Reshaping Oceanic Feeling
essay: the search for the lost id
As a city-state the relies exponentially on human capital and efficiency, identity and self-worth in Singapore are seemingly latched upon terms of success defined by material titles and possessions. Local education traditionally glorifies intelligence, diligence, grades and results, working like a factory chain; churning out top performers and success stories ready for the next stage of life – secondary school, tertiary education, first job, working population. Badges, medals and certificates are accolades collected along the way, as are material titles that Singaporeans are taught to represent ourselves. Nostalgia is a state-deemed byproduct, materialised through symptoms of failure phobia, empty nest, post-retirement syndrome and throwback films and episodes of one’s youth. Following the trajectory of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theory and entities of I, the thesis critiques the current societal labyrinth that ditches one’s oceanic feeling; the initial feeling of limitless with the external world; without the existence of one’s ego and superego (read: rules, laws, expectations, requirements, achievements). questions spatial and physical constructs that shape one’s core identity, through the retention of one’s id (read: innate desires and passions) throughout one’s lifetime.
Through multiple tangential studies of commonplace settings in multiple neighbourhoods not limited to the nation, the thesis takes an interest in how id, ego and superego are possibly entrenched in spaces and objects, or the memories of them. It speculates a setting of meaningful identity through a strong, resilient id, through the creation of lasting memories of one’s youth and the retention of lifelong titles based off intangible, immaterial traits. It distills the various title classifications and memories that can be created in each environment through life, in hopes of creating a vehicle that is reactionary to the longevity and permanence of one’s id and one’s individual memories. Set against the backdrop of current everyday HDB neighbourhoods, the thesis rethinks the individual neighbourhood design guides that focus on community, group identity; and adds an additional layer of retention of one’s individual attachments with places. This supplementary design guide is ultimately applied to neighbourhoods that generate non-possession, non-institutional lauded titles during one’s youth, and applied to polarised residential contexts of Tengah (new, virgin land) and Tanglin Halt (mature, built-up estate) – thereby challenging the progressiveness and efficiency of modern society’s definition of identity.
Architectural Thesis / Dissertation
Tanglin Halt, Singapore
Ar. Tiah Nan Chyuan
Presented in Guest Lecture for Tongji University Shanghai, Feb 2020: Urban Housing Policy - Role of Design in Singapore Housing and Residential Character
FP101. Provenance chapter opening images, page 11. ‘The Innocents’. Two schoolkids escaping from school to their
liberation at Rail Corridor, c. 1980s. Snippets from film by Wong Chen Hsi. Accessed 17 October 2019.
The local film by Wong Chen Hsi opens with a picturesque green terrain, a tranquil setting of birds chirping, water running, juxtaposed with a nearby train rumbling furiously across the tracks. Scene two cuts to an enamoured, bright-eyed school girl entering her classroom, followed by her teacher shortly after. “Good morning Ms Tan” – followed by chairs screeching along smooth concrete – then a shrill voice: “Shafiqah? You’re the transfer student? OK, I hope you can catch up with everyone, you come see me after class. This week we’re going to quantify speed and distance –” she paused, then drops her tone as a boy saunters into the classroom late, “did you just decide to grace my class with your presence?” “I missed the bus,” the boy mumbles, classic dishevelled, bad boy look.
The two eventually become friends, bonding through the ostracism and bullying they suffer at school. The boy leads her to a secret hideout after school one day – leave the back gate of school, follow the train tracks leftwards along the steps, climb through the first visible foliage from the row of trees on the left, roll down the hill, under the fallen tree trunk, left along the mud path, then along the track trail and down the empty long kang. “There’s treasure everywhere if you look¹,” he says, after rambling on about the various sights and findings he has made over the years at the place. They soon frequent the hideout every day; hiding their pocket money, snacks, letters and gifts for one another in a hidden hole covered by a banana leaf. It’s their escape; their playground away from the regimental institution; where they catch guppies barefoot with old condensed milk tins and the longest tree branches they can find.
The film provides a nostalgic, carefree throwback for today’s older generation, and is just one of the many that tugs on the heartstrings of those who relate on a personal level. The cinematics serve a visual, audible reminder of their own childhood memories; something the older generation Singaporean can hold on to.
1. Innocents. imdb, 2012.
The values of a contemporary Asian city state is unique to our land. Lessons of filial piety, emphasis on education, conformation to social norms are apparent through everyday sights and matter – strict laws, threatening signboards, high stress rankings, globally-competitive universities, the list goes on. Beneath these spaces which once housed kampung-styled slum settlements, one wonders what lies under the manicured, pristine facade of the city, and the true unfiltered impact on our values of self. The choice of Singapore, instead of the intuitive, high-strung environments of Hong Kong, Japan, China, stemmed from my awareness and anticipated leverage of being born and bred here. It is, hopefully, also a way I can give back; a little parcel of research and knowledge that may prove relevant for my loved ones, and a note to my young self for the road ahead that is life.
2. Statistics from Singstat. Accessed September 30, 2019.
3. L. Lai, P. Goy. 2015. “Those Who Feel Lonely ‘More Prone.’” Text. The Straits Times. December 20, 2015. pore/those-who-feel-lonely-more-prone.
4. “So Your Children Are Moving out...Here’s How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome.” n.d. TODAYonline. Accessed November 21, 2019. your-children-are-moving-outheres-how-deal- empty-nest-syndrome.
Singaporeans find the void unbearably traumatising. This is a confluence of several factors from the Singaporean context, unique in its geography and culture – our small, young city-state proves to be a double-edged sword. Arguably more effective in collaboration and cooperation between government agencies; more targeted in identifying and tackling communal probes; the country battles the question of national identity, the need to develop and thrive economically. Nation-wide ‘democratic’ government efforts seemingly target the issue of identity of the individual and community, and their effects are relatively far-reaching and immediate.
Juxtapose this image with today’s reality. 460,000 elderly Singapore residents (expected to double in 15 years²) grappling with old age, loneliness, illness, financial woes, depression³. The bottom line – struggling to inject meaning in their new stage of life . Research and studies attribute this to the empty nest syndrome⁴; others to post-retirement blues.
FO001. ‘Life Timeline in Freud’s Entities of I’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
5. Freud, Sigmund. Civilisation and Its Discontents. Hogarth Press, 1946.
8, Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Dover Publications, Incorporated., 2015.
9. Freud, Sigmund. The Ego and the Id. New York, NY: Clydesdale Press, 2019.
02 The Lost Oceanic Feeling
“In this way the ego detaches itself from the external world. It is more correct to say: Originally the ego includes everything, later it detaches from itself the external world. The ego-feeling we are aware of now is thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feeling - a feeling which embraced the universe and expressed an inseparable connection of the ego with the external world.⁵”
Sigmund Freud’s coined term of the oceanic feeling describes the preserved primitive ego-feeling (id) from infancy, which precedes the creation of the ego and exists up until the mother ceases breastfeeding⁶. During which, the infant, regularly breastfed in response to its crying, has no concept that the breast does not belong to it – ignorant of its independent self. After its detachment from the breast, the ego comes into play – with the infant’s recognition that it is separate from the mother’s breast, as with the external world⁷.
Freud persists that the human personality has more than one aspect – structured into the tripartite id, ego and superego, developing at different stages in our lives; incepting our actions, thoughts, feelings. The aforementioned id, the division that serves as the source of instinctual drives and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs; the ego, the division between ourselves and our environment, mediating between the id and super-ego; and the super-ego, which plays a reflective, critical and moralising role. The egos are then seen as the façade of the id, which towards the outside, the egos maintain a clear and sharp line of demarcation⁸.
The construct of life, consequently, involves the interplay and coexistence of the self and the external. The boundary of the ego is inconsistent. Egos form over the oceanic feeling when it grasps that there are negative aspects of reality from which it would like to distance itself, subject to disturbances⁹. Hence, the present id is a mere shrunken residue of a much more inclusive feeling which corresponds to a more intimate bond within the ego and the world around it. This enduring psychoanalytical theory holds that all thoughts are preserved in this conservation of psychic energy.
This thesis serves as an academic and personal study into the social and physical construct that impacts one’s sense of self and worth. The basis of delving into something rather inexplicable and seemingly philosophical was a rather frustrating question of the origins of very apparent social phenomenon – it appeared as though the loss of identity originated from the material loss of one’s personal valuables – their jobs, kids, childhood haunts – which then translated into an intangible sense of insignificance or purposelessness. Looking at these local symptoms through Freud-tinted lenses, why does it seem the loss of these objects and titles (children, career) sentences one to a complete loss of self? The promised re-occurrence of the oceanic feeling in adulthood; the feeling of possessing one’s primitive motivations, innate desires and emotions, did not come through. There appeared to be an inconsistency of the preserved, primitive id – the loss of the feeling of limitless; oneness with the world.
The scope of study includes parameters that define one’s ego (title, power, success, wealth) in Singapore. Concurrently, I plan to study how the construct of the local city brings about this development of stages by breaking down and scrutinising the spaces that facilitate the retention of id and the development of the ego. Through a critical study of Freud’s analogy of one’s life transition from an entity of id without ego, to a stage where the superego and ego possibly supersedes the id of a human, I aim to validate the hypothesis that the limits of society and the individual consist of 3 developmental stages – first (i.e. infancy), where one’s id predominates; second (i.e. childhood), where one’s id and ego coexist; third (i.e. adulthood), where one’s id disappears, subsumed under its ego and super-ego. Consequently, localised cultural symptoms of loss of identity occur, where one loses his external source of ego as well as his id amid growing through the stages. If a fetus is defined as one end of the extreme, the seniors experiencing such symptoms are the opposite extreme.
My following research hypothesises the prevalence and integral need for title in the attainment of self-fulfilment. It seeks the validity of this intricate balance of one’s innate desires and needs with society’s standards of community and civilisation. The architecture seeks a culmination of a vehicle that injects itself into the stages of development through its emergence in commonplaces, seeking a spatial device that addresses the longevity and permanence of the id. Regardless of impact, the underlying goal of my thesis is to understand the definition of self-worth as a socio-physical construct that brings about relevant issues in today’s Singapore, and to speculate or react to this phenomenon.
How can the spatial/ physical environment shape personal identity based off the id, through the retention of memories and construction of resilient titles in one’s youth?
the city – Freud is none but the same. In his mind, society is useful in satisfying the pleasure principle , yet consequently compromising happiness in order to fulfil its goal of bringing individuals into peaceful co-existence by making them subject to a higher, communal authority. Man thus sets up his own model of the world, which causes him to become neurotic as he cannot tolerate the frustration which society causes in the service of its ideals¹¹.
03 The Game of Life
3.1 The Paradox of Civilisation
“No other technique for the conduct of life attaches the individual so firmly to reality as laying emphasis on work; for his work at least gives him a secure place in a portion of reality, in the human community. The fundamental paradox of civilisation is that it is a tool we have created to protect ourselves from unhappiness – yet becomes our largest source of unhappiness.¹⁰"
10. Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Dover Publications, Incorporated., 2015.
12. “Why You Don’t Want to Stop Working. Ever.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
The effects of Singapore’s policies trickle down rapidly and visibly; undeniable benefits and emphasis are put upon salary, glory, pride and reputation, which have helped to raise living from the past. Singapore has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world – yet for many residents, impressive material achievements have not led to increased satisfaction or happiness¹². The focus on the ego and superego is apparent in our society; yet people are still unhappy; especially so when they lose these titles and sources.
For decades, researchers, scholars, architects have documented the negative impacts of civilisation and
Mitigation policies are put in place to respond to these (credits: forward-looking, efficient government). If Freud’s psychoanalysis theory holds true – the extension of retirement age serves as a top-down initiative to extend working life and the ego-existence; the Skills Future program aims to sustain the ego through a second job; even softer, seemingly disassociated approaches of the Proximity Housing Grant blunt the impacts of emptiness; keeping one’s ego through keeping their kids close by.
FG001. ‘Freud’s Entities of I’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG002. ‘The Paradox of Civilisation’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
3.2 Standards of Measurement and Titles
“It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement – that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.¹³”
“Success comes in many forms,” as part of Singapore’s latest billboard-plastered campaign, Passion made Possible¹⁴, Singapore continues to project its alluring, elusive success story to the outside world. The slogan and its message have been hit with criticism , and most Singaporeans know this to be untrue. The path to success has been taught from the day one as a one-directional road; no alternatives. From straight A’s, national championships, medals, degrees, money, investments, connections, designer bags, luxury cars – the typical Singaporean has been trained to carry his identity and self-worth in these titles and material possessions; incentives and respect showered upon such individuals . A strict academic meritocracy is seen as the optimal way to sort talent; the elite governance is insulated from short-termism and myopia of ordinary democratic pressures; an acceptance of the need to equalise opportunities
13. Freud, Sigmund. Civilisation and Its Discontents. Hogarth Press, 1946.
14. “Move over, ‘YourSingapore’, It’s Now
‘Passion Made Possible.’” n.d. TODAYonline. Accessed November 21, 2019.
but not outcomes – our developmental belief system contradicts what we flaunt ourselves to be.
3.3 Passion as Catalyst for Anomaly
Professional activity is a source of special satisfaction if it is a freely chosen one — if, that is to say, by means of sublimation, it makes possible the use of existing inclinations, of persisting or constitutionally reinforced instinctual impulses. And yet, as a path to happiness, work is not highly prized by men. They do not strive after it as they do after other possibilities of satisfaction. The great majority of people only work under the stress of necessity, and this natural human aversion to work raises most difficult social problems.¹⁵”
Anomalies to the hypothetical timeline exist in id, ego and superego building lie in distinct personas both locally and globally. Branching out from Freud’s statement of a select group of people who enjoy and achieve basic desires out of work¹⁶, similar characters like that of Finnish school kid¹⁷, home-schooled children, domestic housewives, second-job elderly¹⁸ seem to have alternate distinct timelines that changes the composite of self – after birth, these tangential timelines spline outwards from the great majority at respective stages of life. Their consequent id and ego feelings, and connection to the oceanic feeling changes as with their memories and sense of identity. The lifestyles or conditions that cause such divergent life patterns remains perplexing: whether due to the individual’s personality, social conditions or a mere stroke of luck, it is apparent that whilst the imminent loss of self-worth does not transpire in every person; there is an opportunity to learn, adapt and reproduce the conditions of such cases for the larger community.
15. Freud, Sigmund. Civilisation and Its Discontents. Hogarth Press, 1946.
16. “80 Home-Grown Talents in New Passion Made Possible Global Campaign | STB.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
17. “73-Year-Old Introvert Found New Lease of Life in Taking Care of Punggol Community Garden.” n.d. Mothership.Sg. Accessed November 21, 2019.
18. Simonton, Stell. 2015. “After the School Day in Finland, Play and More Play.” Youth Today. October 15, 2015.
FG003. ‘Title Collectors’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG004. ‘The Lucky Passionate Ones’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG005. ‘Alternative Lifeline Ambassadors’.
Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
3.4 Spaces in Timeline
How, if even so, do everyday spaces cultivate one’s id, ego, superego? The anomalies of a promising, fruitful life seem to differentiate themselves through spatial environments and backgrounds, whilst the emergence of ego and superego seem somewhat related to various landscapes throughout one’s life. I lined up the commonplace, typical spaces Singaporeans are exposed to along with their lives. The primary and secondary research revealed discrepancies in such spaces. Extremely apparent was the sense of identity and inclination of past residents, workers, visitors, to go back to the Rail Corridor, whereas other commonplaces like void decks remained purely functional to the residents and familiar faces there, with a void of emotional connection subsumed under the physical, practical considerations of using the space. The Rail Corridor – perhaps frozen in time, seemed to serve as a preserved spine that reminds past users of their memories of the space, a throwback to the events and stories that remind them of their id formation in the place.
FG007. ‘Rail Corridor’s Preserved id Spine’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG008. ‘When the Void Deck is just a Void Deck’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG009. ‘Rail Corridor’s Communal Spine’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG010. ‘Standstill’. Preserved sights in today’s Rail Corridor. Top down: Bukit Timah, Holland, Bukit Merah. Photographs: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
On a larger scale of neighbourhood planning, certain spaces are seemingly linked to ego and superego formation, especially that of schools and workplaces – the major sources of titles, hierarchy and constructs that drive the ego and superego. In the Rail Corridor, the spinal id environment seemed unapologetically cut off from today’s ego and superego building institutions with harsh barbed wire; a stark contrast from stories and recollections I heard from older generation kampung residents who had free, unadulterated access to their backyard play- ground any day, any time.
Recent developments highlight certain attempts at rethinking this dichotomy between the classified spaces. WOHA’s latest masterplan of the Punggol Digital District attempts the retention of old nodes, spines, events; conserving certain essences of the id, concurrently introducing new SIT and JTC campuses into the neighbourhood¹⁷. In the bid for development and progress; institutions are brought in; bringing in spaces that unabashedly develop one’s ego and superego.
The Old Punggol Road, once a busy entry spine that led to subsidiary vessels and tracks 1-26 into the kampung, is proposed to develop into a pedestrianised walking track, retaining the old school bus stop and durian trees¹⁸. This intersects the campus path¹⁹, where SIT and JTC line the fronts, the boundaries reduced and programmes interweaving with one another²⁰. For SIT’s President, Professor Tan Thiam Soon, such ‘spatial exchanges’ can help students visualise their future, where ‘young people will come to SIT and see the bustle of activity and say wow, I’d like to be a part of that future. (They) want to be part of that space that inspires them.²¹’ Education remains its stubborn, traditional form —seen as an impersonal linear process, a type of assembly line like a factory production. SIT, part of the higher education model, leans towards the instrumental approach; treating education as an ordinary investment with financial yield in the labour market, hence leading to the pragmatic yield that education is purely for the purpose of a well-paid job. These institutions and their proximity are part of an industry operating in the global market – profit driven.
17. “Punggol BTO Projects Showcase Town’s History.” n.d. Accessed November
18. “Punggol Residents to Get a New MRT Station 7 Years Ahead of Schedule.” n.d. Mothership.Sg. Accessed November 21,
19. “Punggol’s Latest BTO Projects to Hark
Back to Town’s History as Fishing Village and Its Former Zoo.” n.d. TODAYonline. Accessed November 21, 2019.
20.“Punggol Digital District.” n.d. Accessed
November 21, 2019.
21, 2019. punggol-bto-projectsshowcase-towns-history.
FG012. ‘Past Fishing Village’. Punggol’s past site plan. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG013. ‘Future Digital District’. Punggol’s proposed site plan converting Old Punggol Road to Heritage Walk. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG014. ‘Envisioning Campus Boulevard’. Punggol’s proposed SIT campus in proximity to JTC working village. Photograph: “Punggol Digital District | Indesignlive Singapore”. Accessed November 20, 2019.
FG015. ‘Punggol Heritage Walk’. Photograph: “Punggol Digital District | Indesignlive Singapore”. Accessed November 20, 2019.
FG016. ‘Punggol Today’. Screen grab from Google Maps. Accessed November 10, 2019.
Singapore’s conservation plan comes to mind when looking at the conservation of the id – old relics and buildings from the past seemingly contain memories of one’s youth and childhood and appear to be strong physical reminders of one’s id. The London King’s Cross Masterplan gentrification is globally acclaimed as an excellent model for redevelopment; it similarly inserted an ego, superego institution into the space whilst retaining the external shell of the Granary Building, what used to be a derelict, unsightly clubbing power station.
The building takes a prime spot on the country’s National Heritage List, Planning of Listed Buildings under the Conservation Act, and the British Heritage at Risk Register. The id of people and space is seemingly contained and preserved through a node instead of a spine, alongside other monumental pieces that are relocated but retained alongside it. It seeks the recreation of id through re-purposing.
FG017. ‘Old, Lousy King’s Cross’. Past St Pancras Neighbourhood site plan. Reconstructed Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG018. ‘New, Improved King’s Cross’. Present Redeveloped St Pancras Neighbourhood site plan. Reconstructed Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FG019. ‘Hayday of Granary Building’. Past sightings and images of the Granary Building. Left to Right: Central St Martins, Bagley’s Nightclub, Granary Complex. Photographs:“Kings X Club Land: Home.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
04 The Origins of Titles
Titles serve a key identity marker, and perhaps a tool for reminding oneself of their id²² . Mapping chronologically the titles attained by an individual throughout one’s life, the nature of titles throughout life differ. Biological and physical traits like that of nationality, location, physical characteristics are ascribed since birth; dictated titles like being a pianist, a student are bestowed to oneself by our guardians in early childhood; personality titles and that based off our interests and passions come later in our youth, where our personalities build up further; transgressing to titles from merit and possessions as we enter institutional spaces in our youth and adulthood²³. Retirement and old age bring us back a full circle – we seek titles we are passionate about yet again; in certain cases, rekindling long- lost ones from our youth, and others finding new interests and hobbies. The flipside – the inability to find new titles or retain old titles; and the loss of the oceanic feeling and the id.
The classification of titles is respective to environment and the presence of certain titles are in constant flux, at the stake of the metamorphosis of physical space. Redevelopment, demolishment and creation create and remove the significance of certain titles respectively; whereas gentrification, whilst seemingly retaining the id of space, tarnish titles that were ascribed to previous programmes and atmospheres of the place . The most resilient form of titles is that from personality traits; formed from the semi-public spaces like the Rail Corridor; unknowingly due to the youthful demographic of the space or its ability to withstand the changes of time. Perhaps, when one is no longer an engineer, a guardian of a child, a reputable director or a handsome, youthful teenager, the personality titles are the ones that remind one of their strong id presence, the door to an attic which holds past memories and the true value of the self, despite transient, ephemeral material titles.
22. “What Are Some Great Answers to ‘Who Are You’? - Quora.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
23. “Work and Self-Worth: More Than a Job Title.” 2015. BpHope.Com (blog). October 26, 2015. https://www.bphope. com/work-more-than-jobtitle/.
FT001. ‘Title Wheel’. Origins of Titles along with life timeline. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019
FT002. ‘Title Classification’. Titles over time, stemming from various environments. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
05 The Essence of Memory
5.1 The Youth Spike
Imperative moments and experiences, alongside their consequent emotions, places and narratives all work together in forming strong memories and the sense of self. Based off studies and surveys made of different personas from different spaces, stories from youth seem prevalent of our lives. Through the analysis of a life story of a typical 70 year old, there are many memories from one’s recent past which start to fall off towards select few memories from childhood and nothing before 3 years old. There is however a surprising scientific bump in one’s memories from their teens and twenties – known as a period of tumultuous growth and identity forming, comprising many memorable occasions of change. The speculation is validated through concepts of the Reminiscence Bump, the Identity Formation Account, and the Biological Explanation.²⁴When one recalls their life story, it is often such memories that hold prominence in defining us and our life forward.
5.2 Foundations of Memories
The irony of memories is that we think our memories are a concrete recollection of events in our lives directly related to self-construction and identity, yet, these seemingly reliable episodes are not 100% accurate and have been proven flawed in various experiments. Nonetheless, the constituent elements of memories remain: emotions, the sense of place, and the story or narrative behind an event impacts the vividness of a memory, and how much it impacts our view on self and identity²⁵.
24. Waldman, Katy. 2013. “Why Are Memories From Young Adulthood So Strong?” Slate Magazine. January 18, 2013.
25. Fernyhough, Charles. 2012. “The Story of the Self.” The Guardian, January 13, 2012, sec. Life and style.
When we have an emotional experience, our amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain which sits next to the hippocampus regulates the latter and allows it to form more detailed and stronger memories. Memory vividness has a direct correlation with proximity to the place of event due to stronger emotions
The sense of self and identity is inextricably intertwined with one’s memory and imagination – impacting one’s past and future respectively. Research proved that one’s past affects the vision of future in the brain – remembering and imagining are both activities that utilise the same areas of our brains. The mind functions as a time machine, weaving together memories of the past and hopes for the future to create a sense of self. Perhaps, one’s degree of memories is then a reflection of one’s degree of self. Identity may then be linked to the memory of certain places, and individual memories may be associated with material or immaterial, personal or collective spaces of various scales.
and a consequent closer connection to the amygdala. When the emotions related to a memory is extremely intense, one tends to focus on the core of the experience; forgetting the peripheral details.
Sense of Place
One’s knowledge of place is most consistent in one’s memories – the hippocampus showcases cells that are specifically responsive to time and place, known as place cells.
Memories can be strengthened by story. Our brains pay much closer attention to information in the form of a narrative – the more there is an association of memories to structures, the easier to retrieve the memory.
Yet, it is apparent these three scientific factors are non-exclusive, and do not necessarily work in tandem to create the strongest memories. That of being the best runner throughout one’s secondary school life; of the countless road marches throughout National Service; of the numerous hangovers and blackouts from club-hopping in one’s youth are non-place specific, and instead, we remember the atmosphere, our stories and emotions of these recollections we hold dear to our hearts. In the creation of our intimate memories, the importance of place is indisputable yet in certain cases discountable. Moreover, when space is contentious in our small city-state, atmosphere, memories may transcend place. Institutions as memory vessels are fragile – when deemed undesirable and unretained by external factors, these memories are erased when latched upon a place, like in the case of King’s Cross . Perhaps atmosphere and events can be a better tool in serving reminders to retain a memory and identity more effectively and efficiently, as opposed to the unpragmatic option of leaving artifacts and monuments unscathed.
FM001. ‘Youth Spike’. Timeline of Memories against Time for Average 70-year-old. Reconstructed Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
26. Freud, Sigmund. Civilisation and Its Discontents. Hogarth Press, 1946.
5.3 The City and the Brain: Memories and Monuments
The above point is further exemplified by Freud’s analogy of ego development in the self to the city²⁶. Both the brain and the city have the ability to hold the past; monuments act as the memories of cities, and traces of these monuments remain to tell their histories, supporting memories in order to untraumatise a landscape²⁷.
Humans seek happiness and hence tend to close ourselves off from things that don’t allow us to pursuit this happiness in the way we like to. Likewise, every city has an original state in which they are still very much connected to their direct environments – as the city grows with years, it becomes more distinct;
the oceanic feeling is somewhat lost. Buildings or objects in a city deemed unpleasant are often removed, like the development of our ego. The underlying similarity is the existence of a beginning stage and a reduced present stage – the former where anything is possible, and the latter where undesirable items have been fenced off²⁸.
The difference between the mind and the city is then further clarified by Freud. In our minds we can always trace back to an early stage, albeit less apparent at times. Cities, on the contrary, progress differently, with the lack of accessibility and visibility of specific stages in its history. When elements of the city are destroyed, its accompanying memories vanish – we are unable to allow 2 or more different monuments occupy the same space, which our mind can. Only the mind can preserve an original state alongside a final form. Trauma or inflammation are then the only things that can negate such an ability of the brain. Trauma is for people and culture – while the monument of the city can only be discriminated, only distinguished in parenthesis next to one another, but when demolished, is gone, the city becomes a traumatic landscape.
Freud sees monuments and artifacts in landscapes as vital stepping stones for collective memory. Yet individual recollections and connections to the self may not be found in such institutional spaces. While individual memories come to form a collective identity; the paradox of civilization comes into play yet again when the self is put at stake in order for the collective to prevail.
FM003. ‘Brain and City; Memories and Monuments’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FM004. ‘Traumatic Landscapes’. The city’s inability to hold the same memories in the same space renders the landscape traumatic. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
5.4 Individual Artifact vs. Collective Monument
5.4.1 Rail Corridor’s Artifacts
The connection to the rail corridor supersedes a specific location, it is based purely off specific artifacts that are common throughout the spine. Strong id reminders are found through items of varying scales²⁹, each cumulating into an atmosphere or event that reminds one of their childhood memories.
29. Refer to Appendix A.
FM005. ‘Rail Corridor’s Individual Stories’. Artifacts and Personal Attachments to Space. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
5.4.2 Punggol Digital District
WOHA’s new neighbourhood aims at recreating memories from youth, tugging at the heartstrings of past residents and visitors. The old Punggol zoo, destroyed after the second World War, is replicated through the animal-themed playgrounds and the HDB zone names³⁰; the happenings of Sook Ching at Punggol Beach is condensed into the plague detailing the story at Punggol Jetty; the old Punggol Road, a vessel into past Punggol Kampung, is preserved and pedestrianised, conserving a signature communal landmark, its old- school bus stop and trademark durian trees alongside it.
30. “Punggol’s Latest BTO Projects to Hark Back to Town’s History as Fishing Village and Its Former Zoo.” n.d. TODAYonline. Accessed November 21, 2019.
FM006. ‘Memory Reconstruction’. Punggol’s proposed interventions, conservation designs. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
5.4.3 King’s Cross
King’s Cross’ gentrification and massive redevelopment lends itself to memory replacement; washing away past communal memories. Today’s Central St Martins, prestigious institution to one of the world’s greatest Art Schools, was yesterday’s Granary Complex for train goods, and Bagley’s Night Club³¹, home to hippies and druggies of the past. Youth memories are erased and destroyed, especially so in cases where the past is deemed ‘un- desirable’ or taints the essence of the neighbourhood. The Granary is a case of a collective monument where despite the multiple heritage landmark status stamped upon it, collective identity and memory fails to be retained; the city and the monument, a palimpsest of multiple past events, stories and memories, is traumatic and unable to hold remainders of one’s attachment to the place.
31. “KING’S CROSS CENTRAL | Allies and Morrison.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
FM007. ‘Individual Memories > Communal
Monument’. Individual vs. Collective form of recollection and identity. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
32. “HDB Introduces Town Design Guides -
Housing & Development Board (HDB).” n.d.
Accessed November 21, 2019.
33. “All 24 HDB Towns to Get Unique Design Guides, First One Released for Woodlands - TODAYonline.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
06 The Design Guide to Identity
This point of the thesis questions spatial/ physical constructs that shape one’s core identity, through the retention of one’s id throughout one’s lifetime. The vehicle seeks the creation of a vehicle that is reactionary to the longevity and permanence of one’s id and its aggregated memories; which ultimately can be applied to neighbourhoods that generate non-possession, non-institutional lauded titles during one’s youth.
The research serves as architectural theory that serves as a form of psychoanalysis, to catalyse the recollection of necessary components for understanding the character of buildings and cities — reversing this trauma in a certain sense, to revive this oceanic feeling, to re-establish the connection between self and city.
6.1 Environments for Storytelling
The project vehicle is a critique on HDB’s design guide, the latest town design handbook that aims to preserve the collective unique identity of each town. On top of the town, neighbourhood and precinct scale, there ought to be an additional layer, or chapter of the individual journey scale - one where comprehensive memories will be made that allows the formation and retention of durable titles. Ultimately, the aim is to derive a palimpsest of scales and layers that complement the guidebook on an additional level, serving individual memory retention, an instrument that creates spaces for storytelling — subsequently creating identity through journeys and stories targeted at youth. This guide is site-less but contextualised; suited to Singapore’s climate of neighbourhoods, yet simultaneously applicable to both neighbourhoods from new land and redeveloped mature neighbourhoods. The guide creates a hyper-neighbourhood; creating a self-identity that is resilient and based off the id, lasting through one’s entire life. Memory and titles are subsidiary devices, serving as bridges to achieve this.
6.1.1 HDB’s Design Guide // Toolkit to Reshaping Oceanic Feeling
“Public housing in Singapore is not just about affordable housing, but that it is a national institution that we have painstakingly built up over many decades. HDB Design Guide should be a prescriptive document of dos and don’ts. It should be seen as a living document - continuously updated over time with new ideas, so that...We can all play a part in improving the design (and) quality of our HDB estates.
In HDB’s planning, we capitalise on heritage and place character to safeguard social memories and to create a stronger sense of belonging.³²"
— Lawrence Wong, Minister of National Development
The HDB Town Design Guide, implemented in 2015, was initiated as a preservation guide for each town’s unique identity, their own distinct characters and features that reflect the HDB neighbourhood’s history³³. The guide is inter-disciplinary and serves as an overall set of rules for multiple statutory partners, aligning the goals and methodologies of various agencies and town councils that carry regular
enhancements throughout design and maintenance with a communal identity marker — preserving distinct local flavours and aimed to strengthen one’s bond to their home.
The current status quo serves 3 scales: town, neighbourhood and precinct; tackling factors like that of key corridors, key nodes and junctions, landscape, form and massing, facades, colour palettes, playgrounds, street furniture, signage design - the list goes on.³⁴ Woodlands; the pilot neighbourhood that received its own town guide, flaunted features like sub-themed zones (discovery, nature, urban, community, wellness), bright colours and sculptural elements in their playgrounds that bring out the neighbourhood’s ‘bold, vibrant character of its urban theme’, others featuring kampung-inspired play equipment of animals, fruits, vegetables, to ‘strengthen its community theme’.
The design guide remains generic and targeted at communal identity and is debatably uninnovative. HDB’s brand new Tengah estate stipulates, likewise, subzones named as the Market Place, Park, Garden, Plantation, JID; Punggol’s brand new HDB estate brands itself after its past zoo, naming the zones after the Forest Floor, Tropical Forest, Grassland and Canopy Level Forest. The sub-themes have slight variances yet seem broadly similar. This methodology has perhaps been traditionally applauded and applied yet downplays the importance of individual memories and ties to one’s space. Guides to spatial elements of the neighbourhood are not listed and such individual memory-making opportunities, albeit intangible and subjective, are not created in the model.
FD001. ‘HDB Design Guide Parameters. Original Diagram: HDB. Accessed November 10, 2019. Reconstructed Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
6.2.2 Institution vs. Fluid Space in Memory Formation
Perhaps this is lacking, as derived from current symptoms and societal constructs. The above studies lead to an additional layer of guidelines that serve individual memory retention and storytelling platforms for identity formation and retention of id. It looks at the essence of a journey, from one’s home to school, work, market, in between nodes or institutions. The id can be created and manifested through semi-public, fluid spaces that exist through these journeys - hence, a toolkit to creating journeys with optimal memory- making chances; paths of storytelling which works in tandem and serves as an attachment to the existing guide. This targets the communal sense of identity and place-making, ultimately envisioned to channel down to the smaller scale and creating the sense of self-worth and identity in an individual. Latest typologies in Singapore have tended towards the break down of thresholds between private and public³⁵, collaboration spaces which mix both programmes into a singular space³⁶.
The benefits of such are recognised; private enclosures (read: kindergartens along Rail Corridor, Eunoia Junior Collage and its fenced up borders to the realm of opportunities in the backyard, Black and White Houses and their interior ‘playgrounds’) are limiting in terms of interaction and opportunities. On the other hand, public space is contentious and rigid - vulnerable to state interventions (read: King’s Cross’ redevelopment³⁷) and change throughout time (read: Dakota Crescent’s Playgrounds³⁸). Through earlier studies from Balik Kampung’s authors, protagonists and their memories of spaces, what was most memorable was the journey in between private and public; where one goes through paths that are fluid, free for imagination and elemental. Play in these scenarios are self-regulated yet open — possibilities of
35. “New Campus for University of the Arts London / Stanton Williams.” 2011. ArchDaily. November 16, 2011.
36. “School Should Be Like a Skate Park.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
37. “New Campus for University of the Arts London / Stanton Williams.” 2011. ArchDaily. November 16, 2011.
38. “Dove Playground | The Long and Winding Road.” n.d. Accessed November 21, 2019.
conquering a spot in the rail corridor one day, and being the king of another the day after. The journey in between private homes and institutions to public institutions, schools or offices bring about many opportunities for memories to be made; semi- public spaces as grounds for memory catchers; storytelling jotter books.
FD006. ‘Private-Public Dichotomy’. Nature
of spaces found in proximity to Rail Corridor. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
6.2.3 Circulation in tracing life steps
Analysis of short stories written by everyday Singaporeans, of all walks of life regarding their connection with a familiar space proved the importance of circulation and journeys in memory and identity formation. The long, treacherous walks from school to home under the scorching sun were remembered and recounted through episodes of the long, smelly longkang; the cut flowers along the overhead bridge; the illegal smoke breaks in the carpark; the secret relationship formed behind parents’ backs³⁹. There came a spatial inventory of types of journeys that can create stories – in modelling the semi-public spaces in one’s frequent circulation patterns, comes the importance of certain elements in between institutions.
The number of words, scenes, depth of emotion and proportion of prose dedicated to these elements in every chapter of both literature are mapped against the scale of the physical space or journey. Following this, the scales are altered to follow the importance of the element in creating a memory. Distance and proximity of institutions and programmes can be manicured to create a set of journeys optimal for the creation of memories and titles that perhaps are hardly found in rigid public or private spaces. Treasures are everywhere if you look. The derived journey guides are aimed to optimise the finding of treasures, a string of flags that lead one to chapters of their lives, collated into their life stories. Titles no longer make up a person; stories and journeys do. These are everlasting and site-less; up to the individual to create instead of relying of societal rules or communal monuments.
6.2.4 Inventory to Hyper Neighbourhood
These storytelling treasures are classified into four broad groups. Nodes that the state does not allocate for students - spaces that are not intended for the ego building like the mama shops we sneak into between class and CCA, or LAN shops we frequent after school instead of heading for tuition class. High energy or emotional areas, like the class excursion to the zoo, the bench we had our first kisses. Unique or characteristic paths, like the path with mimosas lined up abundantly. Frequent haunts, like the coffeeshop we go to for our favourite chicken rice everyday.
39. Tay, Verena. Balik Kampung. Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2016.
6.2.5 Thresholds and Distribution
FD007. ‘Design Vehicle’. Analysis of Stories with regards to scale of spaces, memories of journeys in Balik Kampung and Innocents. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FD008. ‘Restricted Spaces’. Spaces the state does not allocate in our ego building. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
The thresholds in between institutions and inventory are key to the kit of parts as well. Previous studies on the open and closed boundaries between spaces create journeys for stories, and the nature of such provides different characteristics of spaces in the target study boards of the Eunoia Junior Collage, the SIT and JTC Campus, and Central St Martins. Perhaps institutional spaces and their boundaries with the semi-public memory catches around them can be reconsidered in optimising the potential of storytelling
– modelling after the Rail Corridor in itself, as a form of a threshold between the past playground and current regulated ones. Thresholds, likewise the design guide to spatial identity formation and retention, need to touch the groundscape and not the infrastructure. The boundaries and journeys ought to transcend physical fences or buildings, but by the terrain and elements of the ground, non-vulnerable to changes in programmes and the short life span of buildings.
FD012. ‘Playgrounds’. Rail Corridor as threshold to past and present playgrounds in Tanglin Halt. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FD013. ‘Conditions’. Rail Corridor elements that optimise the space for storytelling. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
6.2 Neighbourhood Application
6.2.1 Tanglin Halt
Walking along the Rail Corridor brought an experience of a space trapped in time, secluded from the rest of bustling life. The steep slopes that meandered in height, flanking the tracks occasionally gave way to vistas of HDB blocks in the long distance or dirt trails signaling entrance points from the viaducts above. The space was like a sound insulator. Nature sang, and even at points along Alexandra viaduct where the cars roared loudly, the viaduct served as a sound bubble, muffling the city.
There was no one in sight as I trudged along at 9.30am on a Thursday. Some points reminded me of civilisation - where the green cleared up to reveal a highway next to me with cars swooping past; or where stand alone blocks of houses appear on the right, out of now where. Nonetheless, the vehicles moved too fast; and the safety fences were too high. It was still a lonely walk.
Things started to clear up and the setting evolved as I approached the next neighbourhood. The topology exponentially decreased, and the ground became level, revealing some colour peeking through the shallow foliage of shrubs. I was intrigued. These HDB blocks looked different from the ones my eyes have grown accustomed to in the past hour of walking; they were significantly lower, with trademark red and white bricks lining the exterior. I proceeded, and was surprised to see my first exit route from the main corridor, leading to an exercise corner. I peered at an elderly man doing a slow warm up routine in his backyard. Many other secondary routes ensued; I diligently explored each one of them, some private pathways to Black and White Houses, some pavements to the neighbourhood’s playgrounds, and a very significant dirt path to the traffic light 200m away, to the Tanglin Halt Food Centre.
Some one else appeared in my sight, this time entering the corridor hurriedly. The bundled up silhouette appeared in her late 60s, and she walked purposefully to the direction I was headed. I followed. She then took a left turn up a flight of staircase - the lady wasn’t the only one doing that. Many other office workers were passing by the corridor from somewhere else (Commonwealth MRT, I later found out), to the One North Business Park next door.
The choice of Tanglin Halt as a site application of the design guide was a rather straightforward result of the confluence of factors like its proximity to the Rail Corridor (and its unprecedented openness towards it), the utilitarian function of the corridor being a pathway to school, work, market, the interesting typology and old age of the residential estate and the demographics of people who frequent the area. The corridor served as a palimpsest of journeys, or with Game of Life lenses, multiple life tiles of different characters were overlaid upon each other on the space. This is in stark contrast to majority of the corridor, where one is isolated from the rest of the neighbourhoods.
Tanglin Halt is soon-to-be vacated and redeveloped when its 99-year lease ends⁴⁰. Mostly elderly residents are resituated to the nearby Dawson estate, and the traditional SIT flats in Singapore’s first satellite town will be long gone. The potential of the space to be a revitalised neighbourhood that applies the additional layer of memory and story making to build one’s strong identity is boundless. Instead of tabula rasa, or select conservation projects, could the focus now be on retaining, or creating new journeys or paths in the space that could attract youth in, and even bring in the ex-residents?
40. “Tanglin Halt: From Old to Gold.” Yahoo! Finance. Yahoo!, May 3, 2019.
The dichotomy between the rail corridor and possible paths and groundscapes is intriguing, and the neighbourhood serves as a pivotal project once again, to show that the journey scale is important in designing any nurturing Singaporean housing estate.
FD014. ‘Tanglin Halt’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FD015. ‘Journey Exemplification’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FD018. ‘Neighbourhood Playground’. Tanglin Halt Communal Spaces. Photograph: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FD019. ‘SIT Flats’. Tanglin Halt’s old housing buildings. Photograph: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
41. Tan, Audrey. “Tengah Could Be Model for Future Estates, Say Experts.” The Straits Times, September 9, 2016.
‘This is Tengah, your possible future home,’ CK gestures out of the car seat and I turn around, trying to get a good look of the space in the dim evening.
‘Huh, which one,” I questioned, with nothing in sight but a wall of stubborn trees along the roadside, quickly averting my eyes back to Bukit Batok road.
“The forest. The forest is the place you’re applying BTO for.”
We turned a corner, and more trees and green. Empty plots of land. I knew they say it’s a completely new town built from ground up, but I definitely was not expecting this. What a stark contrast to the colourful renders and loud programmes HDB was promising at the Toa Payoh Hub.
“Ya. The balloting started this week. It’s already 2.1 subscription rate for the first-timer applicants. I heard people talking about today in tutorial also! I think a lot of NUS kids are applying...But wah. I didn’t expect it to be so...sparse,” I laughed, part surprise, part amazement at what the future holds as opposed to the current state. I guess that’s what you get when you use ex-state military land and convert it to a residential plot. The possibilities were endless and unpredictable. Nonetheless, still a better option than my cousin, who recently got a flat at Tanglin Halt with her fiancée. Better culture and neighbours, fingers crossed. After all, younger residents means more hip right?
Latest BTO launches have been quite the buzz. Tengah, stipulated to be HDB’s new ‘in’ town in close proximity to the second CBD in Jurong, has promising programmes lined up in the next 5 years — central park, car-lite environment, every unit at most 500m away from a transport node, new Jurong Regional lines⁴¹— the prospects and affordability of the estate invites majority of young couples to apply under the scheme.
The demographics and nature of the residential space prove unique to Tengah - in the packed island of Singapore, untarnished, virgin land is rare, and even more so when the housing board decides to inject multiple concepts and possibilities into the space, targeted at young couples and their kids, who will grow up in the environment. The design guide can then be applied to the young estate, a juxtaposition to the first site. Ground is now a blank canvas, and the design guide comes in to shape the groundscape to form
a space full of journeys. The concept of the youth spike is further tested, and applied in creating spaces for the youth to paint their own stories.
FD020. ‘Tengah’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
FD021. ‘Journey Creation’. Drawing: Tan Xin Yuan, 2019.
7.1 Imagining the coexistence of id and egos
Throughout this thesis prep, additional issues have surfaced from the original intention of wanting to understand the loss of identity in elderly. Matters of memory making, of retention of memories that support the id, of creating titles that not just facilitate one’s ego and superego, but remind them of their personalities and characters, all prove to be factors that could promise a more worthwhile lifetime. Throwing the paper chase, luxury and prejudice in society today aside - I have heard more often than preferable from the elderly around me that they ‘don’t want to live until so old’. My thesis, at the end of the day, wishes to study if the entities of I can really coexist and preserve in that state of equilibrium throughout one’s lifetime. The spatial guide and design vehicle serves to prove that in the Singaporean context, that self identity does not need to be latched upon a state or communal entity; but instead the stories that make up one’s life. These stories are the feeding grounds for one’s id, ego and superego, and are prevalent in every nook and cranny of our everyday spaces. They bring meaning to the everyday, regardless of place or age.
7.2 Orchestrating journeys in neighbourhoods
My thesis prep does not know how exactly to reimagine these landscapes. Yet, the inquiry benefits from the unexpected spatial interconnections that have been found, the analysis of stories and journeys of many kinds through various mediums.
The resulting architecture should be a treasure chest, a screen set where one can act out their own life stories through their journey. I imagine a hyper neighbourhood, as a critique on current planning design guides and HDB estates, set in realistic terms and conditions of the now. It consists a plethora of opportunities for one to collect individual memories and titles, to make up one’s resilient identity.
FD022. ‘Restricted Area’. Screen grab from Google Maps. Accessed November 20, 2019.
FD023. ‘Restricted Area’. Screen grab from Google Maps. Accessed November 20, 2019.
FD024. ‘Restricted Area’. Screen grab from Google Maps. Accessed November 20, 2019.