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Under the Billiard Table: Animality, Anecdote and the Tiger’s Performative Significance at the Raffles Hotel

Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 32, no.3 (Special Issue on Tropical Architecture) (2011): 350-64. (United Kingdom).



At the turn of the twentieth century, when tigers were already becoming extinct in Singapore, a living specimen was discovered under the Billiard Room of the Raffles Hotel. This paper attempts to discuss the significance of the tiger in relation to an architectural space – the Billiard Room of a Southeast Asian colonial hotel – by examining how its anecdotal forms – as propaganda, fact, myth and satire – have influenced perceptions of this space across different milieu. It argues that the tiger anecdote, while ontologically remote from the physical materiality of that building, has inevitably become inseparable from its architectural epistemology. Under these terms, it is impossible to talk about the architecture of the Billiard Room without incurring discussion about the factual, fictional and propagandistic aspects of the animal anecdote. As a subtext to these narratives, the location of the hotel in a tropical clime is key. Amidst the civil calm of the genteel Billiard Room, it is the tiger, which ably performs, or re‐enacts, the risk of the tropics. Yet, what is unusual about this tiger is that a reading of its anecdotal forms ultimately transgresses the stereotypes associated with colonialism, indigenous culture, tropical living and wildlife, and subsequently, these too affect interpretations of the architectural space. Drawing on original archival and historical material, the paper contributes to a theoretical and historical understanding of why the tiger under the Billiard Room at the Raffles' continues to be a spatially compelling idea.

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