Furnishing creative conversations: Singapore Design Week
This is part of the “Capturing Conversations content programme”, which looks at how effectively senior executives today capture insights from internal and external meetings, and how the meetings space has evolved to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and new ideas.
© DesignSingapore Council
Good design, in principle, relies as much on its sophisticated execution, as it does on its visual aesthetic. In Asia, the works that resonate most with today’s consumers are those that mould together the cultural nuances of Asian heritage with world-class techniques.
Singapore, which was awarded the UNESCO City of Design accolade in 2015, has regularly addressed this concept through the Singapore Design Week - an annual pow-wow that highlights the best local and international design in a wide variety of fields, from architecture and lighting to the delivery of public services.
Over the course of two weeks, a panoply of trade shows, conferences, showcases, exhibitions and workshops attracts a diverse audience of artisans, designers, industry experts, businesses, students and the general public, from Singapore and far beyond.
SDW is organised by DesignSingapore Council, Singapore’s national agency for design. “Curation has a three-pronged approach”, says Jeffrey Ho, executive director of the agency. The first objective, he says, is general public outreach to create awareness of design in the broader society.
The second is to promote design among business to help them boost their competitiveness. The third is to focus on how design can improve the quality of life, for instance in public services.
Under the ambit of these three objectives, there is a certain openness and fluidity to the kinds of design events that SDW promotes. “Our approach was to have the DesignSingapore Council as the main organiser with our design partners supporting with many programmes and events,” says Mr Ho. “With this ground-up approach, we are inviting everyone to contribute so that they can inject diversity and depth to the line-up of programmes at the SDW.”
© DesignSingapore Council
At the 2015 edition of SDW, there were some 60 different activities. SingaPlural, the anchor event, strives annually to tease out the best design elements across the creative spectrum—from landscape architecture to graphic and fashion design.
Through a series of installations, curated design spaces and symposiums, SingaPlural focussed on an end-to-end exploration of the design process, from conceptualisation to manufacture and sale. The intent, as always, was to foment the cross-fertilisation of ideas between the various design disciplines.
Two other marquee events are the international design trade shows: the International Furniture Fair Singapore and MAISON&OBJET Asia, the regional edition of the renowned French trade fair for lifestyle fashion and trends. In 2015 these two shows attracted some 30,000 trade buyers, design professionals and other visitors.
The concerted effort to showcase the best design in the world culminated in 2015 with an exhibition on the works of Heatherwick Studio, the eponymous outfit of Thomas Heatherwick, a British designer who has earned the moniker “ideas engine” for his contributions to architecture, urban infrastructure, sculpture and furniture design, among other fields.
© DesignSingapore Council
Meanwhile, the Singapore Design Business Summit provided an opportunity for business leaders, trade professionals, industry experts and thought leaders to hobnob and discuss contemporary design issues.
“The summit also captured emerging trends of how the combination of design, business and technology is making an impact on industries and our everyday lives,” says Mr Ho.
Open space: Open conversations
An immensely popular part of SDW are the Design Trails. These are planned thematic routes around Singapore that stitch together elements from across the design process, bringing participants in contact with pertinent places and people.
Consider the 2015 Design Trail, which was themed “Then and now”. In celebration of Singapore’s 50th independence celebrations, this trail was an exploration of how design has enabled some of Singapore’s oldest businesses to refresh and reinvent themselves for contemporary challenges.
Trail destinations include 195 Pearl’s Hill Terrace, a classic of early Singaporean government architecture in the heart of Chinatown. Once the police headquarters, it today houses cafes and art studios.
SDW’s Design Trails helped expand the notion of a conference, from an intense gathering that can be claustrophobic and monotonous, to one that is splayed across the length and breadth of a city, a homage to urban diversity.
“The manufacturing workshops are open, the factories are open, the design companies are open, the design showrooms are open,” says Mr Ho. “There is a vibrancy; anywhere you turn you see design.”
Creating a haptic experience
To instil a spirit of creative design in the young, SDW organised a ManyWaysOfSeeing (MWOS) exhibition and workshop. The exhibition showcased children’s work from the MWOS Workshop, curated by Masayo Ave, famed designer and architect. Ms Ave also conducted a Master Class workshop to train pre-school educators on how to inculcate creativity and design in their students.
In this and all the other SDW productions there is an overwhelming emphasis on the haptic experience, says Mr Ho.
“The nature of design is to have a real conversation. When the participants break up into smaller groups such as a workshop, it is a haptic experience—discussing, making and drawing,” he says. “Design is one that unplugs you from the digital world; for you to sit down with partners, discuss and thereafter design. We are placing a strong focus on the haptic experience, inviting the public to view the craft, possibly touch it, sit on it or even talk to the designer, which is what design is really all about.
Mr Ho believes that Singapore, by virtue of its location, history and demographic make-up, can contribute something unique to the world of design.
“Singapore is well-situated as a gateway to the various cultures of Asia and this allows it to have its unique design identity,” he says. “As Singapore is already a rich juxtaposition of the region’s history, its people and their heritage, beliefs, architecture and art, it gives Singapore designers an advantage when it comes to infusing Asian culture in their designs and innovations.”
As the world's economic centre of gravity continues to shift from the West to Asia, interest in Asian cultures, traditions and design will continue to grow. Singapore, an English-speaking Asian country with close ties to the West, is in a unique position to promote the cross-fertilisation of Western and Asian design ideas and techniques. This cultural hybridity has proven to be a strong contributor to the success of events on design, as well as other fields.