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Re-visiting Asian Architectural Ornaments in Singapore: The Rationalisation of Asian Architectural Ornaments to Irrelevance
by CHUA Ju Kean, Micki
This dissertation is a re-visitation of Asian architectural ornamentation in Singapore. As the nation rapidly develops in hopes of becoming an international economic hub, its identity as an Asian country is subjected to pressures to adapt with our modernised society. Presently, the challenge to celebrate this modernity while preserving our tradition, has led architects to look to Asian architectural ornaments for inspiration. The observation is that these architectural ornaments are often rationalised through functionalism and are frequently described as unrecognisable, or even irrelevant to users.

This dissertation proposes that the rationalisation of ornament is a consequence of the nation’s fetish with the portrayal of a modern city, echoed by Adolf Loos’ manifesto, ‘Ornament and Crime’. This attitude not only disregards the intrinsic values of ornaments, but continually portrays them as irrelevant in contemporary architectural discourse. Through three key chapters, this paper seeks to understand the phenomenon of rationalising architectural ornaments within Singapore.

The relevance of architectural ornaments will firstly be established, based on Asian interpretations of ornaments, as a carrier of meanings. This will be juxtaposed with a dialogue between two opposite attitudes: architectural ornament as ‘excesses’ by Loos and Le Corbusier, and architectural ornaments as ‘essentials’ by Kent Bloomer, Hayden Huntley and Mark Wigley. This forms the basis for further discussion of significant architectural developments that parallel phases in Singapore’s development since its independence in 1965. Finally, three pivotal ornamented local buildings, the Singapore Conference Hall, the Esplanade and the Assyafa’ah Mosque, are studied.

Through this paper, a critique on the rationalisation of architectural ornaments is constructed,
and in doing so, raises the need to stop undermining Asian architectural ornaments as
irrelevant additions.
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