Till death do us part: Designer Eldon Ng on the inspiration behind his winning proposal for a modern cremation centre

A rendering of the crematorium from the outside.
PHOTO: Eldon Ng

Death isn’t a topic widely discussed, especially in a fairly conservative nation like Singapore. That was one of the things that inspired my design for the Asia Young Designer Awards.

The idea I conceived was that of a modern cremation centre, linked to a columbarium and an urban farm. In this concept, humanity gives back to the earth and society – quite literally – with the cremation process.

A rendering of the crematorium from the outside.
PHOTO: Eldon Ng

To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting a win – in fact, I didn’t think it was even possible because of the topic that I was addressing. Furthermore, I was conscious of the various cultural norms that may be challenged by my proposal, especially in a racially and religiously diverse nation like Singapore.

However, questioning the norms of today forms a large part of my work, thanks to a semester I had with the inspiring Professor Bobby Wong at the National University of Singapore. He allowed me the freedom of thought and expression while encouraging me to continuously challenge what we usually take for granted.

A rendering of a hallway inside the building.
PHOTO: Eldon Ng

The inspiration for the proposal was conceived at the start of the pandemic, especially in those moments where we all clapped and even sang collectively for the front-liners. It was then that I felt humanity’s desire to be connected with one another, to provide aid, support and love – to essentially feel less alone.

Thus, the topic of death came to mind when Professor Bobby asked “How can such a simple task of empathising and sharing be expressed and carried out in light of the pandemic?

How different would it be?” Death is something that we are all fearful of, something that equalizes us, something that the pandemic unfortunately highlighted, something we can all relate to emotionally.

Eldon Ng, winner of Nippon Paint’s Asia Young Designer Awards 2020/2021 in the Architecture category.
PHOTO: Eldon Ng

Though there was plenty of inspiration, it was still a journey full of obstacles. One of the greatest challenges was to ensure that the project did not embark on a religious agenda. Hence, architectural expression and form were focused on practicality and function.

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Even the theatrics of space were carefully curated such that they did not represent or favor any religious practices. Remaining religiously neutral whilst dealing with the topic of death was extremely challenging as these two elements are often intertwined. I am grateful that by the end of the semester, I was able to properly address these issues in the final design.

Being part of initiatives like Nippon Paint’s Asia Young Designer Awards is an opportunity for growth, as they offer a platform for young designers like me to showcase our designs to a larger audience.

They also allow us the opportunity to network with industry heavyweights, experts and professionals, who offer insights and knowledge for purposeful design.

As with all critique, I believe that there is no such thing as bad criticism as they encourage improvement. My greatest takeaway is definitely the valuable opinions of the panelists and anyone who has taken the time to converse with me on the project.

These conversations have sharpened my understanding and offered me insight into areas I can improve on.

This article was first published in Home & Decor.