by TAN Qian Rou
Singapore’s public housing scheme is unique in that it is the only emergent case of success: apartment blocks provided by the Housing Development Board (HDB) house more than 80% of the nation, creating a landscape of uniform architectural entities. Initially conceived to affirm Singapore’s transition from colony to nation, the HDB block has become a symbol of nationhood, progress, social identity and domesticity. Each estate forms a community, the ‘heartland’ which rallies its residents around a system of civic values that organize it and echo the state’s tenets of family, cohesiveness and harmony. Inhabitation of a HDB flat and adherence to state ideology becomes an implied condition of citizenship. Uniformity becomes a crucial factor in the success of HDB housing and the nation.
This dissertation proposes that through its function to consolidate and spatialize the civic values of the nation, the HDB block becomes a heterotopia, a site for the definition and contestation of the Singaporean identity. Inseparable from state ideology, the HDB block forms a dialogue with Foucault’s discourse on structures of power and discipline, with its utilization of space to manage and organize inhabitants both physically and psychologically. The dwelling and occupation of the HDB block juxtaposes, within its confines, several overlapping and frictional sites, thereby producing a condition of monstrosity.
Monsters, scientifically identified as a category of beings who are unaccommodated by and oppose systems of power, embody the resistant force to power and normalization. This dissertation argues that the HDB’s unrelenting and specific requirements for inhabitation breed monsters unique to its architectural context. Monstrosity becomes the apparatus through which the heterotopic HDB block can be revealed and examined in its primary function as Singapore’s prescription of citizenry and domesticity. Through an understanding of monstrosity as contextually located and created within the state constructed monolith of the HDB, this dissertation presents the monster as evidence of a complex relationship between power, form and societal milieus in the constitution of architecture.