Living and Dying with Myths

Andrea Goh

Supervisors: Marina Lathouri, Alexandra Vougia

The ground has always been part of Singapore’s political discourse. The ground plane is for the state, a resource to be maximised, the result is a creation of land policies, housing policies and burial policies to control and manage land use.  Because of this, the ground manifests itself in the system of the juridical and although there is intention to view the ground as an asset or stake, it sometimes fails.  The thesis will graft a link between the complex condition of Singapore’s land scarcity and its construction of a national identity and myths (Anderson & Barthes).  The thesis starts off by understanding the history of the ground and explains how these housing and burial policies have not only been used as a pragmatic solution but is also a reflection of the state’s power and authority over the ground.  The thesis is then discussed as myths – the myth of socio-economic equality, the myth of racial equality and the myth of progress. As Singapore is made up of different social groups, myths of equality are critical to create an imagined community (Anderson) of people who do not share the same kinship.  Myths which are perpetuated by policies, demonstrate how rule creates the form of life by deciding on the norms of how individuals and families should function (Agamben).  The thesis examines all scales of the environment of the living – housing policies, urban planning of neighbourhoods, architecture and the plan of the public housing flat, to the spaces created for the dead – burial policies, architecture of spaces for burial rituals and designs of cemeteries and columbarium facilities.  At each time, the thesis will examine how policies and the design of spaces have led to a larger myth and also when these attempts have failed or resulted in complications due to some form of adaptation or resistance.  Lastly, the myth of progress questions the meanings of happiness and family. The social policies that most significantly leveraged on the national public housing program are family policies.  By capitalising on the family as the last “natural” social institution that has emotional ties, obligation and rootedness to a geographical place, the chapter will look at how the concepts of family is constructed by the state and how through policy and design, the home of the family presents itself as asset and incentive to protect the space of the domestic and national.  The design of the housing system (of the living and the dead) through to the design of spaces, from the scale of the neighbourhood or facility to the scale of the single dwelling unit or columbarium niche, has reinforced the power of these myths – that a majority of Singaporeans are part of middle-class society who are presented with similar opportunities and aspire for the same ideals of happiness and family. The thesis hopes to question to what extent the conditions of the ground has led to the creation of these myths and how it has altered the way of life for its citizens.

Image: The public housing flats houses more than 80% of Singaporeans and although the prefabricated standardised flats may appear very similar and homogenous in design, the spaces inside and immediately outside each dwelling unit are adapted to each family.  The image of the corridor is just a glimpse of how inhabitants adapt spaces to the way of life of their family.

Biography: Andrea graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Masters of Architecture in 2010 and was involved in policy creation and urban planning with the Urban Redevelopment Authority in Singapore from 2011 to 2015.  In 2016, she was awarded a Masters of Arts in History and Critical Thinking in Architecture from the Architectural Association – where she is now pursuing her PhD.  Her research interests include the realm of the domestic and the state of the home and she also has a peculiar curiosity for spaces of the dead.