There are tours of Singapore, and then there are tours of Singapore. For tourists, this usually means the Marina Bay Sands, the Merlion and Gardens by the Bay. But if you live here, Architours can show you lesser-known but well-designed spaces you've never thought to visit.
Architours, one of the highlights of the annual Archifest, takes place over two weekends, starting today. On the itinerary are stops at the Civil Service Club at Changi, the Indian Heritage Centre or Tokio Marine Centre. On top of that, there are private homes that are specially opened for Architours. The buildings' architects will also be on hand to share their design concepts and stories about working on these projects.
Archifest, Singapore's annual festival that celebrates the urban environment, returns this year with the thought-provoking theme, What Future?
It's particularly timely, what with Singapore celebrating its 50th year of independence. What Future? aims to get Singaporeans thinking about what lies ahead for them. The idea is for participants to envisage their own future of architecture, through myriad activities - from conferences, to exhibitions and workshops.
"For the better part of the year, the national consciousness has been focused on nostalgia and celebrating the nation's history," says Srisaravanan Subramaniam, an architecture designer at Ong & Ong Pte Ltd. "At the same time, there were many conversations about our future. We felt that this atmosphere offered the opportunity to evoke ideas about how we could grow as a city."
Mr Subramaniam, together with Chio Wen Tian from DP Architects and Lee Zhe Jie from RichardHO Architects are this year's curators. All three are recent architecture graduates from National University of Singapore.
They expect about 30,000 visitors to participate in this year's Archifest, now in its ninth edition.
"We want to offer as diverse an array of events as possible while still tying it back to a strong theme as well as the overarching discipline of architecture," says Mr Subramaniam. "We felt that there were many facets of our profession that people might not be familiar with, and we want them to gain a deeper appreciation of our practices."
By that, he means that there are some very specific events which are completely "architectural", such as the City-Studio, where students from the various architecture schools present their work and have discussions with practising architects.
There is also the Archifest Conference, where overseas architects, such as Li Xiaodong from China, and Japan's Waro Kishi, together with Singapore-based architects, Kerry Hill and Wong Mun Summ will discuss the future of their profession.
At the same time, there are more informal activities such as Conversations, a forum which invites artists, writers, researchers and photographers to discuss their work and how it relates to the future and the city.
Some exhibitions worth checking out include Reclaiming Backlanes. These oft-hidden lanes have more potential than we think, and could well be key to the future of shophouse neighbourhoods if turned into viable common spaces.
Movie lovers get a choice of two films - Old Places and Old Romances - both directed by Royston Tan. The former takes audiences to various spots in Singapore that have since made way for redevelopment, while the latter has members of the public sharing their stories about the Singapore of the past.
The films not only play up the nostalgic factor, but are meant to get audiences thinking about questions such as "Do we sit and watch the dystopian vision in these films become a reality or do we find inspiration in the societies which have managed to appropriate contested spaces?" says Mr Subramaniam.
He also highly recommends the short film, 50 Futures. The Singapore Institute of Architects collaborated with a group students from The Puttnam School of Film and LaSalle School of the Arts to interview architects, students and people from different walks of life to seek their thoughts on local architecture. "It is a very light-hearted but important discussion about our city, interspersed with beautiful scenography of Singapore. It really captures what we hope to achieve with this festival," he says.
Archifest 2015 runs from today till Oct 10, with most events held at 79 & 81 Neil Road. Free admission to most events. Architours are priced at S$50 for adults and S$42 for students. For bookings and more information, see www.archifest.sg
This article was first published on September 26, 2015.
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