Catch up with acclaimed architect and pop-up artist Fiona Tan, as she shares the trials and delights of her profession, eye-opening moments teaching in North Korea, and being an architect in today’s climate. (Article thumbnail picture of Fiona by Meng Kwang Koh)
I KNOW YOU DON’T KNOW fun facts vending machine for URA Parking Day 2014 (In collaboration with Dawn Lim)
Being in a creative household encouraged Fiona’s early forays into design and architecture. Her mother worked in the design industry, and her father provided a sounding board for ideas whenever Fiona needed help. As she grew older, it became a norm for her to invite friends over for creative jam sessions and collaborative projects. Such practices inevitably supported Fiona’s transition into her position today as full-time architect, and hobbyist installation artist. With the aid of the DesignCouncil Singapore (Dsg) Scholarship, Fiona graduated with a Masters in Architecture at The Barlett School of Architecture in London, in 2013. Fiona currently works at Zarch Collaboratives, an interdisciplinary design studio with a daring and collaborative vision for groundbreaking projects.
For Fiona, one of the privileges of being in Architecture is having her work create a direct impact on people and society. The most satisfying part of her job is making a tangible difference to the built environment, by seeing a project through from the drawing board to a built and inhabited space. The practice of architecture is a collective effort involving constant dialogue and coordination. Fiona asserts that the same processes are involved in the safeguarding of our built environment. Fiona is grateful for the chance to pursue meaningful conversations in her role as co-curator of Zarch Collaborative project initiative, Eden. Through this programme, she has hosted a series of workshops and conversations involving open dialogues between pioneer architects and peers, and other artists. They touch on topics such as nostalgia, the enbloc craze, and community-centred initiatives, amongst other contemporary social and architectural concerns.
Hoisting of SS NIMBY into place for OH! Joo Chiat Open House 2015 (Collaboration with Randy Chan and Zenas Deng)
Beyond the conventional definitions of an architectural practice, Fiona is fascinated by the possibilities of engaging in social commentary via transient projects that marry art and architecture. These include pop-up installations, temporary urban interventions, and public pavilions and showcases, that bring an element of surprise to an otherwise predictable urban landscape. One such project was the collaborative venture with Randy Chan and Zenas Deng of Zarch Collaboratives. They created a temporary installation for the 2015 Joo Chiat OH!Open House exhibition. They brought in a coastguard vessel that they docked at the backyard of 136 Tembeling Road which acted as a modern day Noah’s Ark. Named the SS Nimby, the vessel acted as a marine memory capsule. Residents of the neighbourhood were asked to contribute various artefacts and belongings to the installation, responding to the question: “What is the most cherished memory you were to bring with you aboard the Ark?” From a wooden chair, to an antique typewriter, to a treasured Qipao, unique stories of transition, separation, and loss were told through each memento, displayed within the vessel. Combining personal history, heritage, and local engagement, SS Nimby reflects on the things we treasure, asking what is valuable to us, and what we want to endure through the passage of time.