Directed by Lei Yuan Bin based on original concept and research by Dr Lilian Chee (executive producer, principal investigator) Singapore: NUS & 13 Little Pictures. 90 mins.
Singapore’s public housing—the outcome of a national initiative to combat housing shortage and poor living conditions in the 1960s through modernized mass housing—is today a ubiquitous feature of its built environment. The high-rise housing blocks accommodate almost 85% of the island’s population. With its utopian leanings, the project promises better quality of life, security for the family, closer communal and filial ties, spatially- engineered inter-racial tolerance, and fair provisions for all. Unprecedented in its successful implementation and uptake, this statistically inclusive space is also paradoxically exclusive. In line with broader economic developmental plans to increase fertility levels and encourage intergenerational living, family units are markedly prioritized in the housing selection process. Thus, if one is not part of this prioritized group then choices are considerably limited, and the drive to set up a place to call one’s own becomes significantly more challenging.
Set amidst this backdrop, 03-FLATS is an architectural film that negotiates the perceptions and meanings associated with this politicized national project. It follows the domestic existence of three single women who strive for independence at different stages of their lives. Recalibrating the focus from the without to the within, the film moves between the ordered public spaces outside these flats, and the well-meaningly spare or cluttered, and at times flamboyant, lived spaces of its occupants. Combining the documentary genre with formal attention to the spatial nuances in each flat and its occupant’s routines, 03-FLATS is a key output of a research initiative led by Dr Lilian Chee at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore (NUS) to probe how domesticity—a critical component wherein home is produced—could be viscerally represented and experientially encountered. Dr Chee, who is the Principal Investigator, conceptualized the film and co-developed it in collaboration with Singapore award-winning director Lei Yuan Bin who is also co-founder of Singaporean film collective 13 Little Pictures.
Filmed over 9 months and edited from 200 hours of original footage, the film juxtaposes nationalistic ambitions against struggles to maintain personal routines, preserve traditions and create space for individual identities. By overlaying routinized time and space with customized domestic practices that inevitably challenge spatial and temporal norms—preparing to receive a village-full of visitors, sewing a child’s pyjamas, or making a room-size drawing—difference, resilience and resistance are multiply manifested in these flats. 03-FLATS shows how, within the domestic realm, resistance is enacted through incremental micro-changes that are opportunistic rather than oppositional. These actions counteract the spatio-temporal ennui of mass housing.
The film’s primary audiences are Singapore residents who will be offered a counter-narrative of public housing that supplements what they are accustomed to. It will also appeal to an international audience interested in contemporary Singaporean domesticity.