Blog by-Dr Jaya Kumar.
Written by Jimmy Lim Cheok Siang,
For use by students at workshop on Tropical Studies at National University of Singapore on 6 – 11 January 1997.
This issue of M.A. features the Southern Region – namely, Melaka, Johore and also Singapore. Technically Singapore is outside but for this issue, some work of PAM members in Singapore are included. Since privatization M.A. had covered the Sabah & Sarawak Chapters and the Northern region.
Johore is referred to constantly as the ‘Boom’ state and that J.B. is the ‘Boomtown’ of the South. It is with some regret that M.A. was unable to record and publish more work from our members. This obviously being the result of everyone being too busy. However, what is featured will be of interest to members in the other States. There is certainly a lot of energy and creativity in the works coming out from the South but whether in the right direction or not only time will tell. Architecture is after all, about aesthetics with a very strong underlining ‘functional’ quality about it.
Being so close to Singapore, it is inevitable that the architecture of J.B.will be influenced by Singapore, that may not necessarily be a bad thing. In architecture, like all things, the influence of cross-fertilisation is always encouraged, as long as one’s vision of the correctness of these outside influences and these influences are filtered and contextualised properly. There are no outstanding buildings in Singapore, which could be re-transposed onto the J.B. urban-scape and be ‘role-modeled’. Nevertheless, the tendency to reproduce ‘corporate-image’ buildings reflecting the modern or ‘hi-tech’ language is very tempting. We may have to accept that J.B. could become a satellite architectural metropolis to Singapore in view of its proximity and the ‘Sin-dollar’.
Architecture is after all, about aesthetics with a very strong underlining ‘functional’ quality about it.
It is worth remembering that most of the notable buildings in Singapore were designed by foreign architects. During the invasion of the ‘foreigners’, there was nothing the SIA (Singapore Institute of Architects) could do, whilst the other SIA kept bringing them in by the planeloads. The airline business became very good whilst Singapore architectural profession became weak. The likes of John Portmen, I.M. Pei, Tange etc; and their ‘look-alike’ were all over Singapore and some even came over to K.L. PAM together with the Immigration Department put a stop to it. The onslaught to K.L. ebbed after that, (or was it the economic recession?).
Singapore Government had always subscribed to a ‘free-market’ situation claiming that a ‘free-market’ would force the uplifting of the quality of work and the Minister had exemplified the Sydney Opera House as an Australian building but designed by a Danish architect and therefore why not Singapore buildings designed by foreign architects? Recently the Malaysian Prime Minister had indicated that Malaysia ought not to reject foreign expertise in order to assist the country become developed by the Year 2020.It would appear that an ‘open-door’ policy is in the offing for the bringing in of foreign workers and for allowing foreign architects to practice in Malaysia. This had to be debated and the pros and cons discussed.
PAM will not subscribe to a total opening of the market for uncontrolled entry of foreign architects. There has to be strict guidelines and control to be worked out with the LAM to ensure the public and ensuring quality and continuity of responsibilities. The fact remains that under existing rules, many prominent local Malaysian architects are already working under the umbrellas of foreign architects or had co-jointly with foreign architects secured projects on the strength and expertise of the foreign architects.
As mentioned earlier, with the popularizing of the airlines industry in Singapore, their local architectural profession lost out, as the ‘Singapore girl’ became world-wide a household name, I.M. Pei became a household name in Singapore.
All national airlines are using the Boeing 747 Jumbo as their major transporter. No country has the technology, skill or industry to build these aircrafts. Because of the special performance, scale and cost, Boeing has monopolized the industry. High-rise/hi-tech buildings are no different to the aircraft. Every major city in the world is reaching for the sky with modern high-rise – although not all of them are of similar standard.
The principle of designing and constructing high-rise buildings employing modern and the latest in building gadgetry and technology is the same in all countries. Modern high-rise buildings provide all the necessary life support system for quality controlled environment and comfort. All systems are set to perform within specific requirements and under certain conditions prevailing. Any variation to the conditions will destabilise the balance of proper performance, comfort level drops and other mechanical system goes haywire.
If the climatic constraints of the tropics are equated to the hostile and oxygen-less atmosphere that aircrafts jet along, then it must follow that buildings built for the tropics must be air-tight and hermetically sealed to check the temperature and relative humidity controls for level of human comfort, thus employing modern in-technology to its fullest and best. The designer in this instance would not have to rely on artificially created devices derived or extricated from traditional and cultural context prior to the invention of modern technology, as we know it today.
For our colleagues in the South, the solution for a tropical highrise cannot be simply transposed from across the causeway or other frivolous examples in Malaysia. An answer to the search for an architectural resolution for the tropical high-rise has not been found and an expression within the regional context simply does not exist currently. Architects must examine the basic principle of what does a highrise and highly ‘intelligent’ building mean? What is the relevance of high-technology architecture? The design approach to hi-technology architecture cannot and must not be addressed in the same simplistic approach as extracting ‘energy’ efficient elements from traditional sources. A complete new vocabulary aimed at addressing modern technology must be produced or else the architect may become redundant and the ‘hi-technologist’ takes over.