Monday, March 26, 2018

Buildings, Humans and Communities

Finally got started on Clara Chow's 'Dream Storeys' (2016). Eight interviews with Singapore architects about their vision of Singapore's buildings and landscape. Through their thoughts and ideas, the author found inspiration within and turned those into stories.

The premise of the book began with a chat with her friend Yen Yen Wu, who is a Principal Architect at Genome Architects, and that forms Chapter 1 of the book titled 'The Mall'. Yen Yen Wu envisioned "a building that imagines, for a moment, that growing old is not a bad thing. A building that acknowledges that time passes; that all cells, like brick and mortar, cannot escape the passing of time and therefore matter."  And that ensuing story was good, especially the ending. In how malls are built to last for two to three years, then destroyed, and along with it, perhaps human emotions and lack of empathy.

5pm: The sirens went off. Evacuate, evacuate, they moaned. The girl in the boutique next door had not bothered to turn up for work that morning, so there was no one to see Jill hurling herself against the glass doors, trying to make them shatter. There was no one to see Jill saying goodbye to her environment, her medium, her turf, in the most physical of ways, with every fibre of her being. There was no one to see Jill.

Chapter 5 outlines an interview with Michael Leong, Director at SAA Architects. His idea of a dream building is a little bit more fluid, and prefers to build within constraints and a given site. He opines that "it is more realistic to think of the solution or design of a building as the result of forces that pre-exist at the site. It's like finding the right key to fit the key hole." The inspired story is titled 'The Car Park'. Car parks are spaces that most people find utilitarian and don't care about. To Joshua, he cares a little bit more since his father had designed this multi-storeyed car park at Botanic Gardens, and visits to the car park and the gardens formed part of his childhood memories. However, Joshua doesn't share his father's enthusiasm for architecture and fiddling with gadgets. This car park however, is redundant in this futuristic world, and is slated for demolition.

He surveyed the posts on the top deck. Picking up the box on the floor next to him, he lifted the lid. He tilted it a little, and the wind skimmed off the top layer of the fine white powder within. For an instant, a curlicue hung in the air. Then it was whipped away, baptising the empty deck in ashes, setting Dad free in the paradise he had made.

The eponymous story, 'Dream Storeys' is slated as Chapter 6, with Principal of ANNEX A / ARCHITECTS Mark Wee's interview. It's a looooong chapter because after 'Dream Storeys', it also holds a little annex story titled 'Archive House + Archive House'. This little story tells of the relationship between an old man named Jason, whose grandson Philip, built him a house full of smart features. Jason, we find out, is the 'son' that Chapter 1's Jill left behind when she disappears with the collapse of the mall. This house is supposed to help Jason archive his memories and thoughts. He seems to have had good times with neighbors Carolina and her son Sergio, and Philip, before the bad times roll in. Jason seems to think that the smart house consumed his personality and made him suffer memory lapses. In the end, I think dementia got to him. It's a beautiful tale.

Lina is wrong. It is all the house's fault. It is chewing up my memories and moving stuff about at night without telling me. I won't be surprised if the house is alive. And now it's masquerading as me, I don't know how, some combination of light projection and cannily played back sound, in order to trick her senses. It's consumed too much of our personalities and it's now making us redundant.

'Dream Storeys' is a tad hilarious. Sure, it's about Housing Development Board's new Print-To-Order flats (HDB's PTO flats) and ownership dreams, but it's mainly a story also about human emotions, growth and development in relationships between husband and wife, and of the self. The ending was a hoot.

His wife turned towards him, delight dangling pendants in her eyes. 
"Nice hor," she said. 
How could I have gotten it so wrong? he thought. 
As he stood, stunned, in the middle of a living room that was identically laid out and decorated as the last home he owned, his son ran back to him and clung to his knees. Little hands patted at his pockets.

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