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Singapore: The Designed City

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“Design shapes our lives,” wrote the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1988 when Singapore organised the first-ever International Design Forum – an event that drew top designers from around the world here. By introducing pragmatic and functional public designs that improved the everyday lives of citizens, Singapore has gone on to redesign itself as a vibrant and liveable global city. In 2015, Singapore was even named as a “Creative City of Design” by UNESCO, capping an over five-decade long effort to improve this city by design. Here are 5 public designs that have shaped Singapore into a place that we can call home.

Designed directions

Whether traveling via trains, buses or taxis, commuters in Singapore will be familiar with the public transport signage that offers directions on how to get around the city. This design was commissioned in 2001 by the Land Transport Authority to unify the then separate signages for the different transport modes. Design consultants Citigate Lloyd Northover created pictograms for the three main transport modes and a public transportation logo that is shaped like the island. This is representative of how the different modes offer seamless travel together. These symbols accompanied by a unique header typeface and a distinctive “Rainforest Green” theme— inspired by how green the city is—make up a visual identity system expressed in maps, signs and notices found across train stations, bus stops and taxi stands.

Rest in memories

Offering a spot of respite from the hustle and bustle of city life, public benches are unsung heroes that rarely call attention to themselves with their utilitarian designs. In memory of the former National Stadium, local creative practice FARM, together with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Singapore Furniture Industries Council, came up with this 2012 initiative to turn the sporting arena’s iconic seating planks into public benches. From a log-like bench by industrial designer Hans Tan, to one carved in the words “DREAM” by art collective PHUNK, the project BENCH resulted in 30 different designs by Singapore’s leading designers, artists and architects. Some 95 of these benches have been located around the city, including destinations like Sentosa, public spaces such as Ang Mo Kio Town Centre and parks like Gardens by the Bay.

Living in style

Over 80 per cent of Singaporeans stay in this design – Public housing apartments by the Housing and Development Board have provided more than just a roof over our heads, but a uniquely Singaporean way of life. From basic and functional creations in the 1960s, these high-rise apartments have evolved to match rising standards of living. The 50-storey tall The Pinnacle@Duxton, designed by ARC Studio and RSP Architects, Planners and Engineers, is an early example of public housing’s future. Not only is it higher and denser, sky gardens also connect its seven tower blocks to offer stunning views. More recently, SkyVille@Dawson and SkyTerrace@Dawson, by architects WOHA and SCDA respectively, offer a mix of unit types and flexible layouts to suit various family sizes and lifestyles. It’s no wonder all three buildings have been awarded the President’s Design Award, Singapore’s highest design accolade.

Let there be night!

The spectacular night views around Marina Bay is all thanks to lights. Specifically, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s lighting masterplan designed by Japanese firm Lighting Planners Associate in 2006. This guide to lighting up developments covers Orchard Road, Singapore River, Bugis, the Central Business District (CBD) and Marina Bay, with each area defined by a unique lighting treatment. For instance, at the Singapore River, bridges and underpasses are dynamically lit to bring out a sense of water. In contrast, the buildings in Bugis are encouraged to have lit signage and media boards to support the vibrant and festive environment, echoing its colourful past. As for the CBD and Marina Bay, the coordinated effort of building owners shining white light on their developments and warm lighting from the inside come together to offer a spectacular view from the bay.

The green, green city

It’s no accident that Singapore is a clean and green city. Whether it is along roads, overhead bridges and even flyovers, these have all been designed to make space for greenery in a decades-long effort to soften the development of a concrete city. Even the choice of what to plant is carefully considered by the National Parks Board. This used to mean selecting trees like the Angsana and Rain Tree that offered shade, but since the 1980s, there has been a shift towards different varieties and flowering trees, such as the ubiquitous bougainvillea that line our bridges and flyovers, adding colour to our city. Greenery has become such a distinctive part of this city that in 2001, five tree-lined roads were conserved as “Heritage Roads”.

This article was originally published on
Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI)


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Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre