Project Proposal: Echoes of Jurong

Subject of project

This mainly auditory-based project attempts to relate these disparate themes together in a given place:

  • the tremendous changes an area undergoes over time
  • the interactions of its inhabitants with their environment
  • how people perceive past and present in different ways

Space to be explored

The area has been confined to limit scope.

This area has been chosen as quite a lot has been changed in this area. And the communities that lived here has also been present in the past, so would make for an interesting juxtaposition. There are a number of landmarks, both past and present:

  • Drive-in cinema
  • Three gardens, Chinese, Japanese and Tropical
  • Various brickworks
  • Reclaimed areas
  • Jurong Vocational Institute
  • Old estates
  • Cemeteries

Form of project

It will take the form of a interactive site to be used on a mobile browser. The user will be presented with a map of an area of Jurong. On this map there will be subtly highlighted areas indicating ‘areas with echoes’. As the user navigate within this area, s/he will experience a mix of different soundscapes comprising of interviews, ambient sounds, readings or music. These soundscapes are dynamically generated and is affected by time of day, speed of travel, location and presence of ‘others’.

On the map user can also see faint highlights of other’s travels, so s/he could decide to visit ‘hotspot areas’. Other than a purely passive auditory experience, users can also record audio bites on location, and these will in turn become part of the ‘echoes’ of the area.


Thoughts on Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle

Going through the first few paragraphs, I was at a loss at what I was reading. The sentences didn’t appear coherent, and I was trying hard to decipher what ‘The Spectacle’ was all about. As I went through more of them, I quickly and sadly start to understand what the article was about. In this respect, Debord has done a magnificent job of crafting this seminal piece. I dare say this is one of the most thought-provoking pieces I have ever read. Unlike traditional prose, Debord does not bother setting the stage. He jumps straight to describing the ‘phenomena’, prompting the intentional, slow and unsettling ‘discovery’ by the reader, which is just brilliant in my opinion.

Part of the genius of the term being coined here is that this phenomena is omnipresent and hard to quantify, as of all the things that are associated with it (advertising, all forms of media, consumerism, mass production etc.) permeating throughout modern society. Thus it is inherently hard to assign a highly accurate and descriptive term, yet ‘The Spectacle’ seems to do well, precisely for its ambiguity and succinctness in describing this abstract entity.

The frequent use of word play is also masterfully employed, and frankly can be quite tiresome at times, but that is precisely the point: ‘The spectacle thus unites what is separate, but it unites it only in its separateness.’ The cyclical and paradoxical nature of this upsetting process of conversion on global proportions is turning itself on its head literally.

The spectacle corresponds … commodity completes its colonization of social life… commodities are now all that there is to see; the world we see is the world of commodity.

This quote is truly apt and befitting of our times. Everything has been commodified, friendships, life, food, wellness, relationships and a ceaselessly growing list.

‘The Spectacle’ in usual terms would mean a sight or phenomena to behold, and capitalism, mass consumerism or any aforementioned derivative in this scenario is the spectacle that has masked our eyes; with the insidious, flawless combination of the ‘Separation’, ‘Commodity’ and ‘Unity and division’ mechanisms as described.

Here, I feel Debord has managed to weave a complex narrative of how the world and its people evolved, with few simple terms and relatively simple prose; a breathtaking feat to say the least.

Jurong Field Research

02/01/1972, Singapore. Jurong

Present day, Singapore. Jurong

Audio Recordings

Audio 02 – Near Lakeside MRT

Audio 03 – Around Rulang Pri.


Audio 04 – Shophouse area


Audio 05 – Hua Yi. Sec. Sch


Audio 06 – Jurong West St.42


Audio 07 – Beside expressway

Non-linear narrative concept

Juxtapose the past and present via sounds. As participant navigates through areas of Jurong, he/she is presented with sound bites from the past/present. These sound bites can be any of the following:

  • historical readings
  • ambient environmental sounds of past/present
  • recordings of worker interviews?
  • recorded readings of thoughts/prose

The participant explores the historical development of the Jurong area through the times by navigating and witnessing it in the present, while being immersed in the past via sounds.

dalí lives – inspiring interactive art

When I first read about this piece of work, I was extremely flabbergasted by how well it was executed, as well as how technology and art have both been appropriately employed to create something beautiful and astonishing!

Salvador Dalí has left us for more than 30 years now, yet the dalí museum has brought him ‘back to life’ with an amazing creation of a digital persona that feels, looks and sounds like him! This persona greets and interacts with visitors in a very lifelike and personable manner. It feels really special as Dalí has obviously not known anyone living in this time of day, yet everything about this pseudo interaction looks and feels real enough.

The studio behind this feat has employed A.I.(or machine learning) to first go through all archival footage of him, and managed to extract the way he speaks and his facial expressions. Armed with this knowledge they have been able to procedurally and dynamically re-create a digital version of his face. This is similar to how Gollum is created from Andy Serkis’ facial performance in the Lord of the Rings series. With the lifelike model in hand, digital Dalí can be pre-programmed to say or act in any way.

By further layering many different performances, dialogues and gestures, visitors will receive a tailored, unique Dalí reception every day of the week! But the next mind-blowing aspect of the whole experience was that visitors can actually pose and take a virtual selfie with the famous man himself! This blurring of digital and physical reality has been masterfully achieved in the simple humble act of a selfie. With that, the deal is sealed, and the happy visitor gets to go home with a piece of techno-historical artifact.

Read more about it! 

Reflection: Jurong My Love

Dan’s beautifully crafted prose really struck a chord in me as I grew up in Jurong West and went to the now-famous Rulang Primary School as a young boy. I can imagine myself taking the bus 99, going through the exact same route and experiencing the sights and sounds that Dan had painstakingly described.

I had plenty of fond memories of the Chinese Garden before it received a major haul in the past few years. I was a frequent visitor of the Science Center as well, filling my many hours with curiosity and fascination with all things science.

My childhood days were mostly spent with my parents in their shop, at Jurong West St. 41. Most of the surrounding shops are all replaced. When I walk past the area, I wonder what happened to most of our neighboring shops and their owners.

Like Dan, I have also experienced moving houses growing up.

When I went on to secondary education, I moved to Jalan Bahar area and my parents’ shop shifted to an underground bomb shelter at Choa Chu Kang. With the passing of time and development of Singapore’s economy, neighborhood ‘Mama’ shops became increasingly hard to run. Sprawling shopping malls spring up from Choa Chu Kang, all the way to Jurong East and Boon Lay. I could still remember when Jurong Point was only a much smaller building a few decades ago, and when Jurong East had only a single paltry mall back then.

Looking back, I experience the same sense of loss and nostalgia from the good old days, where everything was smaller, simpler and slower.

Thoughts on Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media

For me, Lev’s article on database and narrative has highlighted the increasing importance between these two in the current age of information explosion. With the advent of cheaper storage and bigger datacenters, there is no longer a problem of lack of data of any form; textual, visual, audio etc. The challenge is how we can contextualise and arrange these vast corpus into something meaningful.

In my view, the Google search engine is possibly the biggest database-based ‘interactive’ that exists in the world. I think it’s much more than just a search engine. Its many capabilities include natural language interpretation, image recognition(somewhat useable), user context linking etc. Its clearly the most massive form of algorithms + databases mankind has ever witnessed.

On a philosophical level, I think it’s fair to argue that Google has played a tremendous part in people’s life. Let me provide a hypothetical example.

Imagine you are a young, lost, disinterested teenager, on a typical day, plowing through your daily social media routine. You regularly use Google for school work, research and the occasional trivial. You spot something interesting under Youtube recommendations, you watch a short clip of scientific trivial, which in turns pique your interest for more. Piling google search upon google search, you develop an interest in the topic. Fast forward a decade, you are now working hard on a research paper that might change the way people think about a certain topic.

This sounds like a typical plot of a budget Hollywood film; it could very well be. But I think the Internet has definitely changed the lives of many around the world, mainly through vast information dissemination. This form of empowerment is driven mostly, by search engines of course. The humble search engine has invariably been instrumental in crafting and shaping the stories of our lives, professional and personal.

And anyone that has gotten on the ‘web’ has interacted with this database and left a mark of his/her narrative in the digital(and possibly physical) world.

Reflections on Marsha Kinder’s Designing a Database Cinema

The project that was the most intriguing for me was ‘Tracing the Decay of Fiction: Encounters with a Film’. For me it was a great example of combining archival materials, visual effects, interactive systems design and storytelling. The archival materials, on its own probably would not be deemed as engaging/intuitive for audience to peruse or comprehend. Yet, when masterfully combined using techniques from other disciplines, the value of the materials is greatly enhanced and elevated.

Having a visual effects background helps me to appreciate how it was utilised in this context; Mr Pat has recreated scenes and combined them with archival material, in a manner that is comparable to big budgets films of the day. Also, the technology has been used in a purposeful and appropriate manner, in contrast to the endless stream of violent, explosive, meaningless films of the modern era.

I can only imagine the difficulty in crafting a coherent narrative around a set of disparate archival materials. It is also interesting to note that with a structure in place, a sense of ‘interaction’ is created organically where the audience can selectively ‘move’ through a recreated virtual space and relive/explore an iconic landmark in ways that would be costly/impossible to do in real-life. That in itself is the value an interactive piece aforementioned can provide, that is otherwise impossible to achieve from traditional means like a documentary(a passive medium) or a site tour(subject to locality and availability). The additional benefit is the content has been curated to be appropriate and relevant to whatever experience is desired, so though the experience is essentially free-form, it has been carefully crafted to allow for a tantalising and complete experience.

Who would want to browse through that intimidating collection of archival materials anyway :p


Reflections on database / interactive narrative

A great recent example of an immersive database-interactive-narrative is a game called Firewatch.

In the game, you play a man who has chosen to take up the job of a fire lookout, to escape a troubled life. The game boosts extremely minimalistic design elements; there are very little on-screen indicators to guide the player along. You navigate the Firewatch world only from a myriad collection of conversations, record logs and a plethora of visual notes. Even though the story ultimately has a general overarching storyline, the game has been carefully crafted to provide a unique experience as each player navigates freely and randomly within the Firewatch world.

There are many design elements that have been carefully employed to provide a strangely rich and authentic experience for the player. As a fire lookout, there are many mundane tasks to carry out, like navigating from point to point, retrieving items or observing surroundings for fire breakouts. These moments, interspersed throughout the game, emulate reality in a simplistic yet effective way. Coupled with masterfully written prose that is played out while you go about your day, it almost feels like you ARE living and breathing within the Firewatch universe. The melancholy and tranquility that can be experienced anytime in-game adds a meditative, wabi-sabi-esque touch. The story has enough depth to make you sympathise for its characters, to feel genuinely sad, jealous, happy or scared.

Peeling back through the layers, the game is essentially driven by a database of words and recordings. The prose drives the gameplay seamlessly; the intriguing plot twists unfolding every step of the way. The visuals are presented in a loosely-ordered manner. Personally I have played the game for a couple of hours, and it strikes me as fascinating how a game can deliver an equally immersive experience purely by masterful writing and pacing, without fancy cutting edge tech like VR/AR, surround sound or extra fidelity graphics. In fact, the game’s visuals was just the icing on the cake. I’d imagined it would be just as effective with simple 8-bit graphics and monotone sounds.

The game succeeded in being cinematic, entertaining and deeply engaging; without any shooting, driving, violence. On the contrary, you are only allowed to pick up/throw things, walk/run/jump/climb and observe your surroundings. I’d be hard-pressed to find many games that can succeed doing just that!

Graphic Design so far : Reflection

This week’s topic covered how has graphic design evolved tremendously from its humble beginnings to today’s plethora of offerings, spanning across almost every industry, from advertising, movies to even educational content and medical infographics.

One of the things that caught my eye in this week’s presentation was the mention of Saul Bass’ groundbreaking title sequences. Fast forward a few decades, this has transformed into an entire art form in its own right. One can easily see for him/herself on a site such as

Comparing to today’s titles, I can see how much was achieved with the little technology that Saul Bass had at his disposal. Today’s highly-charged shiny graphics with bold colors and impressive graphic wizardry is definitely much more alluring, but Saul Bass’ titles will always stand the test of time, with its elegant simplicity, directness and clarity of motifs and visual poetry.

I think there is a good reason why as designers, we need to, from time to time, examine our roots and learn from the past. This is true even for fields outside of the creative industry; the golden adage of ‘back to basics’.

Through this semester’s history of design series of lectures, I think my main takeaway was a better/more thorough understanding of how design came to be, in all forms; graphic, interactive and industrial/product design. Many new ideas tend to come from addressing needs/problems of the era. I think in our current time, there is an enormous amount of issues that need to be looked into, and as designers, we can either join the crowd and dish out ever flashier, meaningless fodder, or we can strive for something much deeper; to engage with humanity’s biggest problems and provide some solutions, and in the process make our lifetimes more meaningful.

History of Design Essay

Q. Given the purview of past design movements which flowed with changing contexts (social, political, economic, scientific, technological, philosophical, environmental, etc), what could be a potential emergent design manifesto, ethos, movements, styles, trends or directions, which you could creatively adopt for your FYP/Graduation Project?


Better Design, for a Better Future

By Toh Yixue

In the last century, mankind has experienced tremendous progress in food, infrastructure and industrial production. Capitalism and consumerism have led to incessant goods production and massive wastage of natural resources. The new century is upon us, and the net effects of global warming are becoming increasingly apparent. Challenges of the 21st century include overpopulation, landfill shortages and diminishing natural resources. There is clearly an urgent need for better consideration of material choices and production methods. These issues need to be addressed head-on; e.g. infrastructure that can harness natural forces positively for lighting or heat. Wars and conflicts are also indirect consequences of societies’ insatiable thirst for dwindling natural resources. Slowing down consumption patterns by building intimate connections with people via well-designed, considered products, could be a feasible solution. Highly economical use of materials will be a genuine necessity in the foreseeable future; thus a good understanding of diverse disciplines; material science, mechanics, renewable energy production etc. will be important to the contemporary designer.

The concepts mentioned above are not entirely new. There have been similar movements and companies that have embraced these forward-thinking ideas.

Droog design is a unique practice from the Netherlands. They believe in practical use of recycled materials, with an interesting concept of combining skills and ingenuity to create something useful with found materials. They are primarily concerned with usability, utility and humility of objects. By combining high tech with low tech in a peaceful synergy, and complementary relationship between craft, industry and technology, the craftsmen of Droog were ‘redesigning’ the process of design.

Muji is a conceptually unique brand with products and services spanning across multiple sectors. Its concept of ‘brandless’ is a statement in direct contest of consumerism and brand dilution; a living example of quality over branding in principle. Its minimalist design philosophy places an emphasis on recycling and waste avoidance in production and packaging.

Super Normal is a compilation of products from all over the world. These products draw parallels to Wabi Sabi sensibilities; functional, personable yet not excessive. The considered use of materials, functionality and form show a highly evolved sense of design thought from their designers.

Having examined past trends, the emergent design philosophy in product and architectural design, will likely be made up of a contemporary design ethos utilising a combination of science(materials, engineering, harnessing of natural forces), philosophy(reduction, practicality, uniqueness without branding, ecological impact consideration) and systems design(modularity, repairability, flexibility in design change, open source; no propertatiery hardware, use of off-the-shelf components, 3d print fabrication).

Customisation will be key, and can be achieved via parametric or algorithmic design. Products will also possess multidimensional use-cases: practical, social and environmental benefits. Having such qualities in products will likely start a ripple effect indirectly; promoting dialogue on sustainability awareness, people getting to see and experience possibilities first-hand, inspiring future generations. This direct, incremental and localised approach doesn’t rely on top-down approach, which has failed us thus far.

The reasons for such a design philosophy are plenty. Necessity is key; these are direct responses to challenges that lie ahead in a global context. Structural materials and practical issues can be adapted for local context. Harnessing of natural forces by structures can be tailored to site’s availability. Upcycling, repurposing, repairability and interchangeability can help waste reduction across generations, thereby improving wasteful consumption mentality. This could potentially build deeper connections between user and product. A change in mindset could regulate anxieties of a fast-paced society; tackling problems head-on rather than taking the easy way out(repair instead of discard and acquire).

With these aforementioned trends in mind, they can be incorporated meaningfully into a FYP.

A shelter structure, with the ability to harness solar, wind, rain(kinetic) energy, is built with recycled, discarded or upcycled materials. Its design will possess a high degree of maintainability and modularity with a light environmental footprint. The structure’s primary role is to provide shelter, yet reduction of energy consumption is achieved via solar harnessing for illumination. Social values can also be cultivated via mechanisms that encourage ‘group play’, possibly driven by kinetic energy and playful design, to be enjoyed by families and strangers alike. Structure mobility and modularity also allows for flexibility and scalability; structure can be reused elsewhere, strategically repositioned and repaired.

Building a better future requires careful consideration, and a better design philosophy can be the answer.