Neville Brody is an English graphic designer, typographer, and art director. He is most recognised for his rejection for commercialisation in his graphic styles, with his unique designs becoming the ‘much-imitated models for magazines, advertising and consumer-oriented graphics of the eighties’, as well as his highly innovative ideas on incorporating and combining typefaces into design.
Often referred to as a ‘star typographer’, Brody has designed a number of very well-known typefaces.
In addition to being an alumnus of the London College of Printing and Hornsey College of Art, Brody is most known for his work on The Face magazine, Arena magazine, and designing record covers for artists such as Cabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode. His ‘pioneering spirit in the area of typography’ can be seen in FUSE, and starting studios such as The Studio and Research Studios.
Record Covers & Magazines
Brody’s more prominent works include his contributions to the British music scene, and his experimentations with a new visual language in magazines, comprising mainly of a mixture of visual and architectural elements. This has led him to firmly establish his reputation as one of the world’s leading graphic designers.
Brody was one of the founding members of FontShop, designing a number of typefaces for them. He was also responsible for instigating the FUSE project (an influential fusion between magazine, and graphics and typeface design), and the founder of the FontFont typeface library.
He has also designed a range of his own typefaces, the most recognisable being the Blur font.
After researching more into Neville Brody’s works, I was inspired by the amount of contributions he gave to the graphic design field, as well as his “pioneering spirit” in changing how popular culture was perceived in the 80s.
The use of more decorative title fonts for the magazine covers was able to capture the energy of the magazine but at the same time, was not too jarring or gawdy.
The combination of typefaces and simple geometric shapes was interesting and added a layer of depth to a photograph.
Drawing inspiration from the punk scene was noticeable in some of his works; it created an interesting approach in forming portraits.
His ability to create typefaces that were simple but at the same time, possessed features that made them distinguishable and less boring.
Type Speaks provides an in-depth look into the process of making type. ‘It follows the entire process of type making from original design… to pattern making, punch cutting, matrix making, and the use of the Benton engraving machine’.
After watching and learning more about the very, very painstaking process of letterpress, especially in the amount of meticulousness and effort that goes into making every single block, making sure the structure of each alphabet is as accurate as possible, I have a newfound appreciation for the craft. It was eye-opening and inspiring to see the elaborate process of printing publications in the past, and the passion practitioners had for it. On the other hand, I am really glad to be born into the age of computers where forming and printing are much less painstaking – I honestly don’t think I have the patience for the amount of intricate detail that goes into crafting each letter by hand.
In a nutshell, I appreciate the letterpress process and the amount of effort and passion that goes into keeping the craft alive, but I think sticking to the method of digitally-altering alphabets is the way to go (at least for me)!
An influential figure in the field of typography, Massimo Vignelli has been practising design in New York for nearly 50 years. Steadfastly maintaining a ‘Modernist’ approach to design problems, he has made a significant impact on all forms of design, from graphic design to furniture and clothing. In addition to heading Unimark International, one of the world’s largest design studios, Vignelli also designed identities for major corporations such as American Airlines, Bloomingdales, and Knoll. Today, his work can be seen all over the world, with collections in museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.
New York city subway map
One of Vignelli’s most iconic and proudest works involves the design of the New York City Subway map, and on the walls of subway stations; it is said to be a ‘landmark in Modernist information design’.
Before Vignelli stepped in, the subway station had a ‘conglomeration of assorted visual styles’, resulting in a ‘flawed user experience’. And with the rising popularity of graphic design standards, corporate identity, and a growing public awareness of good design, it was time the subway needed a new visual identity and effective navigational system.
Assigned to Unimark, Vignelli and his team conducted in-depth research into the user experience from The New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (1970), with the intention of implementing a system that was ‘seamless, intelligent, and reproducible while withstanding human error’.
What followed was an iconic piece of work in the history of graphic design with a mixed reception: ‘adoration from the design community, and kickback from native New Yorkers, who were expecting a geographically correct map rather than a modernist schematic layout’.
After learning more about Massimo Vignelli’s works, I gained more insight into the graphic design field on a global stage. I was really inspired about his iconic contributions and how his legacy continues to live on after his passing. When researching more about his reinvention of the New York City Subway visual identity, I realised that his approach to user experience and awareness was important and applicable, especially when creating graphics for clients.
Vignelli also had a ‘Modernist’ approach to his designs, and personally, I found them visually appealing. Having a ‘Modernist’ identity in works, in my opinion, allows for easy readability and understanding. Minimalist graphics are also versatile, and can easily be applied to different cases. However, with modern style graphics becoming increasingly popular and widely used, they can come across quite boring and simple! I think it will be interesting to see a bridge between modern style graphics and decorative fonts in future.
Jan Tschihold is a highly-influential typographer, playing an important role in the development of graphic design in the 20th century; he was most known for ‘strongly advocating the beauty of sans serif fonts’, cleaning and organising design ahead of its time by ‘developing and promoting principles of typographic modernism’, and designing Penguin books, turning them into ‘something special’.
Inspired by Jakob Sabon’s and Conrad Berner’s Garamond, Tschichold created Sabon, a variation of the aforementioned Garamond typeface.
Designed to be used in available printing techniques of that time, Sabon was a result of Tschichold’s efforts of taking Garamond and standardising its construction by removing historic typefaces anomalies, making it more ‘economical’ and ‘narrower’. As a result, Sabon eventually became one of the ‘handsomest contemporary interpretations’ of Garamond.
II. Page Canons
Tschichold also developed a system of page harmony that is still relevant today. Establishing the 2:3 ratio rule, where he expresses that ‘the key to this positioning of the type area is the division into nine pans of both the width and height of the page’.
This ratio can be applied to a variety of layouts including magazine spreads, annual reports, and illustrated title pages.
Learning Points & opinions
As I’m not very well-versed in Typography, it often slips my mind that fonts are typically products of designers’ painstaking efforts, rather than something easily generated by computers. Therefore, after reading more about Jan Tschichold, I was quite blown away by his works and the influences he created in the design world that still hold up till this day.
Some of my learning points include:
The Sabon font and how it came to be
Technical formulae in creating visually-pleasing page layouts
A brief insight into the development of graphic design in the 20th century, especially its more important milestones (i.e. the development of typographic modernism)
When familiarising with his works, I was quite intrigued by the structure of the Sabon typeface. In addition to it being regarded as one of the more ‘beautiful’ and ‘handsome’ variations of the Garamond font, I feel that, with its clean structure with serif strokes shows a blend of vintage and modern, making it versatile in many areas of design (but maybe towards a more high-end brand), and timeless. The page canons, on the other hand, are an interesting insight into page layout; I never knew that the placement of text and images required math and ratios. The ratios seem to be very ahead of their time and although they seem rather rigid at first, they are versatile in their ability to be applied to a variety of layouts including magazine spreads and reports, even to this day.
In conclusion, it’s really inspiring to learn more about how prominent figures, like Jan Tschichold, continue to influence graphic design by establishing principles and elements that hold a highly-regarded position after many, many decades!
A place I recently visited for the first time was the container park at Punggol, near the Punggol Waterway Park. It is a small area with brightly-coloured shipping container-like shops that house a variety of dining and bar options. Since it just rained, the weather was windy and cool so I didn’t mind having my lunch at 5pm.
Type At Big Fish Small Fish
One of the eateries that caught my eye was Big Fish Small Fish, mainly because of its bright blue and yellow colour scheme, but also their use of many different fonts. As it seemed like a trendy restaurant catered to a younger demographic (since they primarily sell fried food items), it made sense to use bright colours and blends of fanciful and handwritten-like fonts.
Examples of type can be found throughout the establishment – on menus, promotional posters, signboards, wrappers, and labels. Interestingly, every other piece of collateral had different combinations of typefaces.
Each packaging item has a different typeface, and they vary quite a bit – the name of the place is displayed using serif fonts (slab serif) while slogans are typically italicised or cursive. The placement of the words also varies with each packaging – the most notable being the placemats, where the two typefaces are centralised and accompanied by illustrations, compared to the holder, where the typeface encompasses most of the surface space.
The use of slab serif fonts is eye-catching and seems to suit the trendy and hip atmosphere of the place. It also seems more youthful and light-hearted, which suits their target demographic.
The use of cursive fonts adds an overall casual and laid-back feel to the slogan and seems appropriate for what the slogan is saying.
The use of different typefaces all at once is a little jarring, especially when coupled with a bright colour scheme.
Similar to the food packaging, the eatery’s signboards and posters also use combinations of different typefaces. Instead of decorative slogans, the content displayed here is informative and more extensive – for this, sans serif fonts were primarily used (accompanied by cursive title fonts and one or two lines of serif fonts). Additionally, the sans serif fonts still hold hints of humanist structures.
The use of sans serif fonts is suitable for menus as it allows for easy readability, as well as being visually appealing, especially in its case where blocks of information have to be conveyed to viewers.
The use of cursive fonts as titles accompanied with sans serif fonts is eye-catching and at the same time, not too gaudy.
The extensive use of a narrow, handwritten font (as labels for different fishes in the Today’s Catch poster) is not very visually appealing. It seems to work better for short sentences as opposed to labels in a smaller space.
Man Bartlett is a multidisciplinary artist based in New York. His works encompass a vast range of different mediums including sound, drawing, collage, video, performance, and digital projects.
His past projects have been exhibited or performed in venues such as The Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia), The V&A Museum (London), his bedroom, The Brooklyn Museum, a Best Buy store, Freies Museum (Berlin), Eyebeam (New York), Flux Factory (Long Island City), iMOCA (Indianapolis), Port Authority Bus Terminal, The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Winkleman Gallery, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others.
Focusing on blurring the line between process and life, and creation, and what it means to be living in this digital and/or post-digital age, Bartlett works primarily within the hybrid medium of ‘Social Media Art’. He investigates notions of identity and simulacra using both online and physical audiences, often within a durational, performative framework. ‘His practice is, additionally, deeply concerned with labor intensive drawings that are often pigeon-holed and inconsiderately mislabeled as “obsessive.”‘
A continuation from the previous project, we were tasked to, with the data collected from the previous project, create an 8-page zine portraying our perceptions of the chosen place.
For a more in-depth look of the zine, please refer to:
The location I chose was Keong Saik Road because of its unique trait of its transformation from a dingy red-light district into a poster child for a hip New Singapore.
As Keong Saik Road is famous today for its night life – with its many high-end restaurants, boutiques, and bars as tenants – I felt that experiences in the past and in the present would share similarities. Therefore, I wanted to use the zine as an outlet to expand on the five senses one would experience when heading for a night out at Keong Saik Road in the present, contrasted against one in the past.
Using a combination of abstract and literal concepts and techniques, I hoped to convey my own experiences in visiting the site, as well as my assumptions of what it was like in the past, coupled with first-hand accounts from biographies, through the zine’s spreads.
Front & Back Cover
As the zine portrays the contrasting settings of heading for a night out in present-day Keong Saik Road versus one in the past as a red-light district, the zine can be can be read from either the front to back or back to front. Reading from the front shows the experiences of present-day Keong Saik Road as a trendy hot spot for high-end restaurants and bars, and reading from the back would show the experiences of Keong Saik in the past as a red-light district.
The first spread is a representation of getting ready to head out to present-day Keong Saik Road and in the past.
The front cover shows a perfume bottle, an eyeshadow palette, and an ATM card. Illustrations being the main bulk of the visuals, the composition also comprises of patterns taken from images.
Perfume bottle: The pattern here is a wall mural found in one of the alleyways at Keong Saik Road
Eyeshadow palette: The eyeshadow colours here are meant to represent the clothing patterns of visitors I came across during one of my site visits. Common fabric patterns I saw were denim (left), floral patterns (second from left), regular clothing fabrics (second from right), and leather (right).
The title says ‘Meet me at… Keong Saik Road’, done in the style of a WhatsApp message. The title is contrasted against that of the back cover where it says ‘I got caught up at Keong Saik Road’ in Chinese (as Keong Saik Road was a Chinese district in the past). The title of the back cover is done with a spiral pattern to mimic a telephone cord; to contrast against a WhatsApp message, I thought it would be appropriate to have a traditional landline cord.
The back cover, on the other hand, shows a condoms, a condom box, and dollar notes and coins. Like the front cover, illustrations are the main bulk, but with some patterns taken from images. Wanting to show the demographics of visitors who frequented the place in the past (i.e. middle-aged businessmen), I used the fabric of a suit to form the packaging of the condoms.
The first spread represents Keong Saik Road in present-day through the five senses, expanding more on the sense of sight, smell, and sound.
The idea of the first page was to reflect the part of a night out where you’d be looking for a place to eat at. Wanting to show the layout of the road, the left page depicts an overview of the street in the style of a topographical map. The shape of the road and general layout was copied from a map view of the place (when searching for Keong Saik Road in Google Maps). The senses here focused on sight and sound.
In topographical maps, repeated swirls were used to indicate the heights of hills and mountains. Using the same idea, the map here – instead of showing the heights of shophouses in the area – depicts the noise frequencies of different areas. The noisier an area was, the larger and more condensed the swirl was (e.g. bars and clubs would be bigger than hotels and convenience stores). The colours depicted in the centre also reflected the colours associated with that particular store as well. The roads were formed with an image of the road at Keong Saik Road, and the squares (representing the general placement of shophouses) were formed with the floors found in the area – during a site visit, I realised that the stores along the street each had unique styles of flooring, so I thought it’d be interesting to use each pattern to represent a different store.
The right page, on the other hand, was meant to reflect the part of the night where you’d be eating and drinking at a restaurant. The senses to be focused on here would be the sense of sight, smell, sound, and taste. The visuals depicted here are burgers, cigarette, cigarette smoke, drinks, and music from a speaker, against the texture of a wooden surface.
The burger here is a recreation of a photograph of a burger from Potato Head Folk, a very famous restaurant that resides in the area (it’s the first thing you see before going further down the street). It was created by taking textures from buns bought at Keong Saik Bakery and converting them into brushes. The textures were then used to form the shape of the burger based on a photograph.
The smoke here, further emphasised by the visuals of cigarettes, was meant to represent cigarette smoke. When I visited the area, I could smell a lot of cigarette smoke, and wanted to reflect that. The cigarettes were formed from the receipts I got from shopping at Keong Saik Bakery. The smoke was created by spilling coffee onto a paper towel. When cropped and altered, it resembled smoke.
Music from speakers is represented through the radial patterns in the background. When visiting the site, I realised that one of the most notable sounds you’d come across was music blaring from speakers of the different stores. And even more so when the street festival, Urban Ventures, was being held. To show the idea of music coming from speakers, I cropped a photo of a shophouse door into circular patterns.
The spill at the bottom was meant to represent a drink spill. Creating the shape involved spilling a drink across a paper towel then painting over the shape on Photoshop.
In contrast to the first spread, the last spread shows visiting Keong Saik Road in the past as a red-light district. The senses focused here are the sense of sight, smell, and hearing.
The idea of the page on the left was to convey the experiences of coming across brothels along Keong Saik Road. The senses focused here are sight, smell, and sound. Based entirely on an excerpt from 17A Keong Saik Road by Charmaine Leung, which reads:
"The three streets of the Keong Saik area was like a catwalk with an uninterrupted flow of models showing off the latest fashion. Except here, the dai gu liong - masked thickly in their sweet perfumes after they had finished their service calls - sashayed onto the streets and showed off their sex appeal..."
"These men - complete strangers in their thirties to sixties - gathered themselves in a new found alliance of camaraderie, and stood from noon till dark, eyeballing the women of Keong Saik. Like immovable statues at the foot of our house..."
The visuals in this page were meant to convey the descriptions mentioned in these excerpts. Therefore, in this page, it depicts a catwalk where pipas are strutting, to a crowd of sculptures from the Renaissance, coupled with soundwaves and lanterns, against the backdrop of a fur carpet (to make it more raunchy).
The stage here is made up of strips of the page where the excerpt came from. The wall behind is from an image of a wall of a shophouse from the area.
The pipas in this case were meant to represent the prostitutes. In the past, some of the prostitutes were referred to as pipa zai, which is translated into Little Pipa, as it was named after the shapes of their bodies being similar to that of pipas.
The sculptures were meant to represent the brothels’ patrons, where in the excerpt, they were described as ‘immovable statues’.
Emerging from the door of the catwalk is a cloud of pink smoke to represent the thick, sweet perfume of the prostitutes. The smoke was the same one used earlier, but coloured pink instead.
The soundwaves at the back were meant to depict the demographics that visited the brothels. Seeing that its patrons were mainly middle-aged men, the soundwaves were the frequencies of average male voices.
The idea of the right page was meant to convey the experiences of navigating through the street of Keong Saik Road when it was a red-light district. This page focuses on the senses of sight, smell, and sound.
Based entirely on assumptions made from researching about its history, the following visuals are used:
A tunnelling effect was created by layering cropped images of the road and the gates to some of the stores from the area. The deeper the image was, the darker the colour overlay. To further emphasise it being a tunnel, a floor was placed.
The centre comprises of an illuminated sign ‘6-A’. This was to represent the brothels in the area as in the past, patrons identified brothels by looking out for rectangular light boxes out front with numbers on them. The image was cropped from one that still resides in Keong Saik Road today.
The smoke was to emphasise it further as a notorious red-light district. The smoke was the same ones used earlier.
Similar to the page on the left, to depict the demographics that frequent the area (i.e. middle-aged men), I used the sound frequencies of average male voices.
With the two experiences coming together, the centrespread was to represent the feelings of a post-visit to a bar at Keong Saik Road in the present, and a post-visit to a brothel at Keong Saik Road in the past. The five senses pictured here is the sense of sight.
Since the sensation and visuals of the dizzy feeling of being drunk is somewhat similar to the idea of pixellating/censoring what goes on in a brothel, I wanted to use patterns as the primary visual. Taking images of a walkway through one of the shophouses (left), one of the door ways (centre), and a vintage-style wallpaper (right), I warped it to form a swirl pattern. Extracting colours from the photos used, I expanded the swirl patterns to extend to the whole spread.
Making the zine first started with conceptualising the overall concept, approach, and techniques to use.
Eventually, I settled on portraying the five senses through two contrasting experiences in the present and in the past, using as much material I can retrieve from the site.
Research & Materials
In creating the visuals, I had the following materials to use and expand on further:
Photos: The photos I took of the sight showed the different facilities, patterns found in flooring and walls, textures of flooring and doors, light fixtures, colours of shophouses, and the signages displayed.
Items from the site: During my visit, I bought buns from the Keong Saik Bakery, and obtained a couple of receipts.
Objects associated with the site: Food and drinks to symbolise it as an F&B enclave.
17A Keong Saik Road: Autobiographical accounts from the book allowed me to recreate the experiences detailed.
The spill pattern from the first spread was a messy process.
I. Album artworks by Gengahr
II. Artworks by Jason Chen
III. Artworks by thankyou.please
One of the main challenges I dealt with was the use of abstract concepts and methods. As I was very used to representing ideas in a literal format, all while using hand-drawn illustrations as a crutch, I found it challenging to venture out in trying techniques such as mark-making and image manipulation. However, with the help of my friends and Joy, I was able to brainstorm and have a hand in new ways of representing the five senses with materials from the site.
I had some difficulty in coming up with an interesting and visually-appealing centrespread. Inspired by some abstract works I came across, I was hoping to use colours and textures to convey the dizzy feeling of being drunk as well as the censored/pixelated content of visiting a brothel. But it didn’t go as well as I wanted!
Printing the zine was also quite problematic. As its pages were primarily made up of bright and rich colours, it did not really reflect well when printed on regular printing paper. However, having printed an extra copy on glossy paper (for my own reference), the colours came out slightly better, but still a little dull.
Feedback & Improvement
The concept seemed to translate well to my classmates, the juxtaposition was well-defined and the visuals and sequence of pages helped!
Some of the techniques used and colours displayed were interesting and helped to bring forth the concept better.
The centrespread could be developed further. The idea of having the two experiences clash makes for an interesting spread but was not translated well into the centrespread. Maybe I could have applied principles in layout for a better build-up and more interesting composition, as well as adopt better techniques and tools for a more interesting texture.
The place I chose was Keong Saik Road. Because of its popularity as a trendy hangout spot for high-end restaurants, eateries, and bars, I wanted to do a powerpoint presentation in the style of a virtual dining experience. At the same time, I was hoping it’ll be a more interesting method of presenting! After conducting research, I also came to realise that Keong Saik Road, despite its popularity today as an F&B enclave, was once a notorious red-light district in the olden days.
The visuals of the presentation consisted of mainly hand-drawn illustrations accompanied with Photoshop textures and images.
Finding a mix of both quantitative and qualitative data, the research methods I adopted for this project were secondary research and primary research techniques. The techniques involved were:
Primary Research: Site recces, first-hand accounts from myself and others, and surveys
The first slide comprises of an image of the recognisable 1939 building (where Potato Head Folk now resides) with the title in a neon lights kind of typeface and colour.
Because of Keong Saik Road’s popularity as a spot for nightlife, as well as the fact that it was once a red-light district, I thought using neon lights to introduce the place seemed fitting.
To make for a more interesting and visually appealing contents page, while sticking to the ‘dining experience’ theme, the outline of the presentation was done according to a fictional restaurant at an iconic shophouse at Keong Saik Road.
Following the order of going for dinner at a restaurant, I tried to structure my presentation accordingly:
1) Looking at the menu: An introduction into Keong Saik Road
2) Looking at the restaurant’s specials: Keong Saik Road’s unique trait
3) Entering the restaurant: Analyses of Keong Saik Road
The first segment of the presentation gives a brief introduction of Keong Saik Road and an insight into its history. To give context to my classmates who have not heard of/been to Keong Saik Road, I gave them an overview of:
Keong Saik Road Today
Recently named the ‘4th Must-Visit Destination’ in Asia by Lonely Planet Guide in 2017
Where exactly the road is
What it’s famous for: its restaurants and colourful shophouses
The different facilities that reside there
The different types of F&B places
An overview of how the place generally looks like and its most notable landmarks
Keong Saik Road in the Past
The history behind its name
The facilities that resided there in the past
This segment of the presentation was done in the style of a menu. To complement the idea of this segment giving an overview of the place, looking at the menu of a restaurant serves the same purpose.
The third segment of the presentation introduces Keong Saik Road’s unique trait, the transformation of a notorious red-light district into Singapore’s poster child for a hip New Singapore. The slides first talked about its notoriety as a red-light district:
The changes it underwent from the 1940s to 1990s
Its first stages as a street for entertainment houses, then full-fledged brothels, followed by its transformation into a street for commercial use by high-end tenants.
The slides for this segment were done in the style of a chalkboard. Inspired by the many chalkboards displayed outside the eateries I came across while at Keong Saik Road, I wanted to use the medium of a chalkboard display as a unique way of presenting Keong Saik Road’s unique trait. This was also because, keeping to the theme, how some restaurants announce their specials of the day or promotions.
The fourth segment presents the data collected from my primary research on the area. This portion of the presentation is broken down into 4 components:
How the survey showed people’s impressions and perceptions of Keong Saik Road across different demographics
How the history of Keong Saik Road as a red-light district might have influenced the initial perceptions of the same people
A better idea of the demographics that frequent the area as well as the reasons they have for visiting
Two case studies that emphasise Keong Saik Road’s appeal as a trendy hangout today
The visuals of this segment of the presentation was done according to a dining table setting, with plates and utensils placed against a table. Following the theme, the presentation of data is equivalent to the main highlight of a dining experience, so I thought having the dining table setting seemed appropriate.
The final segment of the presentation is the conclusion, emphasising Keong Saik Road’s transformation into a trendy hangout spot famous for not only its F&B scene, but for its rich cultural history.
For this portion, it was done to a setting of receiving the bill. Coming to the end of the dining experience, someone has to pay the bill!
Conceptualising for this project first started off with picking out and narrowing down unique places in Singapore.
I listed and narrowed down places I knew at the top of my head. Some of the places I was interested in exploring further were Upper Thomson Road or MacRitchie Reservoir, Seletar Air Base, Keong Saik Road, Balestier, and Bishan. Some of the traits associated with these places were:
Upper Thomson Road: List of dining options
MacRitchie Reservoir: Inspired by friends’ stories of their homes getting raided by monkeys, I wanted to explore more about MacRitchie Reservoir. It was the only reservoir in Singapore that the macaques reside in and it is hope to the popular Treetop Walk.
Seletar Air Base: Old air base that got reconstructed into an F&B enclave; patrons can see private airplanes taking off while dining there.
Keong Saik Road: Shophouses and F&B scene
Balestier: Rows of peculiar shops
Bishan: Facilities catered to pet owners
However, after debating, I decided to go with Upper Thomson Road/MacRitchie Reservoir.
Research on First Choice
I started researching more on MacRitchie Reservoir and found out that it, along with the surrounding Upper Peirce and Lower Peirce Reservoir, is home to many wildlife, the most notorious being the macaque monkeys. It’s also where Singapore’s first free-standing suspension bridge, the Treetop Walk, is.
I visited the area and conducted short interviews with a couple of students (15-16 yrs) and a couple of adults (37 yrs, 40yrs) on how they viewed the area:
I also held a couple of email interviews with people who were familiar with the area: a couple of outdoor enthusiasts (one holds regular running expeditions at the area, and the other holding fishing trips), and a wildlife guide who holds guided trails educating members of the public on the wildlife there.
However, after looking more into the research and consulting with Joy, I realised that even though MacRitchie Reservoir does have its unique traits, it is quite difficult in expanding on the quantitative aspect of it, and the uniqueness may not be as strong enough.
(Also, getting to the Treetop Walk is not easy, and when talking to JJ and Zhen Qi, they told me that the Treetop Walk is actually quite underwhelming).
So I decided to change my location to somewhere more interesting and easier to extract data from: Keong Saik Road!
Settling on final Choice
Because of time restraints due to my indecisiveness, I had to work quickly. I started with planning out the types of research and methods to adopt for the area:
I first started on conducting secondary research on Keong Saik Road; using online sources such as online encyclopaedias and databases, articles, blogs and reviews, and websites, I found:
The history of Keong Saik Road
Overview of people’s perceptions of the area
The descriptive words they used
Its evolution as a red-light district (i.e. how it came to be)
Lifestyles of people involved when it was a red-light district
Articles on it being nominated as the 4th Must-Visit destination in Asia by Lonely Planet Guide in 2017
I also found that a local author, Charmaine Leung, wrote 17A Keong Saik Road, which provides personal accounts of her growing up in the area when it was a red-light district.
Primary research, on the other hand, included conducting surveys, holding interviews, and visiting the site.
The survey was done on Typeform and administered to youths and adults. I distributed the survey by getting help from my friends (thank you!) and my parents and their friends/colleagues (thank you to them too!).
The statistics was consolidated and categorised into different groups then translated into charts, which were then used in the presentation.
I also conducted a short interview with a friend. I brought a friend, Fei, to Keong Saik Road and noted down her initial perceptions of the place and how it changed after taking her around and briefly explaining its history. I thought interviewing with her was suitable as she hadn’t been to the area in a very long time.
Also, when visiting Keong Saik Bakery, I had a short talk with one of the employees there and in addition to selling us some bread, she talked about how the bakery tried to retain some of the Keong Saik culture.
The bakery had a speciality bun called the ‘Sor Hei’ bun that was modelled after the notable hairstyles of Majie, traditional women who worked as domestic workers and vowed to never get married. It was done in tribute to the previous shop owner who was a Majie.
Furthermore, it was interesting to see that the bakery had a range of buns that catered to both local and high-end flavours. E.g. there was a heibi-flavoured bun, and a champagne sourdough bun with fig and cream cheese.
III. Visiting the Site
Additionally, I did a site recce, where I took photos of the place and conducted observational data. The data collected involved:
Taking a walk around the place, I generally noted down the visiting demographics, and found that there were a number of youths, adults, and elderly. Families and children were lacking.
For a more in-depth analysis, I sat in Keong Saik Bakery from 4pm to about 7pm and noted down the type of demographics and frequency at which they patronised the shop. I found that the bakery had a lot of youths and adults visit the shop as opposed to families with children.
When taking a walk around the area, I noted down the types of facilities, as well as the different types of eateries. There were restaurants, bars, cafes, small eateries, bakeries, convenience stores, and coffee shops.
The facilities, on the other hand, comprised of boutique hotels, spas and hair salons, and lounges and karaoke pubs.
When I was visiting the area, a local arts event was coincidentally taking place. The event was an annual event that takes place at Keong Saik Road, and they would typically block off the area for this. However, when reaching out to the organisers, they didn’t reply!
After consolidating my research, I brainstormed ways in which I could present the data in an engaging yet relevant fashion.
After going with a normal presentation, but in the style of a dining experience, I planned the visuals and content for each segment:
One of the main challenges I faced during this project was choosing a location. My first choice was actually MacRitchie Reservoir or the Upper Thomson area, but it was difficult in pinpointing a specific unique trait that the area had. I decided to go and conduct research about the place first and that wasted quite a substantial amount of time. Because of my indecisiveness and uncertainty in choosing the MacRitchie/Upper Thomson area, I had to change my location in the last minute! So one of the main challenges I had was the lack of time.
Some of the challenges I faced during this project were:
Going about conducting primary research: Because of the lack of time, I had to use efficient ways to conduct primary research across different demographics
My research wasn’t as substantial as I hoped – like the one with recording people’s changed perceptions of Keong Saik Road, I think it would be better if I could bring in interviews with people across different demographics
Feedback & Improvement
Some of the feedback I got about the presentation:
History of Keong Saik Road is interesting, would be interesting to see it translated into a zine
Method of using a dining setting and visuals to present the information is engaging
With the feedback, I hope to make the following improvements when starting on the zine:
Developing more on its history as a red-light district
Depicting its popularity as an F&B enclave in the zine
Adopting similar visuals and colour palette into the zine
Keong Saik Road is a one-way road that links New Bridge Road to Neil Road, and is intersected by Kreta Ayer Road. It houses two popular landmarks: the Ann Kway Building and New Bridge Centre, as well as Oriental Plaza and the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple. The area is most well-known for its colourful two and three-story shophouses filled with ‘trendy hotels, bistros, cafes, and the odd boutique’.
A Brief & Interesting History
Keong Saik Road was named, in 1926, after Tan Keong Saik, a businessman from Malacca who co-founded the Straits Steamship Company. He owned a number of houses in the vicinity. He was also a generous contributor the the social and intellectual life of the Chinese community. Apart from these houses, Keong Saik Road also comprised of a number of charcoal and grocery wholesalers, coffeeshops, incense retailers, and even clan associations.
However! Rich merchants were said to have kept mistresses here. And that’s because of the area’s evolution into a red-light district in the 1960s. Due to its close proximity to Smith Street (a notorious red-light district ‘at the turn of the century’), Keong Saik Road eventually played host to many brothels situated in the three-storey shophouses that lined both sides of the street.
The atmosphere in Keong Saik eventually changed again in the early 1990s when it underwent a transformative phase by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Several old shophouses were set up for sale and were ‘modified for commercial use’, but at the same time, being conserved. ‘High-end tenants’ such as boutique hotels, offices, bars, and eateries have then, moved into the restored shophouses in the area. Keong Saik Road was then part of the ‘Chinatown-Bukit Pasoh Conservation Area’.
Keong Saik Road today
Today, Keong Saik has ‘reinvented itself’, becoming the ‘poster child for hip ‘New Singapore”, earning itself a place among the top 10 travel destinations in Asia for Lonely Planet’s 2017 Best in Asia list. It was praised for its ‘beautiful colonial and art-deco buildings’, where visitors can experience the city state’s ‘famed dining scene’ comprising of award-winning restaurants, trendy cocktail bars with rooftop views, and boutique hotels.
As a Red-Light District
In the 1940s and 1950s, entertainment houses were referred to as ‘geisha houses’, where customers drank and were entertained by ‘beautiful women who sang and danced’. Referred to as Pei Pa Zai (Cantonese for Little Pipa) (also because of their bodies being shaped like the pipa), these songstresses, who were usually aged between 16-20, were often asked for ‘sexual services’, and sometimes taken as ‘mistresses or second wives’. As a result, Keong Saik Road became known as Mistress Avenue in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, as these entertainment houses were beginning to become ‘fronts for services that were more sexual in nature’, there were increased inspections. But, over time, the patrons ‘dwindled’ and these entertainment houses turned into ‘full fledge brothels’. Keong Saik was also considered ‘more premium’ as they had better girls.
Fun fact! Brothels could be identified by a rectangular light box out front with red numbers on them.