Porosity in Singapore

Singapore reaches for the sky yet there are bridges in the air and lovely open porous spaces filled with people, greeery and colour all across the city.

Pore: n. minute opening in surface, through which fluids may pass.

Porous: a. full of pores (lit. or fig.);

Porosity: porousness, ns. (Oxford Dictionary, p.798).Singapore abounds and fascinates with its examples of ‘porous’ architecture.

This notion of using the open and interstitial spaces is becoming popular in high density areas such as Singapore where construction necessarily is dictated to by the need to build ‘up’. Porosity is not a new concept but was explored by ancient Chinese scholars who were fascinated with porous rocks. The more richly porous the structures were, balancing air with mass, the more valuable , becoming known as ‘scholar stones’.‘For the world of Chinese scholars stones has to be a source of inspiration, mysteriously shrouded in feathery mist – to anyone with an interest in transparency, transformation, immateriality, dynamism, in spectacular surfaces, monoliths, or raw lumps of rock, in minimalist or archaic monuments’. (Ursprung, Herzog & De Meuron, 2003, p.111).According to Professor Richard Goodwin, a pioneer in research into ‘porous’ architecture, this new way of considering the social construction of cities sits side by side with allowing art a role in designing for adaptive re-use of existing urban structure via new ‘parasitic forms’. In this view of architecture, the social construction of cities is prioritized over physical construction or any aesthetic considerations. How people live together and move around the social spaces, how they express through art and lifestyle is the driving design consideration.

Alain de Botton (2006) discusses this is a progression in thought from classical architecture with its prescriptive proportions and set dimensions to a period of reliance on the functionality of engineering-dominated design, and now we seem a further progression to a place where social use of space is the principal factor. Goodwin has explored public art practice since the 1980’s and his work has expanded the notion of site specificity to encompass ‘the skin of architecture’ itself. Singapore’s skyline is a wonder with parasitic architectural interventions, one building seeming to grow out of another, underground shopping malls and walking arcades, overhead walkways and gardens in the sky. The idea of architecture as a site for art is found of every corner. This mixture of art and architecture in the defining of space is also not new. It builds on Dadaism, Surrealism, and the Situationists.

The early Dada city interventions in Paris around 1921 explored the banal spaces of the city. When considering porosity space is looked at in terms of smoothness, its striated nature, nomad space and sedentary space – how can the space be used and interpreted, transformed and how is it related to other spaces and their multi-uses. Rosalind Kraus’s investigation of ‘axiomatic structures’ that intervene in the real space of architecture builds on a history of artworks by a range of artists over the last 40 years, including Gordon Matta Clark and Vito Acconci.

According to Goodwin, ‘This work points to another frontier of construction which will invert our perception of what a city is, pushing the emphasis towards attachments and penetrations rather than pedestal objects.’

The term ’porosity’ describes the place/space condition that exists between the skin of architecture and the public space of the city. Claiming this space as public and multi-use opens up many possibilities for habitat and social environment. Part of this ‘claiming’ has been the use of public art to point to wounded spaces and attempt to heal trauma through interaction and redefinition of the space. The early work of Joseph Beuys is important to mention. Works such as ‘Tallow’ 1977 and ‘Show the Wound’ 1976 demonstrated the need to heal trauma in what was becoming a maze of repeated concrete jungles. Other works, instrumental in dissolving the edge of architecture include the projection works of Krzysztof Wodiczko. Works such as the projections for the Sydney Biennale 1982 onto the Qantas Building, The Art Gallery of NSW and the MLC office, destroy the notion of stable and permanent structures.

The architect/artists Diller and Scoffidio have also called into question current notions of solidity, using video surveillance to interrogate architecture. However we approach this redefining of linear building blocks and reach for a more porous, skin-like, flexibility of construction, we are confronted with expanding urban density and the ever-increasing need to make living in urban environments a human experience.


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