by Sarah LEE Si En
Tree planting in Singapore is a political impetus. In 1963, the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew set his eyes on making Singapore a Garden City, launching a Tree Planting Campaign that continues today. The national narrative of the Garden City has turned the tree into an aestheticized object that instantly appears in our parks and gardens. But trees are cultural metonyms, tied to people, stories and sites that offer alternative narratives and histories of Singapore. Trees have the ability to transform the spaces around them and how people occupy them. Drawing upon the collection of anecdotes about trees and people by artist Robert Zhao in “Singapore, Very Old Tree”, the thesis challenges current perceptions of trees as mere functional objects to become a commentary on the nation’s cultural memory and complex relationship with trees.
The thesis is an architectural compendium constructed around forty specific trees in Singapore. It performs as an island wide museum of trees that uncovers and speculates latent spatial relations between the trees and its surroundings, bringing them to the foreground. The compendium of architecture – from botanical research centers to towers to infrastructures – will engage the trees differently, allowing us to experience and discover the significance, quirks and characteristics of specific trees. By making their underlying narratives visible, the thesis raises questions and observations about the trees which have been forgotten or belittled, thus renewing our relationship with our trees in the landscape.