Page 1

TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract Pg. 4 - 5

INTRODUCTION Craft and Context Pg. 6 - 17

Craft in Singapore Pg. 6 - 13

Craft & Architecture Pg. 14 - 17

SOJOURN IN KYOTO Space & Experiences Pg. 18 - 23

ENTER BALESTIER Site and Context Pg. 24 - 35

Layers of Development & State of Flux

Pg. 24 - 27

Site Studies

Pg. 28 - 31

The Urban DNA : Balestier Road Elevations

Pg. 32- 35


Land, Building & Time Pg. 36 - 43

Permanence in Flux

Pg. 38 - 39

Layers in Balestier : Land Use Pg. 40 - 41

Life of Buildings : Lifetimes Pg. 42 - 43

STOPOVER IN TAIWAN Urban Rehabilation Pg. 44 - 49


Growing a Network Pg. 50 - 63


Pg.50 - 59

Land Policy Pg.56 - 57

Growing a Network : Final Masterplan Pg.60 - 63


Concepts & Process Pg. 64 - 85


Pg.64 - 69


Pg.70 - 71

Design Process

Pg.72 - 85

FINAL DESIGN Craft in the City Pg. 86 - 121


Acknowledgements & Thoughts Pg. 122 -125



Pg.88 - 89

Clusters Pg.94 - 95

“The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness.” - Madeleine L’Engle

Top : Yong Gallery, Chinatown Bottom : Tay Guan Heng, Ang Mo Kio Industrial Estate



In 1985, an American visitor named Margaret Sullivan documented the daily craft in a developing Singapore, confidently concluded that both craft and urban development could go together as it is still very much of the daily life of the city. Fast forward to 2015, many of the once documented trades have been driven to extinction as the old trades has been dispersed while the new faces similar challenges such as the lack of a flow of knowledge and shortage of space. How can today’s craft, which has evolved from an everyday essential to a serious hobby be part of a contemporary Singapore that is rapidly changing? This thesis takes inspiration from the synergetic relationships found in the lighting industry in Balestier, its historical context as both a medical retreat since the 1930s and an industrial and technical education hub in the 1960s. The thesis aims to come up with an organic phased synergetic network to both accommodate the urban growth and transformations in the city while finding a place for craft to both grow and advance in Balestier, situated between the “heartlands” and the “city”. Intended to take place over an unspecified period of time, an ecosystem of craft establishments could be cultivated within the urban landscape of Balestier, shaping itself according to circumstances.




IN THE CITY an introduction

Interiors of Associated Handicraft Co.

7 Estate Ang Mo Kio Industrial

Seeking a Permanent Architecture for Craft in a Changing Landscape Craft is the soul of the city, an element of a shared social consciousness that provides a sense of place in a landscape in flux. While Singapore’s traditional craft is disappearing, a new wave has emerged. This thesis seeks to build a metabolic network society and provide a permanent architecture to accommodate the growth of craft in an ever changing city.


More than just a matter of hobby or nostalgia, craft plays a pivotal role in the nation’s consciousness and memory as an intangible attachment to the landscape. The essence of a physical shell like a shophouse which has been a subject of debate in the realm of heritage conservation where criticism was sharp against the bungalows turned lifeless clubhouses or old institutions transformed into a residential development in the fluid urbanscape of Singapore. Faced with an increasing aging population in a rapidly transforming landscape, craft could bridge the gap between the physical disorientation brought about by rapid development and her residents. In 1985, Margaret Sullivan, an American living in Singapore published “Can Survive Lah!” which documents the everyday craft in a rapidly developing Singapore with an optimistic epilogue about the fate of craft in a developed Singapore. By the 1990s, the picture wasn’t pretty, the former habitats for craft in the city was erased by gentrification set in motion by the conservation of Chinatown and Kampong Glam or the redevelopment of Bugis and the central districts. The craftsmen found themselves regulated to the inaccessible industrial districts. Craft was put out of the public eye, and survival depended on pragmatic needs and generational passing down of knowledge. The inaccessibility and resulting exclusivity of knowledge followed the failed paths of the Arts and Craft Movement and the Bauhaus Movement in Dessau in history. Craft is not a static product, a result of years if not generations of development, it needs exposure to advance. In the past decade however, a resurgence of craft was observed in the public. There is a revival of craft by a new generation of culinary artisans, artists and craftsmen while the veterans of the past were given recognition though futile as one witness the potential demise of the dragon kilns and the abandonment of craft in favour of profitable rents in Tiong Bahru demonstrates the seemingly unstoppable force of gentrification as well as development aims by the state. Would history repeat itself for the new wave of craft? Using the contested border region of Balestier, sandwiched between the city and the “heartlands” as a platform, this thesis aims to integrate craft into the landscape by making it accessible and thus favourable for advancement as it had in the past when craft part of the city’s every day. In short, the thesis seeks to introduce and accommodate craft into the everyday of a rapidly changing Singaporean landscape through permanent architecture and development of an urban network in a volatile site, a common condition experienced in several highly developed cities.


What is Craft? Who are the craftsmen?

Singapore’s craft scene is easily separated into two phases, the old veterans whose everyday craft which survived till today due through means like their relevance to the pragmatic needs in Singapore. And there is a new wave of craftsmen who are former architects, lawyers or bankers who dedicated their time to honing new craft like leatherworks, embroidery to marmalade making.


Traditional Craft Spaces


Craft today.

challenges, nostalgia, space, exposure, hobby A recent revival of the craft scene is distinct from the traditional craft scene observed by Margaret Sullivan in the 1980s in many ways. Unlike its traditional counterparts which have provided essential services in the form of funeral supplies to daily food and beverage provisions such as coffee and bread. These older forms of craft has also faded into a living form of nostalgia in the Singapore society. The new wave of craft has its roots in serious hobbies and interests rather than pure pragmatism. Nonetheless, it inherited the challenges faced by the traditional forms of craft: limited awareness, stagnant evolution, lack of space and high costs in the today’s Singapore. Many of these challenges also demonstrated the inadequacy of both the urban planning provisions and architecture to accommodate programs related to craft: short term markets to easily accessible workspaces for the public and a network for evolution of the craft forms present in our Asian counterparts like Thailand, Taiwan and Japan. As a result, unconventional uses of space has emerged1 to make the best out of the the set urban conventions in Singapore. Both private and state enterprises are looking into popups rather than a fixed permanent site and collaboration in both virtual and physical realms such as the Temporium, the Creatory2 and the online Platform Collective3 which brings together craftsmen of shared interests to help one anotherare seen as key to mitigate the high operating costs. 1. Hardasmalani, R. (2015, April 17). Reeling retail sector retools as hard times begin to bite. Today. Retrieved May 3, 2015, from 2. Creatory | An 8@Ate Production. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from 3. The Platform Collective. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from


From the top : The Creatory, Little India Naiise Pop-up and Edible Gardens by NONG Pop-up at People’s Park Complex.


The History of Craft in Modern Architecture



Walter Crane, John Rushkin and William Morris 19th Century

The awareness and subsequent elevation of daily craft such as woodworks to glass making against the changing of times is not without its precedents. The British Arts and Craft Movement in the 19th century led by William Morris is one such precedent in which William Morris and like-minded individuals attempted to elevate the daily craft into objects of art and incorporate it into architecture. More than a century after the Arts and Craft Movement, the academic-led movement remains a realm of luxury only accessible to the to those who could afford the handcrafted arts and craft products, be it in architecture or in craft itself.


BAUHAUS | DESSAU, GERMANY 1925 - 1926, Walter Gropius

In a more pragmatic approach in the 1930s, the Bauhaus formed a partnership with the Dessau industrial community and set up an institution that seeks to combine design, handicraft of the Dessau region with the industrial production lines in Dessau. Rather than raising craft to an object of art status and attempting to maintain a separate line of production without regard for technology, the Bauhaus movement acknowledged the presence of and relevance of the machine and attempted to introduce design into production. Similar to the Arts and Craft movement though, the Bauhaus movement has its roots in the academia and in the end the production lines of the Dessau industry and the Bauhaus design process remained separated. The Bauhaus Dessau functioned as a form of design academy, isolated within the institution, rather than integrating the production lines of Dessau itself.


WERKRAUM HAUS BREGENZERWALD, AUSTRIA 2013, Peter Zumthor Zumthor’s design for the exhibition hall places emphasis on the items and its arrangement within the simple grid-like space. It is a simple, transparent, functional architecture that serves to juxtapose craft and design together while also serving as a form of information centre.

TAICHUNG INFOBOX TAICHUNG, TAIWAN 2011, Stan Allen More literal that Zumthor, Stan Allen’s Taichung Infobox employs local materials or local-associated materials for the construction of this temporary pavilion that serves as both an exhibition space as well as a learning space. The program for Stan Allen’s Taichung Infobox is more apparent and direct compared to Zumthor’s.


SINGAPORE HANDICRAFT CENTRE SINGAPORE 1976 - 1985 Urban Redevelopment Authority

The local authorities of the 1970s – 1980s were aware of the “craft” of Singapore. In 1976, after half a decade of exploration of attempting to integrate craft and education into the tourism framework since 1969, the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board opened the Singapore Handicraft Centre at Tanglin, at the present-day Tanglin Mall & Traders Hotel. In theory, the Singapore Handicraft Centre is supposed to work to preserve and elevate the daily craft into a higher status such as an object of art or souvenir as well as educate both the public and foreign visitor of the process of making them through demonstrations and strict selection of labour (people who are apprentices or keen in learning the craft housed in the centre) The problems that plagued both the Arts and Craft Movement and the Bauhaus institute in Dessau would plague the Singapore Handicraft Centre from its opening to its eventual closure in 1989. The Singapore Handicraft Centre was once again an isolated institution for the daily craft. Its collection of programs and systems wasn’t part of the daily network which either made it out of context hence the phasing out of the classrooms and offices towards its later years. Or, it made craft expensive and inaccessible as visitors referred back to the origins for sales or local suppliers to get a cheaper deal.


18 in Gion, Kyoto. a workshop

SOJOURN IN KYOTO spaces and experiences



アウーム [awomb]

Located within a traditional machiya, Awomb is a restaurant that combines Kyoto obanzai (homemade cuisine) with sushi making. The dining experience itself is different in the sense that you could combine various elements within what is provided to create a sushi of your liking. However, another aspect that I enjoyed while queuing up for the meal is the visuals and acoustics at the hallway where you could hear the kitchen staff preparing the food and see the crew prepare the coffee, tea and desserts at the storefront. The varying degrees of transparency for a meal that is to come was an inspiration.



ホテルアンテルーム京都 [Hotel Anteroom Kyoto] Anteroom Kyoto designed by UDS Ltd is a former student dormitory converted into a serviced apartment and hotel. The hotel combines both permanent and temporary residences with a common space at the ground floor. The common space is a combination of the reception area, a bar, a breakfast room, a reading corner as well as a gallery. During our stay at the Anteroom Kyoto, we managed to meet a couple of designers at the lounge area who are long-term residents. This shared public sphere (Öffentlichkeit) is an important element of the hotel which seeks to bring together like-minded designers and artists by providing the appropriate atmosphere for it.


24Close. Kim Keat

enter BALESTIER between city & heartlands.


BALESTIER Layers of Development in a State of Flux Balestier is experiencing an intensive flurry of development as it sits in between the expanding downtown and the established residential estates of Toa Payoh and Whampoa, the result a state of flux in its physical landscape. It is currently a host for a number of existing trades going back to the 1940s, a historical centre for vocational training in the 1960s and “medical hub” since the 1950s. The various dynamics around the area and its position between city and the “heartland” is ideal for a networked craft society to integrate with emerging needs of city such as activities for the aging community in the matured estates and educational exposure for the survival of an intangible heritage.


Since the 1950s, the Novena area south of Balestier Road has been developed as a form of medical hub which spanned to Whampoa drive area with the Middleton Hospital and the main medical facility was the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Over half a century despite transformations in the landscape, the medical facilities remained and were expanded, culminating into the Novena Health City in 2030, acknowledging not only Novena-Balestier’s historical role as a medical hub but also addressing a pressing issue of coming up with sufficient medical infrastructure to cater to an aging population. Developing subsequently in the 1960s onwards are the establishments of technical institutes and small-scale factories which led to a unique combination of residential and industrial/commercial typologies along Balestier Road. Along Balestier Road, there is a dominant association with technical skills training and industrial facilities that lasts till today even though the encroaching thirst for condominiums and commercial developments are steadily taking over Balestier reducing it into a homogenous condo cluster in the recent years. The accessibility of the health facilities and the remaining industrial venues to the residents of the mature estates of Toa Payoh, Whampoa, Kin Keat and Ah Hood Road not only provides the conditions to cater to the increasing health demands of the aging residential community in these estates, the accessibility to these industrial buildings also provides the opportunities for the residents in particularly the elderly to get exposed to the workshops present in the area evident in the survivability of several old institutions nearer to the Whampoa estate and Balestier Complex area such as Loong Fatt Eating House, Lam Yeo Coffee, Sweetlands Bakery and Sing Hon Loong Bakery which also serves a pragmatic role in the daily needs for food, a trait observed in the trades still surviving in the industrial estates as well. Furthermore, a phenomenon observed in the 1970s beyond urban planning is the clustering of lighting shops in Balestier also provides an example of the workings of a network of complementary programs such as bathroom fixtures and interior design firms. This serves as an inspiration for the long term urban approach of craft communities in Singapore where the aim is to development a network of complementary purpose in the intervention independent of state direction. Balestier, sitting in between an expanding downtown accompanied by high end condo developments and yet at the same time catering for the needs of the residents of the mature satellite towns of Toa Payoh an Whampoa is in a constant state of flux evident in its multiple layers of developments going back to the 1950s which serves as a template to study and hence approach development in the area.


Balestier Road Visual Studies


Sitting between the city and the “heartlands�, Balestier has a varied mix of urban typologies that reflects its layered history and the conflicting forces shaping its landscape.


Balestier Site Studies

With a mix of variables such as geographical position, existing cluster networks and a varied distribution of private and state land ownership, Balestier presents several potential sites for a creation of a Craft Network.

Network Putting Together the Ise Shrine Inspired by the Hobsbawn and Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition , the feasibility of a craft network lies in creation of a modern tradition that is integrated into the everyday. One major example of the survivability of craft in Japan is their contribution to the rebuilding of the Ise Shrine which has historical roots and a modern invention at the same time going back to the 1940s.


Informal Custering of Interior Design, Lighting, Construction and Bathroom Services around Balestier is a testimony of the success of a ground-up network system within the conditions of the landscape has provided: a strong technical historical context as well as position between the city and the “heartlands�.

Health Facilities dominate the Novena area although aging homes, welfare associations and mid-size medical institutes could be found at other parts of the area as well. The medical infrastructure could be part of a diverse craft network to complement the aging population in the mature estates of Whampoa and Toa Payoh.

Hotels around Balestier areas, larger scale hotels such as Ibis Novena, Oasia, Ramada and Days Inn are recent additions to the cluster of small hotels such as Fragrance hotels around the area. The widespread of hotels along Balestier Road also hints at a strong presence of tourism.

Freehold Properties could be one of the reasons for the varied urban make-up of the landscape as changes could not take place swiftly due to the varied ownership of land which calls for a need for en-bloc process which takes time to set in place.



THE URBAN COMPOSITION : PRODUCT OF HISTORY Balestier is situated in between the “downtown” and the “heartlands” which makes an interesting mix of programs and typologies around the area. A rough sampling of the main Balestier Road between Thomson and Moulmein Road reveals that diversity.

Balestier Road Facing South, East to West

High-Density Condos In recent years, low-rise factory buildings have given way to high-rise, high-density condos and flats around Balestier.

Synergetic Lighting & Interior Design Industry One of the most unique features of Balestier is its synergetic network of lighting and interior design establishments that complements and competes with each other. This dates back to the 1970s and was a ground-up effort that serve as a inspiration for the idea of a synergetic network for craft.


Medical Tourism Balestier is a medical retreat going back to the 1930s with the Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Middleton Hospital then. Today, the Novena area is slated to be the Novena Health City to cater for both foreign and local needs and an acknowledgement of an aging population in Singapore. This has resulted in more hotels and medical facilities and thus a possible demographic for soft-approach towards aging : cultivating a hobby.

Technical Institutes Since the 1980s, Balestier is home to several vocational technical institutes such as Balestier Hill Technical School and Kim Keat Secondary Vocational School.


Balestier Road Facing North, West to East


Factory Residences A kind of typology that is typical of Balestier. There are hybrid structures that combines industrial or commercial functions with residential needs.

Mature Estates

Existing Trades

Mature estates such as Whampoa and Toa Payoh to the north presents foreseeable challenges in the form of a growing aging population.

A testimony to Balestier’s long history. It is one of the few places with a number of traditional trades that are still in operation such as Lam Yeo and Sin Hon Loong.


the state of

LIMBO time and architecture

The Golden Wall Flatted Factory is a light industrial building that was constructed sometime in the 1970s - 1980s. It is an example of the mature building poised for demolition or development anytime soon like its contemporaries along Balestier Road such as the Leong Onn Industrial Building.



Permanence in Flux Anticipating and responding to the developments in the changing landscape of Balestier, this thesis seeks to achieve a metabolic masterplan in the area of Balestier where spaces in limbo could be occupied to serve the needs of the craftsmen while complementing the needs of the stakeholders of the space and the community to develop an accumulative network craft society. Reflecting this metabolic approach is a permanent architecture detached from the static site.


Balestier, and similar to other areas in Singapore are in a constant state of flux as endless developments begin and end. The physicality of the urban landscape is disorientating and fluid as market forces and stat- guided urban developments are constantly transforming the urban landscapes in Singapore. However, both land and buildings does not have a linear lifetime from conception to demolition. Studying the lifespan of both buildings and land in Singapore, one could find formerly exhumed cemeteries or demolished HDB estates that sits empty for decades and buildings in a state of limbo as they awaits demolition, redevelopment or reprograming. In the land-strapped Singapore, such cases are common. Seeking a middle ground between the interests of the state, the artisans, craftsmen and artists as well as land owners, there is opportunity in the state of limbo. Faced with the challenges of expensive rents, lack of space and lack of exposure, the craftsmen are seeking ways to overcome this and in recent years, this has been realized in temporary pop-ups and occupancy of spaces un-programed for such purpose. The stakeholders include private developers, private firms, landlords as well as the artists and craftsmen themselves have found benefits in such short term occupancy. The architecture is to reflect the lifespans of the spaces. Going back to the 19th century urban planning of Singapore, materials were once given instructions for permanent or temporary to anticipate the developments in the city. Similarly, the metabolic plan for these craft spaces will utilize materials good enough for their life times and easy to dismantled and reassembled in another limbo site in the area which serves as a physical control for the intervention. Temporary but permanent architecture are not without a precedent. In the limelight are examples such as the constantly morphing Serpentine Gallery Pavilions or the more consistent works by Shigeru Ban such as the Paper Church was constructed in Kobe then later moved to Taiwan. Furthermore, the everyday also sees persistence in architectural programs albeit a change of site. From temporary construction offices, wayang stages, wet markets, pasar malam and foreign dormitories, these are the everyday occurring instances.






Yilan Railway Station Warehouses / Fieldoffice Architects A series of warehouses located next to Yilan Railway Station was renovated by the Fieldoffice Architects and given a new lease of life as a public space - commercial facility hybrid.







[Yilan Railway Warehouses] Located next to the railway station is a series of 9 warehouses that was renovated by Fieldoffice Architects. The architect’s light intervention to the space converts a set of warehouses into a hybrid of public space and commercial-civic spaces. Most importantly, it demonstrated how a light approach could still bring a new lease of life to a set of old structures of a totally different program, a recurring theme in Fieldoffice Architects’ works.



華山1914文化創意產業園區 [Huashan 1914 Creative Park ]

The former wine factory is situated in the midst of the central Taipei. Originally slated for demolition after the factory was closed in 1987, a u-turn in the urban planning turned this land in limbo into an arts complex when a grassroots effort raised its profile in 1997 and eventually led to the today’s Huashan 1914 Creative Park by 2005. The Huashan 1914 Creative Park is an example of a land in limbo that has been re-constituted to serve a different program from the original urban planning in Taipei.



the MASTERPLAN growing a synergetic network

Process Drawing on the 2014 Masterplan


Masterplanning Process



Masterplanning Process




In Transition. Re-thinking land in the state of limbo. Under schemes like the global schoolhouse scheme between SLA and EDB, the Adopt-A-Field as well as State Properties Rental Scheme1, several plots of land in limbo state where the Masterplan has yet to provide a concrete plan for selected plots of state land have been set aside for other uses such as private institutes in Balestier. Nonetheless, beyond the reach of the state lands, private lands where there is a state of limbo between the next phase of development or transition in the masterplan are not covered within these schemes and are subjected to the conventional Temporary Occupation Permits. By adjusting the land policy and regulations governing the TOP, more land could be utilized as short-term establishments before the next phase of development and hence open up transitional spaces. While not official put in place, private sector attempts to occupy spaces for temporary uses beyond its original program has been observed in the Creatory at Tai Seng as well as the Eminent Plaza which was temporarily converted into an art space in the Eminent Takeover2 event.

1. Tan, S. (2014, January 27). Renting out State Properties: Short Term Uses, Long Term Consequences. Retrieved May 3, 2015, from http://lkyspp.nus. 2. An Eminent Takeover. (2014, October 8). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from





Growing a Network Taking root in a changing landscape. Balestier is home to a synergetic network of lighting and interior design establishments since the 1970s. Over the years, the network has grown and both competition and relevance has helped the various establishments thrive and create a niche area in Balestier. Such synergetic network is the vision of a modified masterplan that seek to address the challenges for up and coming craft establishments as well as the circumstances of posed by a rapidly changing Singapore. As such, this masterplan is looking to establish a synergetic network of craft establishments around Balestier which is strategically situated between the heartlands and the city with high exposure to both public and foreign visitors. Taking place over time, the network is to grow in strength as more relationships are established within its urban landscape which will serve as a bulwark against the pace of transformation in city. Making use of the lands in limbo to start of the establishments, this urban strategy is to find a way to coexist and harmonize both the needs of the craft men as well as the impact of urban development in the area. Over time a point of convergence could be achieved as a middle ground between the needs of the craftsmen and aims of the urban development finds balance within Balestier with the synergetic relationships between craft establishments establishing ground-up spheres of influence rather than static one-off top-down creations or lone establishments that topple with ease as proven in previous case studies such as the Singapore Handicraft Centre or the standalone Thow Kwang Dragon Kilns1 which is at the mercy of the developer.

1. Zaccheus, M. (2013, August 3). Remaining dragon kilns in Singapore given new breath of life. Straits Times.




DESIGN Process and Concepts

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film explores the themes of voyeurism and human curiosity which is an innate part of human behaviour. The protagonist piece together stories as he observes as a voyeur. In a way, this is a film about the power of suggestion and imagination granted to the view through a set of visual cues : a partial transparency that grants what the everyday a chance to be on the pedestal.










Phase I Golden Wall Flatted Factory

Phase III Renci Nursing Home

Phase I Whampoa Markets


Phase IV Mandalay Estate


(Presently Communicable Disease Centre)

(Novena Medical City)

THE SITE : Former Tan Tock Seng Hospital

Constructed since the 1930s - 1940s, the present-day Renci Nursing Home was a former facility of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. It is slated to be transformed into a residential area in the 2014 Masterplan. This is a Phase III site when the new proposed masterplan has accumulated a denser network in Balestier that gives it critical mass to occupy the larger Renci Nursing Home site where a hybrid of residential-workshoppublic space will be constructed along a popular path between Toa Payoh & Novena.




Sketch drawings on the growth of the estate.


The Author and the Bell Boy at the Reception Counter of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) directed by Wes Anderson.

Encounters. “One evening as my suit come to elbow to elbow with Monsieur Jean, I noticed a new presence in our company…” In the film, the author noticed a new presence in the lobby one evening, Mr Mustafa who would later narrate his story to the author after another encounter. Crafting a story for the design, this is one such scenario I would picture within the site, like that of the lobby of the Kyoto Anteroom, artisans and members of the public could encounter and intrigue each other within the public sphere : in the Öffentlichkeit. Encounters are the beginnings of a new story and more important, the memories and experiences from there, leads to a chance of a grassroots relationship between the individuals inhabiting the common space. Thus an open, transparent atmosphere is crucial to the awareness of the craftsmen and here architecture could bridge that gap between the public and the process in the estate through contrast, density, expansions and compressions. of space. 75



Process drawings on the growth and construction of the clusters.


Development of the estate over time as a growing monolitich block.


Breaking down the block into smaller blocks with a spine that runs along an existing circulation path connecting Novena and Balestier Road.

Organizing Growth The Spine & Circulation

Permutations and Organizing Growth The Courtyard Idea Sketches on the growth and development of units around the courtyard.


The Courtyard : Whampoa Square Building a home for the artisans is not a new concept. Rewinding back to the 1960s, the Singapore Improvement Trust has created estates meant for artisans such as the Whampoa Square which has since turned into an empty field. Nonetheless, their attempts still provide a source of inspiration for the workspaces for the merging artisans where a courtyard shared among artisans is one of the cornerstones of the design where artisans could share common facilities and ideas through the intersection in circulation. This give rise to the idea of the cluster: a concept of shared and related trades gathering round a courtyard. In these courtyards, kilns could serve as a common facility between ceramic artists and potters or an open airing area for paper-makers and lantern painters.


Process drawings of the expansion and various arrangements of the estate.


Flux, Renewal and Limits The estate in a constant flux as circumstances changes over time. What are the limits? Within this constant process of renewal and construction remains the urban conventions of density, balance is the key to the estate. Residency and workshops are tied to the limitations of the infrastructure and the urban guidelines governing the area as the plot ratio of 2.8 as well as the height considerations of the surroundings or the psychological relationship between vertical height and work where provisions for fire safety and utilities becomes the limit (i.e rate of evacuation to additional fire safety equipment that complicates the construction and calls for a more permanent construction). Furthermore, proportion of the units to the floor area of the “piers� is a consideration to the heights these blocks could reach. Once again, balance and proportion.



Development of the estate in clusters over time.


Draft Ground Floor Plan of the estate with the cluster concept.


DESIGN Craft in the City




Craft in the City Today’s craft establishments had to seek a new approach beyond what urban conventions in Singapore has to provide in order to be re-introduced into the urban landscape. Recognizing the rapid pace of transformation in the urban landscape of Singapore while stressing the need to maintain a consistent and permanent presence of craft in the form of a network led to the a estate in the state of flux. By being in a state of flux, the estate could both cater to the needs of the craft establishments over time while build up a synergetic network in its site and in the larger landscape of Balestier achieved through the phased masterplan. The constant construction, deconstruction and reconstruction could modify the site when demands rises for the craft establishments and at the same time cater for the foreseeable future needs of urban redevelopment. Yet, at the same time, maintain a permanent presence within the landscape, thus it is a design experiment of permanent programme with the acknowledgement and working in tandem with the temporal nature of the urban landscape. In conventional approach towards site and urban planning, a craft establishment would be bind to a physical body in the site which could falter as technology gets outdated as it had happened to the Nagakin Capsule or gets easily erased in a en bloc or urban renewal scheme which has happened to existing and preceding artist colonies and villages, being a phase in a network over time would give it inertia to such developments.



The American artist, Sol LeWitt is known for his instructed artworks where the fundamentals of his artworks remained constant while there could still be variations to the exhibited works depending on the spaces and audience of each venue.

Order & Variations

Sol LeWitt

Within the estate, it is like a small town with the synergetic relationships of the main Masterplan for Balestier taken into consideration while expanding and slowly building up the estate over time.

Synergetic Relationships

Micro-Urban Network


While the essence of the design is self-development, it is guided by zones where progression and expansion is regulated in clusters to ensure the circulation through the estate is not interrupted in the processes of construction and renewal.

Spheres & Development




CLUSTERS | Organized Development


Initial Phase

North Wing

Clusters A & B + Markthalle

Creation of Cluster C

Creation of Cluster D

Cluster A & B Matures

Growth of Cluster D, Renewal of Cluster A

Clusters C & D Matures

Connection between Cluster C & D

Cluster B dismantled, Cluster A re-built.

Cluster A & B renewed.

Cluster C & D set for renewal.


South to North / Elevation

SOUTH (Jalan Tan Tock Seng) - NORTH (Minbu Road)



CLUSTER D [ Product Design ]


DENSITY & PROCESS / THE RAW & REFINED The long ward structures will serve as a contrast to the tightly packed, units of workshops that make up the various blocks. This contrast between the refined and the raw is a visual reference to the process behind each finished product.


South to North / Elevation

SOUTH (Jalan Tan Tock Seng) - NORTH (Minbu Road)



This cluster specializes in general craft including ceramic craft, tile making, pottery and glassworks.

INDUSTRIAL DESIGN This cluster specializes in industrial design with design studios, product design, woodcraft, and 3D-printing.


PUBLIC GARDEN FLEA MARKET This pier is within the sphere of the General Craft Cluster thus events such as the Public Garden Flea Market showcasing and selling works such as bamboo ceramics and handmade vases can be found here.


MARKTHALLE Modelled after the market centres, the Markthalle is an open air market hall with indoor facilties for the gourmet establishments in the estate.


WORLD STREET FOOD CONGRESS Located within the Markthalle and Gourmet Cluster’s sphere, this pier focus on gourmet related events such as the World Street Food Congress seminars.


South to North / Section

SOUTH (Jalan Tan Tock Seng) - NORTH (Minbu Road)


This cluster in this scenario specializes in gourmet trades such as conserves, granola, private kitchens, bakeries and coffee roasting.

COMMON LOUNGE The mature clusters would share a common facility constructed using the pre-mounted cranes located within the central blocks of each cluster.

CONSTRUCTION OFFICE The backhouses serve as construction offices for their own clusters as well as public toilets.


CLUSTER A ARTS This cluster specializes in papercraft and art studios such as painting, sketchbook-making, framing and printing press.

FLUX Cranes are pre-mounted from the beginning to help construct the blocks in the clusters and most importantly the connections between blocks (and clusters) over time.

BIBLIOTHEK A library is an essential component in many workshops, a design-based library is housed within the north wing to serve as a general reference unit for the estate’s workshops.

Over time, they will also serve the purpose of dismantling the blocks when the time is up for renewal. The process of building and un-building meant that the estate is always in a state of flux. 101

South to North / Section

SOUTH (Jalan Tan Tock Seng) - NORTH (Minbu Road)

THE LIBRARY / NORTH WING Along with the Markthalle, the North Wing is one of the two main structures are constructed in the early stages of the estate. The North Wing serves as the entrance for the junction between Minbu Road and Shan Road leading from Balestier Road and connects the north to the south which continues on to Novena and the future Moulmein Estate. A library will serve as a common reference unit for the craft establishments within the estate and the surrounding landscape will be partially used for agricultural purposes.








EAST (Jalan Tan Tock Seng) - WEST (Shan Road)

PHASE II / CLUSTER D This drawing shows a high-density cluster with only the west block being built. The west block would be the first of the three blocks to be built in each cluster. Being a high density block, the crane is set up in the West Block at the beginning in contrast to Cluster A which are of a lower density.

Phased Construction :

PIER 2 Pier 2 is used mainly for industrial design related events such as exhibitions showcasing collaborations between local product designers and craftsmen from the estate or workshops from overseas : i.e KIHARA x Supermama



CONSTRUCTION OFFICE The former back house is used to house the construction offices for the building of the Central Block and East Block of Cluster D.

Common Workshop

Industrial Design

Construction related workshops such as carpentery and metalworks can share the same building as well.


3D- Printing

Meeting Room

Product Design



EAST (Jalan Tan Tock Seng) - WEST (Shan Road)


PHASE III / CLUSTER A Cluster A in this scenario is a catered for artrelated establishments in particularly papercraft and art studios where framing and paper services complement the needs of an artist. Phase III is a more mature form of cluster with the West Block serving more dominant residential function for the craftsmen, artists working here as well as visiting artists. Example : Lian Cherngzhi’s Perfect Sketchbooks x Bynd Artisan with the studios of Good Citizen and Band of Doodlers.





EAST (Jalan Tan Tock Seng) - WEST (Shan Road)

EAST BLOCK [CLUSTER A] Paperpress, framing and book-binding.

CENTRAL BLOCK [ CLUSTER A ] Art studios (painting, watercolour), papercraft, lantern-making. The main crane is situated within this block to help construct and modify the West block and East blocks.


WEST BLOCK [ CLUSTER A ] Residential units for visiting artists and craftsmen working in the West and Central Blocks of Cluster A.




Section : Shan Road - Minbu Road

SHAN ROAD ENTRANCE Vehicular and service access comes from Shan Road.

ADMIN & ESTATES OFFICES The admin offices and operations of the estate are overseen within the North Wing as well.



LIBRARY A library is an essential component in many workshops, a design-based library is housed within the north wing to serve as a general reference unit for the estate’s workshops.


COFFEEHOUSE / SALON This takes over part of the existing ward structure and is turned into a salon for the public.

Part of the slopes to the north of the site is used for agricultural purposes such as the cultivation of chilli, ginger, pandan to be used for the gourmet workshops in the estate.


Residential Units [Writer & Illustrator]

Loft Unit [Dr. Viray]

Framer and Painter

Ceramic Craft

Lantern-making and Painter

Conserves and Bakery Calligraphy and Tea Vendor


Spaces | Hierarchy Taking a cue from the artisan units introduced in the 1960s. The spaces for the craft establishments share a common feature: the courtyard which is a common space in which related craft establishments could share common facilities like a kiln or 3D printer or work benches and thus reduce operation costs and foster collaboration within these units. The spaces are arranged in terms of compressions and expansions with the most expansive spaces denoting a more public space with a smaller volume meant for more private work areas.

Paper-press / Paper-craft

Art Studios



Hierarchy & Process The building block of the estate is the craftsmen, the artists, the artisans. A ceramic workshop such as this forms the foundation and hence most private space within the estate. As one moves along the process of a tea cup, the spaces expands to the open shared public sphere: Ă–ffentlichkeit.


A tea cup finds company among the artisans and artists who works at the same cluster before find its place in the piers, curated for the public to admire.








REFLECTIONS Acknowledgements & Thoughts


Counting down to Critique Day.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Over the process of this thesis project, I have encountered various perspectives on the future of craft in Singapore and its relationship to the urban landscape as well as architecture. This would not have been possible without the fruitful correspondence with the folks from Sin Hon Loong, Lam Yeo Coffee, Tay Guan Heng, Associated Handicraft and Co., Cat Socrates, Naiise, Haystakt, Katong Antique House, the Brownies of Bukit Brown and the Platform Collective. Their insights give light to the challenges and hopes of the art and craft in Singapore. I am thankful for the enriching and passionate discussions I had with people from different walks of life such as the writer, Lim Jialiang, Xin Hui from Wanbao, Juria Toramae & Jerome Lim behind Points of Departure, Lee Ju-lyn, the author behind the Spider with Seven Tau-geh Legs, Singapore’s oldest tour guide, Mrs Geraldene Lowe-Ismail and fellow creatives like Phoaw Yen Shan, Alvin Ong, Andre Wee, Lim Qixuan, Xie Shangyi, Chia Xianmin, Guo Yixiu and Yong from Somewhere Else. I would also like to thank my studio mates : Tan Jing Xiang, Ho Huiling, Eleanor Xu and Celia Wong and school mates (including Goh Weixiang) for the energy, encouragements and the lively atmosphere that kept me going throughout the two semesters. Likewise, the thesis is not possible without the guidance of the tutors, especially my supervisor, Mr. Tsuto Sakamoto and the members of the critique panel, Mr Randy Chan, Mr Richard Ho and Mr Low Boon Liang. I will also like to thank both Dr. Lai Chee Kien and Dr. Erwin Viray for their wealth of knowledge, assistance and advice throughout the two semesters. Last but not least, I would like to mourn the loss of Morris Ng : a friend who has been there for me and gave me useful insights and encouragements.


Craft in the City | Balestier  

Lee Xin Li | 2015 Tsuto Sakamoto NUS MArch Thesis Report

Craft in the City | Balestier  

Lee Xin Li | 2015 Tsuto Sakamoto NUS MArch Thesis Report