And to imagine a future Singapore is to imagine future urban configurations. But more importantly, Singapore represents the biggest wet dream of urban and architectural transformation – a vision of the city for perpetual architectural employment and enjoyment. It is a city constantly reinvented. A radical proposition of a future always coming to fruition. Only to be remade once again when the economy heads elsewhere. It’s as though Singapore was ripped from the pages of Calvino’s fantasies.

But as in all love, sometimes love makes one do crazy, seemingly irrational, absurd… yet actually very logical things. This is one such type of love story.

First a few important facts about Singapore: Singapore is the Greenest City on earth, or at least that is the official line. It is also one of the wettest. That is 237 Centimeters, 2.37 Meters, 7.77 Feet of rainfall each year. Singapore has only two resources that have made it successful.
1. People. At 4.8 million it is small. Demographic wise Singapore is a mess. A variety and mix of races, ethnicities, religions, and nationalities, Singapore’s best asset might be its ethnic messiness. Surely its ‘clean’ message is getting a bit old.
2. Water and the ships that traverse its sea lanes. Singapore’s most important public space is the sea lines encircling the island. (or maybe the airspace above it) Singapore has no real “public space” in the sense of a space to fully exhibit ones individuality. But who really cares when it has almost full employment…or at least it did in 2008. The port is the most public of spaces in this small island. The port is free and open for business 24 hours a day, measured in fractions of a second. Singapore has no utilized squares, avenues or civic malls identifiable in a western tradition. But it does have a floating stage and auditorium utilized for National Day. And Singapore now has a “New Padang” constructed as Marina Bay itself. An irony of the city square now as lake only to look at.

It is completely dependent on the generosity of its neighbor’s despite its fear that the tap might be shut off. In Singapore, Water is everything. Yet Singapore has no real fresh water source. Singapore imports, catches, and recycles 100% of its drinkable water. Indonesia isn’t even interested in sharing…or selling for that matter (Singapore has been too successful and jealously runs deep). Singapore’s best invention for liberty might be drinkable water from sewage: “New Water”. With New Water Singapore literally drinks 30% of its own effluence. Yet in rains more in Singapore than 90% of the world’s cities.

Might Singapore’s future be found in the very thing it struggles so hard with?
Singapore claims to have one of the highest population’s densities. Yet it never feels like that on the street. How could such a dense city then be stereotyped as “Singa-bore”? And yet it still wants to grow from today’s size of 4.8 million to 6.5 million. Will it still be boring?
To reach Manhattan’s Density, Singapore’s population would grow to 34 million. Singapore in its quest for urban supremacy – as an Ideal City – aspires to be one of the top cities of the world. It competes for tourism dollars, creative talent, and investment against: Hong Kong, New York City, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, and Moscow. The average size of each of those cities is over 8.1 million. The current size of Singapore is 4.8 million. The other cities of the world at 4.8 million: Boston, Geneva, Frankfurt, Cape town, Yokahoma. But no one really cares about those cities. Why should anyone really care about Singapore? And why isn’t Singapore competing against these smaller cities?

Because Singapore fully embraces its slang stereotype: Kiasu-ism: “a fundamental fear of failing or being left behind. A fear of being irrelevant.” Over in Dubai, an even smaller population seems to be doing a better job at eclipsing Singapore’s shine– in their own aspiration to be the best. Dubai’s own hydrological ambitions have overtaken Singapore’s transformation in every category. What will Singapore ever do?

...Will it give up?

But this is fundamentally Singaporean -- To be threatened… To be on the verge of erasure…to be on the verge of being irrelevant. Singapore is in a state of constant self constructed crisis. It is afraid that it will be attacked from its neighbors. It is afraid that it will be attacked from within. It is afraid because its best resource is only its people. It is afraid that it is small(ish).

Singapore is afraid that it will be poor again. It is afraid that foreign talent will leave. It is afraid that the water might run out. The one thing it is not afraid of is the consequences of its own ambitions.

And now more than ever, Singapore is afraid that climate will massively reconfigure its landscape, undoing its own history of self modification and extension. The flattened landscape of Singapore has become big. But it also has become vulnerable. In a landscape of increased area and radically reduced volume, the biggest to Singapore’s form is the sea itself. In fact it always has always been this way. The sea has created Singapore and it now very well could undo it.

Florida is about to go under.
The Netherlands has been fighting for a very long time.

Singapore due to its reconfigured topography is threatened to fall back into the sea.
Singapore has flooded before, though this has been conveniently forgotten.

A Flattened Landscape is perfectly functional and yet entirely vulnerable.
A rise in sea levels of a few meters will submerge this fantastically functionally flat landscape, undoing 40 years of ambition.


Singapore’s Government is even faster than me...August 29, 2007 the Straights Time publishes “Vulnerable to rising seas, Singapore envisions a giant seawall”. Only a radical transformation of Singapore will save it from its own nightmare…
And it is not a casino…

Only imagining such a complete transformation will reassert Singaporeans ability for massive change…

If only to remain in a constant state of changing relevance. To remain on the path to utopia...

Imagine a city of equilibrium rather than restriction; a city of embracing its hydrological past as a beginning for a new future.

Imagine a city embracing its almost theme park like, ever-changing, culture as shopping, with prostitution, where everything and everyone is on the market, in the city’s search to produce the most economic space on earth.

Imagine a city where the best of everything is available, where innovation happens as a product of the best shopping market practices. A city that everyone likes but maybe does not immediately love. But eventually does.

Imagine a city where in the extension of this thinking is taken to its logical conclusions, where we find a city like no other, a city that in fact becomes the most amazing, constantly changing fantasy, securing its relevance, if only due to its ambitions, and massive ability to change
Imagine a city where change is the norm, where architects live out their fantasies, where the Tower of Babel exists… though rather than reaching for the sky, it reaches out to the sea.

Now imagine a history where Thailand finally gets it act together and cuts a canal through its leg. 4 days shipping time is saved.

Singapore looses the most important attribute to its competition. – Its public space is no more.

Imagine the solution to Singapore’s impending irrelevancy is found precisely in Singapore’s unique history of Transformation.

Imagine a perfect Gated Community, a continuation of an amazing history of Additions.

Imagine a 3 meter flood.

Imagine a 5 meter flood

Where will all the heartlander’s go?

Preserve the important things. Preservation is always economic in Singapore

Singapore could follow its most famous student Dubai… where teacher finally learns from her student.

Is a New Mangrove the Answer in the shape of palms?

Or does Singapore head out on its own…in the vast blue tabula rasa that surrounds this small nation, creating its own vision?

To love is fight for survival:

Two acts of survival must take:

1. Singapore Floods itself
2. And Singapore floats herself.

Singapore does both.

In this crazy almost plausible story.

And of course on a massive scale.

Flooding insures Singapore's hydrological security. It also put its interior in equilibrium with the rising sea level change.

(We already know what happened in New Orleans due to its defense…)

Floating future Singapore thrusts new development in equilibrium with its surroundings – albeit an ocean one.

A short term expense insures long term viability.

In tough economic times: a new engine for growth.

Keppel Shipyard couldn’t be happier. An urban form meets ocean technology at a colossal scale.

Singapore is already surrounded by the world’s largest moving structures.

And the Government maybe is in on it already… but where are the Architects?

Only the engineers seem to care.

Self Flooding: A ‘New Water’ landscape
Flooded Interiors vs. Floating Exteriors

Self Reorganization:

Let the ocean currents have their way.

Density is the way to go.

Singapore shops for the best of everywhere.

A Grand Architectural Sampling: Co-opt City Strategies rather than invent new ones –

Displacement always forces innovation

Floating Ideal Cities: The Best of Anyplace

A Deformation for Maximum Frontage: Perfect Calibration of Real Estate and value.

A Dramatic Form –

We even like what we see from Google Earth

A Continued Safe Haven for Shipping.

A city of interiority and exterior looking escapism

A city of Architectural variety.

Dubai can’t even come close.

A nation protected with international limits.

An ideal state...

Floating in the sea, protecting by its own ambitions.

A landscape of maximum frontage, minimum impact.

The Perfect Gated Community on a National Scale.

A return to the defensive city where everything is inside the gate.

A city of leisure and internalized pleasure.

A city of exclusivity and luxury.

A city of self imposed interiority with maximum view.

A city of cruise ships going nowhere but changing all the time.

A city where Singapore's love affair with the mall becomes all there is.

Where perpetual motion is replaced by perpetual change.

Where the promise of Le Corbusier is finally fulfilled.

Where the “void” in the “void deck” returns to the sea: a sea of self constructed New Water.

Where Singapore finally returns to its ocean faring roots embracing its uniquely Singaporean history.

A City where its manufacturing talents are retooled for self preservation.

A City of contrasts and contradictions of big things and small things.

A City of manufacturing and shopping: friendly, efficient and massive.

A City of objects in a glistening blue sea.

A City of HDBs embracing their typological lineage.

A City of Dormitories for Everyone

A City of Canopies and Connectors – there is no other option.

A City of absurdity and logic.

A scenario of a City that OMA is already building.

The MRT is already designed for flooding

A City of Containers and Tides

A City of piercing verticals and floating horizontals.

A City of individual sea faring farmers

A City of horizontality and density

A City where Wal-Mart IS the Port

A City of Greenpeace resting on Exxon Mobile

City of Oil and a City of Abalone Farmers support one another

A City of Monsanto and floating Rice plantations.

A City of an Architectural dreams Waiting to be realized.

A City in love with all cities.

A City like no other.

An Exuberant City.

An Exuberant Singapore.

To be continued…

Copyright: Erik G. L'Heureux

Presented at Rojak 14 June 2009

"Exuberant Singapore" noted at The Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony March 29, 2007
Washington University in St. Louis, USA

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