Architecture as Urban Art

Published on 29 September 2015

As Archifest returns for its ninth edition, we examine the relationship between art and architecture.


There is a common belief that art and architecture are related, but they’re really two different animals,” says architect Ho Wai Kit, who is currently on a year-long hiatus to take on visual art and music projects. He is also contributing an art piece to the ninth edition of the annual Singapore architecture festival, Archifest, presented by the Singapore Institute of Architects. “Architecture is more design than art, and design is based on providing answers to problems. Art is about asking questions, it’s an entirely different role and function.”

Accordingly, Ho’s wall mural/installation ‘Tabula Merah’ poses this question to the public: what buildings would you like to see in Singapore? Visitors are encouraged to grab a drawing tool and add whatever they fancy to Ho’s slick drawing of our island’s existing cityscape. This is in line with this year’s Archifest theme of ‘What Future?’, which aims to encourage the general public to add their voices and imagination to the future of Singapore architecture.


“In this sense, the art at Archifest is a great starting point for architecture,” says Lee Zhi Jie of RichardHO Architects and one of the directors of this year’s festival. “We’re using art to incorporate public imagination of what architecture in Singapore can be. These contributions in turn serve as inspiration for architects because as creators of buildings, architects must always consider what people want to do with these buildings and how they feel about various spaces in Singapore.

“The main aim of Archifest has always been to encourage the public to take greater ownership of their built environment. Many people feel that because property is expensive in Singapore, coupled with the proliferation of government housing, most of us will never get a chance to have a say in the buildings we live and work in. But when the people demand things, there will be change. As it is, there are already avenues to voice our views. Even at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, before a master plan is implemented for, say, Housing & Development Board (HDB) flats, the public is invited to offer ideas and comments. So even before that, we hope to get more people thinking about the possibilities for buildings around them.”

In line with that, other artworks exhibited at Archifest 2015 include photographer Caleb Ming’s ‘Plot’, featuring photographs of several open spaces in Singapore gazetted for development. Then there’s Sixtrees Viz Comms’ ‘The New Good Old Days’, which juxtaposes lost icons of Singapore against our modern landscape. Other highlights include films, talks and workshops. The aim of it all is to encourage visitors to consider what buildings they want in post-SG50 Singapore.

“Many people don’t really understand that the buildings you spend time in, and those that are around you, completely impact the way you live,” says Lee. “For example, the buildings in certain parts of Singapore’s east are not so high-rise, and are arranged in a certain way so you can see the sky and the sea. People feel the difference, and it also attracts lots of cafes, which in turn affects the lifestyle of the area. From a more micro point of view: is your HDB block a point block or a slab block? Because this affects how you interact with your neighbours.”

WONDERWALL Like an increasing number of buildings in Singapore, the new Indian Heritage Centre demonstrates design that complements the building’s purpose in both function and form.
PHOTO  Chuan Pictures


Of course, Archifest also encourages people to think about the aesthetics of possible buildings, not just its function. “As an industry, architects are learning to blend functional elements and aesthetics, such that buildings become artworks in themselves. So there’s also that relationship between art and architecture,” says Lee. “Of course, there are the obvious staples etched on our skyline, like Marina Bay Sands. But even if you talk about something as everyday as public housing, there’s The [email protected], a good blend of not compromising art while serving function.

“The reverse is increasingly true as well. While there was once perhaps, a perception that Singapore’s signature skyline buildings were mainly for international events and visitors’ viewing pleasure, rather than being part of our lives, more and more of these buildings have increasing engagement with Singaporeans. When it opened, the Singapore Sports Hub had a huge event for the public to explore its compound and facilities; the Esplanade constantly has free events for families.

“Hopefully, all this will increase the public’s ownership of Singapore’s architecture, because the contribution of public imagination can only increase the possibilities and help architects better provide buildings people want and need.”

Ho agrees. “There is an impression of a disconnect between the public and architecture — they think architecture is one visionary designing everything,” he says.

“But in our day and age, people have access to relevant information, the approach is more collaborative. For example, if you ask me to make additions to my cityscape in ‘Tabula Merah’, I have no idea, to be honest, what I would draw. So I’ll leave that to the public.”

PHOTO  SCDA Architects
RAINBOW CONNECTION Even with the future as its theme, Archifest also makes connections to the past with exhibits such as ‘The New Good Old Days’ and Royston Tan’s film, Old Places. 

Archifest is on till 10 October. For more information do visit

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