CONVERSATIONS-005

FARMACY Conversations: Tan Mingyin, Principal, 8DGE

The Heart of a Place.

As the conception of the Founder’s Memorial gains momentum, this first series of Farmacy Conversations kicks off with some critical insight into commemorative practice and a nation’s ways of remembering.

How can architecture and design give agency to shed light on multiple historical narratives, rather than just one? Instead of a static monument that casts history in stone, can a memorial constantly evolve, projecting new narratives through generations?

Tan Mingyin discusses the creative process behind 8DGE’s shortlisted design for the Founder’s Memorial competition, and the positioning of memorialization within the context of national identity, empathy and emotion.
Courtesy of 8DGE
Courtesy of 8DGE

I heard about the Founder’s Memorial design competition during my Chinese New Year trip back home. It was over drinks with a group of architectural friends, where we discussed the meaning of entering this competition with a Singaporean perspective. I’ve been based in Shanghai since 2013 and 8DGE is a young firm that was only started mid-2016, so I wasn’t entirely sure if we had the resources to focus our energies on the competition. But it was a rare opportunity to be part of something significant, right here at our doorstep, and to pay tribute through our profession to those who came before us and started it all. That conversation stirred me, and I began to think, ‘why not?’



"While examining the brief, what stood out to me was that the Founder’s Memorial is the missing puzzle piece which completes a series of interventions defining the Singapore skyline."



While examining the brief, what stood out to me was that the Founder’s Memorial is the missing puzzle piece which completes a series of interventions defining the Singapore skyline. This vision was seeded by our founders and further honed over the years; the Memorial would be what completes the circle, and that intrigued me.

I graduated from NUS in 2004, and moved to China almost immediately, so I’ve been away for 15 years. Distance has given me a different perspective from architects based in Singapore, who are also looking at this competition. I have the benefit of constantly reviewing my own identity outside of Singapore, be it through my location or through interactions with people from other nationalities. It’s inevitable that you take a hard look at what makes you different. I think it’s very important to understand who you are before designing for other people. Coming from a multicultural and diverse background, we are more sensitive to differing world views, and can pick up differences and nuances more easily as compared to someone from a monolithic culture. This sensitivity is enhanced abroad.

The first week was spent on understanding the brief. Everyone in the office, regardless of expertise or nationality, was given the opportunity to articulate their interpretation and understanding of the Founder’s Memorial, with images, words, objects, colors—anything, really—and to speak about it, to explain how it was appropriate to the brief. Two questions were put forth. Firstly, what moves you after reading about Singapore’s journey, and what are your initial thoughts? Secondly, how would you remember a place close to your heart?



"I feel that there is commonality, despite difference in nationalities, as to how one can relate to memories, spaces, objects..."



Aside from interpreting the brief, the aim of this was really to rediscover, as emotional beings, how we remember our past, what triggers our emotions, and such. I feel that there is commonality, despite differences in nationalities, as to how one can relate to memories, spaces, objects… So, this was our starting point.

The output was interesting to me. One guy chose a photograph of his hometown’s rural landscape, bathed in the soft glow and mists of evening rays. Another watched all the videos in the brief and selected a series of images portraying a light in ink-dark surroundings: when one can see nothing, a light appears. That was the feeling he had after reading about Singapore in its early days. What stood out for another designer was the pun of 心 (xin / ‘heart’) and the first character of Singapore’s Chinese name, 新加坡 (xin jia po); the heart of a place.

Those were some of the ideas thrown out in the first stage. I find it very interesting that such a range of concepts was created from this exercise. At some point, many of these ideas worked their way into our narrative, design strategy, spatial and formal articulation, or even the mood of the renders.



"We have to move ourselves first, before we can touch others."



I also observed that this method of brainstorming resulted in a lot of raw ideas that could be harnessed in the initial conception of the project, regardless of the expertise or experience level of the staff. So, it wasn’t a linear process where the architecture is developed from a singular thread of thought. In hindsight, this was crucial in the formulation of our narrative and design. For me, it was intuitive. We have to move ourselves first, before we can touch others.

Starting from the raw material and emotions that we identified as appropriate to define the Founder’s Memorial, the team proceeded to study different massings that would best express the ideas, emotions or moods discussed earlier. The final massing developed was the scheme which held the ideas surfaced in the first stage in the most appropriate, sensitive manner.



"For all the different aspects that the Founder’s Memorial has to fulfil... the most important aspect for me is the essence and spirit that this building can and should convey."



One thing that I did, being Singaporean, was to ask, every step of the way, if the scheme can—narratively, spatially, formally, emotionally—relate to Singaporeans, move Singaporeans, and represent the essence of what our founders stood for, when visitors first approach and lay eyes on the architecture. For all the different aspects that the Founder’s Memorial has to fulfil in terms of program, technicalities and such, the most important aspect for me is the essence and spirit that this building can and should convey.

I was in a taxi on the way to meet a client, when I received a call from Singapore saying we had been shortlisted. I then proceeded to relay the information to the team in our office group chat. It took some time after that to form the MDT for the next stage of the competition. All the external consultants we spoke to are extremely professional and qualified. At the end of the day, I went with a team structure that could support us in our unique circumstances.

As I have been away for a long time, it was a nice way for us to get reacquainted with the architectural scene in Singapore, and I am glad to have made many new friends along the way. After all, home will always be home. Hopefully, 8DGE will have the opportunity to contribute to the scene in Singapore, in the near future.

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REF. NO.
CONVERSATIONS-005-TAN-MINGYIN
CONTRIBUTOR(S)
Tan Mingyin
PUBLISHED
15.05.20