Mervin Tan: Team Director of Archifest

Archifest 2014 Photo_Credit to Archifest and PLUS (1)


Singapore’s annual premiere architecture festival, Archifest – a Festival of Ideas for the City – runs for its eighth installment this year. Organised by the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), Archifest 2014 presents architecture in a relevant, and engaging way, strengthening the affinity between architecture and people, through a line-up of exhibitions, activities and speakers that architects, students and the public can look forward to.

It returns with a brand new theme – ‘CROWD’, running from 26 September to 11 October 2014. Festival highlights include the Archifest Pavilion, Urban Lab, Archifest Conference, Architours, SIA Design Awards Presentation Ceremony, ArchXpo and Fringe Events. The idea of ‘CROWD’ incorporates the human aspect of architecture that encourages, facilitates and enhances the human quality to hold influence and create energy to the make-up of our city. It calls upon the interconnectivity between Collective Intelligence/ Design and Community Capital. Through ‘CROWD’, Archifest 2014 hopes to be able to bring great minds and people together to share ideas, collaborate and form collectives to create even better places for the public. Through the lens of the theme, the festival seeks to open up the discussion to investigate how the notion of Crowd operates and contributes to architecture and urbanism.

Shiok! is excited to share an exclusive interview with Mervin Tan, Archifest 2014 Team Director. With a background in architecture and interior design, the man behind the event currently pursues his architecture career in CPG Corporation whilst leading PLUS alongside several partners. Incepted in 2012, PLUS Collaboratives is a young design thinking studio which focuses on a user centred approach in design projects.

Mervin Tan also co-founded a student design community, MIN-US, focused on the idea of sharing and collaboration during his years of architecture study at National University of Singapore. The mandate of the group was to take education into one’s own hands, through pitching and collaborating with partners outside of school. Since then, the community has developed into PLUS, a design think tank, with clientele consisting a mix of institutions and individuals. Honest, simple and direct, PLUS’s style is approachable and cheeky.Mervin Tan

Here we get to find out not just more about the event, but about the man himself and his Singapore journey.

Congrats on a gorgeous event, and for your time with Shiok!. Tell us about your interest in architecture/collaborative education and its journey for you in Singapore.
We believe that architecture has two facets: the hardware and the software. While the hardware emphasizes on the physical building and construction, our interest comes from the software aspect of it: design as a message medium. It allows one to understand the experience and usage of space.
More often than not, that involves collaboration amongst the different disciplines and professionals to develop the final design outcome.
It is this process of how people are able to collectively work together to generate and innovate new ideas that has inspired us as a young design studio. Thus, basing our collective’s philosophy on collaborative efforts, we work with people from other disciplines and specialisation in order to realise our designs.

What do you think about higher education and the field of architecture in Singapore?
More than just an academic pursuit, higher education in architecture has taught us to generate more questions than answers. Although the end-result is valued, it is a course that educates the importance of thought process and methodology, allowing us to constantly innovate new strategies and solutions to solve existing problems.

What do you think about Singapore’s architecture, and what is unique about it?
The uniqueness of Singapore’s architecture originates from its diversity within the short time frame of Singapore’s existence. Being a quickly developed metropolitan city, the mix of various architectural design styles from different eras lends a special flavour to the entire cityscape of Singapore. With traditional shop houses juxtaposed next to modern shopping malls, it is evident that this cityscape holds true to its diverse nature.

What is the one thing you hope to achieve/improve about Singapore’s architecture?
As a start, I think the industry should be more inward-looking. There are a lot of capable local architects of international standards in design. One additional advantage that local architects have over foreign architects is that these local names understand the local streetscape and way of life.

Please introduce this year’s concept and theme – CROWD. How has it been inspired by Singapore. How is it relevant to Singapore? Archifest 2014 Photo_Credit to Archifest and PLUS (3)
This year’s theme for Archifest is CROWD, which is about people and their relationship to the built environment, specifically broken down into the categories of collective intelligence and community capital. These two subthemes focus on people power: how they are able to collaborate and develop ideas or physically making grounds-up changes to improve the places they live in respectively.
From the joint winning Archifest Pavilion designs to a closely curated Archifest Conference, from crowd-pricing workshops to rapid sharing sessions powered by PechaKucha, this 8th edition of the festival presents a platform that gathers many like-minded individuals and groups to present their unique ideas related to the theme and provide them with an opportunity to reach a larger audience.
In relation to Singapore, the theme of ‘Crowd’ is undoubtedly apt. With a projected increase in population to 6.9 million for a country dependent solely on manpower as its natural resource, this people-centric theme for an architectural festival demonstrates how people are able to influence and impact change. In turn, such inspires individuals to take initiative to invoke change for not only themselves but also the community and city as a whole.Archifest 2014 Photo_Credit to Archifest and PLUS (5)

What does Singapore’s urbanism offer and how do we leverage on it?
Compared to the rest of the world, the urban jungle of Singapore is a relatively young and emerging one. Although it is in a way controlled by authorities, Singapore’s urbanism is rapidly evolving and adapting, with older buildings being replaced almost instantly to make way for newer variants.
This constant ‘white washing’ offers an opportunity to introduce new typologies into the cityscape: be it short terms structures, such as installations and pavilions, to a complete transformation of skyscraper design. These are all made possible in a city that perpetually changing. Thus, the insertion of these new models would allow an improvement of the existing conditions in urban-scape and would allow its inhabitants a better place to live in.

In your opinion, what does the Singapore public need? What is one “better place for the public” that you hope to see/build in Singapore? Archifest 2014 Photo_Credit to Archifest and PLUS (7)
As a young nation, I would say that the public needs a greater sense of awareness. Awareness not only for within living environments but also as a community. Rather than having buildings or entire estates which are cut from a single template, having places that cultivate awareness would motivate people in understanding and connecting with the place they live in.
An example that comes in mind as a “better place for the public” that Singapore needs, would be Bishan Park. Existing not only as a green space set within 2 neighbourhood estates, it serves as a message of pedagogy that has been highlighted through the re-sculpted green landscape. With the canal becoming a river, it has inevitably, yet subtly, welcomed visitors to the park as a communal space to appreciate greenery and understand rainwater management. As such, a sense of awareness is manifested as people are able to enjoy using the public space while associating with the place as a recognisable part of this country.

Where is your kampung (i.e. where you live/grow up/your hood) in Singapore? Describe its architecture and how is it similar/different to the rest of Singapore?
As a heartland kid, Serangoon has been my kampung where I grew up. Even though it is a typical housing estate, it is unique to me through memories and experience. I think that is the beauty of our housing estates, though it is centrally planned for, they eventually develop into estates of unique qualities through people and memories.

The iconic MBS tower structure has come to symbolise and represent Singapore’s skyline and even replacing the Merlion has the “official” Singapore postcard model. What are your thoughts? Do you envision another iconic structure that could surpass the MBS in Singapore? Archifest 2014 Photo_Credit to Archifest and PLUS (9)
Well, I feel that this is rather normal, especially when viewing from Singapore’s context.
Driven by economic progress, Singapore its skyline have been in perpetual flux since the 1960s. From the Singapore River being flanked by rows of shop houses, it has since changed to accommodate a multitude of modern office skyscrapers as its backdrop. Each time a new building appears, it vies for attention to be part of the skyline.
Perhaps seen as a national symbol of progress, it wouldn’t be surprising should the towers of MBS were to make way for another more iconic building as the skyline of Singapore densifies even further.

What about Singapore is most Shiok! to you/What about Singapore makes you proud?
Like Singapore’s urbanism, the multi-cultural drool-worthy delicacies are something that we ought to be proud of. The mixture of cuisines from the various races that have migrated here, showcases a diverse array of food made available to all.
Local food is something that is true to the hearts of Singaporeans while being well- recognised by the international crowd. Something which a Singaporean, ourselves included, to fondly enjoy and, without a second thought, would promote to the rest of the world.

Thank you again Mervin for your time. We at Shiok! are all looking forward to future iconic buildings in Singapore and better public places for all!

To see for yourself constructed visions of a better place in Singapore, don’t forget to catch Archifest 2014 at Marina Bay Sands. It is now in its final week ending 11th October 2014…share with us your thoughts from your visit!


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