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The annual Singapore Design Week is back with over 100 events

Natasha Ann Zachariah

The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Singapore  /  Fri, March 8, 2019  /  03:56 pm
The annual Singapore Design Week is back with over 100 events

Clockwise from top left: The Ishinomaki Stool by Ishinomaki Laboratory; the print on the Bubba chair by local artist Estella Ng; the Oh! electric toothbrush; plates from Monkey And Donkey Design from Hong Kong. (Ishinomaki Laboratory, Onlewo, Wallpaper, Monkey and Donkey Design via The Straits Times/File)

It is that time of the year again when Singapore Design Week rolls into town.

For its fourth edition, the annual festival is a supersized celebration of all things design, with more than 100 events over 10 days in various locations around Singapore.

Local and international designers, architects, craftsmen and students are putting on installations and exhibitions, as well as organising design talks, workshops and fairs.

Helmed by the DesignSingaporeCouncil, the national agency for promoting design here, the festival is in session until March 12.

Many of the events are free, though some workshops and talks are ticketed.

It was officially launched yesterday by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim at the National Design Centre in Middle Road.

DesignSingaporeCouncil expects about 50,000 visitors this year - a conservative estimate which it puts down to new programmes and niche events that may appeal to a smaller crowd.

The festival drew 79,000 people last year.

While there is a strong focus on Singapore designers this year, Maison&Objet Asia, the Asian offshoot of the French trade fair, will not be on the calendar this time around due to poor economic outlook.

This could mean fewer foreign visitors to the design week.

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Some highlights this year include the popular SingaPlural, which features installations borne out of unlikely collaborations such as graphic novelist Sonny Liew and veteran architect Tan Cheng Siong.

Visitors will also get to see Singapore's submission to last year's Venice Architecture Biennale, now set up in the atrium of the National Design Centre.

The exhibit spotlights the quintessential Singapore way of life, such as living in Housing Board flats and urban farming.

The Straits Times highlights the festival's four main events as well as several fringe activities to check out.

An eye on Singapore's future

At SingaPlural, Singapore Design Week's anchor event, visitors can walk through an old library, complete with librarians and overhead projectors.

The installation, named Tomorrow: Design Stories Of Our Future, features the work of 10 past winners of the prestigious President's Design Award collaborating with 10 illustrators to answer the question: What would a day in Singapore look like in 2065?

Their responses are presented in an anthology in the "library" - each accompanied by a fictional story, sketches and images.

Interesting pairings for the project include veteran architect Tan Cheng Siong and graphic novelist Sonny Liew, who explore how Singaporeans will deal with housing; and fashion designer Alfie Leong, who dreams up a futuristic maternity outfit with illustrator Teresa Lim, which features "ear caps" equipped with in-ear baby monitors.

The home-grown SingaPlural, in its sixth edition and with a new curator, is big on such collaborations this year.

Themed Stories - A New Perspective, this year's event features 100 participants and will also showcase works by young designers below age 35 and creative studios such as design duo Dazingfeelsgood and industrial designer Olivia Lee.

Another collaborative highlight are two installations by Uniqlo. The Japanese fashion giant works with local design studios Roots and Machineast to demonstrate the qualities of its AIRism technology, used to make cooling undershirts.

Those hoping to take home an item made by a Singapore designer can head to Pop-Up, a series of stalls spread out across the festival space. There are new products created by Singapore brands and designers, specially for launch at SingaPlural - the first time this has happened.

Tie-ups include homeware label Onlewo which partners bag designer Ling Wu to create clutches featuring chic Asian prints; and Ette Tea, which created Seri Kaya, a blend of Japanese sencha, black tea, pandan leaves and coconut pieces, with the packaging label designed by artist- illustrator MessyMsxi.

Mr Jackson Tan, 42, creative director at multi-disciplinary creative agency Black, SingaPlural's curator, says that as the event is a major one on the local design calendar, it is important to get the community involved.

Mr Tan, who is also the designer behind the SG50 logo and SingaPlural's current logo, says: "SingaPlural is about the Singapore design community, so we should put it at the centre (of the show) and celebrate its work."

The event is organised by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council and supported by DesignS, DesignSingapore Council, International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board and Spring Singapore.

A new curator was chosen this year to put a new spin on the festival, says Mr Mark Yong, 38, chairman of SingaPlural.

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The design extravaganza also finds a new home this year: the third floor of the F1 Pit Building in Republic Boulevard.

It was held for two years at 99 Beach Road, a 1930s colonial-style bungalow that used to house the Beach Road Police Station and the Raffles Design Institute. Before that, installations for SingaPlural were placed at different venues around the town area.

Mr Yong says that the change was needed as the old building posed logistical issues because it was not used often.

"We decided to find a location that is ready for events. Being at the F1 Pit Building also adds a fresh breath of life to the festival."

He is expecting about 27,000 people this year, about the same turnout as last year.

The festival has also offered a lifeline to the Kyo Project, which pairs three Singapore designers with traditional Japanese craftmakers from the Kanto region to make products.

The three designers are Chris Lee from Asylum, Colin Seah from Ministry of Design and architecture firm Woha's Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell.

Their creations, such as whisky glasses and wooden children's playsets, were to show at Maison&Objet Asia, a high-end trade fair that usually takes place during Singapore Design Week.

However, the show pulled out of this year's edition, citing poor take- up rates for booths due to economic conditions. The items will be on show at SingaPlural instead.

Mr Tan says it would be a waste if the works did not go on show. "They show the legacy of many generations of craftsmen and how the new ways of Singapore designers can create something new. Singapore and Japan designers make a good combination.

Works at Venice Biennale return home

The Living Shelter, a flat-packed, easy-to-assemble construct, sits in the sun at the courtyard of the National Design Centre in Middle Road.

Designed for victims of natural disasters, the boxy shelter is built without any tools and has portable and foldable furniture inside. It is also equipped with a bag for rainwater collection and a solar panel on its roof. Its facade is made of insulated aluminium panels.

The prototype is the brainchild of architectural design practice Wy-To, which has offices in Singapore and Paris; and Pod Structures, a multi-disciplinary practice that specialises in engineering.

The Space To Imagine, Room For Everyone exhibit at the National Design Centre. 

After a six-month run at last year's Venice Architecture Biennale, where it was viewed by about 250,000 people, Living Shelter returns home for its Singapore debut.

It joins two other returning exhibits from the biennale for a month-long show titled Frontliners In Action, which highlights how architects and the community create a better living environment.

One of the other exhibits, titled Space To Imagine, Room For Everyone, features everyday life in the city-state - from images of the interiors of Housing Board flats presented on 54 dangling glass lanterns to a 10m-long topographical model of the Rail Corridor Project.

This was Singapore's submission for the biennale, where various countries design exhibitions housed in pavilions.

For the version here, a black netting commonly found in vegetable farms has been added overhead to create a cloistered space and filter the sunlight from the skylight above.

Visitors here will also get to see Limit/Limitless by MKPL Architects, which produced the exhibit with The Press Room, a publishing and design consultancy, and production company Abundant Productions.

Their segment - comprising infographics, a video and information panels - explores the future of a dense and sustainable Singapore, coupled with a presentation of the architecture firm's previously unbuilt and upcoming projects.

For the designers of these projects, Frontliners In Action is a homecoming.

Mr Yann Follain, 37, managing director and head of design at Wy-To, says Living Shelter received "amazing exposure" in Venice, but he is excited that it has come home to Singapore.

European visitors thought the idea could be adapted for the current refugee crisis on the continent and that the shelter - inspired by the kampung house - could be adapted for cold weather, he says.

He adds: "We want people to touch it and raise awareness about what basic needs we need to have in a disaster.

"It's also a chance to show how design can contribute to a better living environment and resolve problems. It's not just for the elite."

Mr Teo Yee Chin, 41, principal architect at Red Bean Architects and co-curator and exhibition designer for the Singapore Pavilion, says the showing in Venice gave visitors a different perspective of Singapore beyond its stunning skyline.

But he feels it is "more important to stage this in Singapore".

"These are activities of Singaporeans being creative and remaking the environment.

"The exhibition raises awareness of their work and, hopefully, will inspire other Singaporeans to do similar things."

The Oh! electric toothbrush, which has an app that pairs it with a smartphone via Bluetooth, is one of the exhibits on display. 

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Wallpaper* Handmade show here for first time

The renowned Wallpaper* Handmade exhibition, a must-see for any design aficionado, is in Singapore for the first time.

For its run here - held at Gillman Barracks - the influential design and lifestyle magazine dug into its archives for the best 15 highlights from past shows.

First launched in 2009 and debuting every year during Milan Design Week in April, it invites high-profile designers, architects, artists, craftsmen and manufacturers to create bespoke objects, furniture, fashion, food, accessories and installations.

The instalment here is called Singapore + Wallpaper* Handmade Classics MultipliCITY and the items featured are innovative and versatile - qualities "that Singapore so adeptly illustrates", says Wallpaper*'s editor- in-chief Tony Chambers.

One highlight is the Oh! electric toothbrush by Future Facility, a branch of London creative design office Industrial Facility.

Future Facility worked with manufacturing company Braun and oral hygiene label Oral-B to design an app that pairs the toothbrush with a smartphone via Bluetooth. When the user is running low on brush heads, he can press a button on the toothbrush and it will send a reminder note to the phone.

While some items do get produced in limited batches for sale, Mr Chambers saysit is the process of design that matters.

"That's the beauty of Handmade - we never rush the designers. It's a release from their everyday work, where they design around deadlines and budgets," says Mr Chambers, who is constantly on the lookout for new designers to work with for the exhibition.

This spells good news for designers here. With the show in town, the magazine is looking for local talent to work with for next year's instalment. The plan is for the exhibition to be a Singapore Design Week mainstay.

Mr Chambers also hopes to include a pop-up store here next time. "It just makes sense to do (the pop-up store). People like a physical presence to touch and see things and it only brings more to the party."

Plates from Monkey And Donkey Design from Hong Kong. 

Telling tales of crafting

A magnitude-9 earthquake shook north-eastern Japan in 2011, unleashing a savage tsunami and destroying tens of thousands of homes.

Out of the rubble rose Ishinomaki Laboratory, a do-it-yourself Japanese furniture and accessories label founded by Tokyo-based architect Keiji Ashizawa. He started the idea of having workshops for residents of Ishinomaki, one of the worst hit areas, to build their own furniture.

Since then, the label has evolved to develop a full-fledged furniture line of minimalist pieces, which includes the Ishinomaki Stool, a seat with parts that can be easily assembled.

Ishinomaki Laboratory is one of the 40 brands and craftsmen brought in for the Design, Make & Craft Fair this weekend.

The vendors, who have booths at the outdoor plaza at the National Library Building in Bugis, are selling their wares and sharing their stories.

Craft workshops are also being held.

Mr Edwin Low, founder of home- grown lifestyle store Supermama, and Ms Clara Yee, co-founder of in the wild, a creative studio, handpicked each vendor from Singapore, Japan and the region and vetted them for a strong culture of craftsmanship and well-made products.

Mr Low, 37, says of the fair, themed Creating A Better World By Design: "Why do another regular pop-up? We want to bring people back to discovering actual content - not the marketing or packaging."

A mix of fashion, food and homeware labels will span four zones - Use, Consume, Craft and Wear.

The line-up includes Singapore brands such as terrarium and garden studio Mossingarden; We The People, which sells Kickstarter projects; and small-batch chocolatier Demochoco; and Monkey And Donkey Design from Hong Kong, which makes ceramic utensils and fashion accessories.

Look out for other interesting brands such as Byo, an Indonesian fashion label that experiments with different materials and shapes; and Singapore designer Tiffany Loy, who makes bags from scrap canvas recovered from umbrella factories.

There is also a strong showing of Japanese brands at the fair.

The Super Kanto Showcase, for example, is a curated presentation of various traditional Japanese craft from the Kanto region. These include Maekake, a traditional style of Japanese apron by Anything Apron; and hand-woven bamboo products by Sochiku-an.

There is also the Design Highlights - Inspire zone, where objects which inspire people to reflect on issues such as sustainability and preserving tradition will be on show.

Ms Yee, 28, says: "These days, people are more conscious about the things they buy and they don't want things off the shelf. These brands have strong stories and they can start a conversation here about their craft and the effort that goes into each product."

Visitors can expect a buzzing fair with chic booths and a faux grass area in the centre of the plaza, where craft workshops are held.

While all 16 free workshops, from assembling a stool to water colour painting, are fully subscribed, visitors can still try their luck by waiting to see if there are no-shows.

This article appeared on The Straits Times newspaper website, which is a member of Asia News Network and a media partner of The Jakarta Post