"MOST OF OUR PARENTS WANTED US TO BE
LAWYERS OR DOCTORS. NOT ANYMORE."

| 4 comments

Dezeen and MINI World Tour: in our first video report from Singapore, Colin Seah of local architecture studio Ministry of Design tells us how the recent cultural shift away from mass-market shops and restaurants is helping transform attitudes towards design in the city. 

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
Colin Seah of Ministry of Design

"Singapore was known as a clean and green city," says Seah. "Clean almost to the point of being boring."

"There seemed to be a saturation of mass-market experiences. But from 2000 to 2005, things started to rapidly open up. Singapore now is a lot more exciting."

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
Our MINI Paceman across the water from Gardens by the Bay by Wilkinson Eyre

Seah claims that many Singaporeans are choosing to stay away from established chains, preferring to spend their money in more boutique shops and restaurants.

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
Dempsey Hill, Singapore

In the movie he takes us to two recently rejuvenated parts of the city where independent retailers and food outlets are flourishing.

The first is Dempsey Hill, a former British colonial army barracks to the west of the city centre, which now hosts a wide range of independent restaurants and cafes.

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
Dempsey Hill, Singapore

"It was the first major adaptive reuse project in Singapore, where a building that was once governmental or institutional was given back to the market," says Seah. "That shift has taken root and you see more districts now being reclaimed this way."

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
Haji Lane, Singapore

Closer to the city centre is Haji Lane, a narrow street lined with two-storey shophouses in the Arab quarter of the city, in sharp contrast to the towering skyscrapers of the nearby financial district that Singapore is more famous for.

"Along Haji Lane you'll find maybe 30 independent boutiques," says Seah. "Just a great amount of variety without having to see a brand that you would find also in California or the UK."

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
New Majestic Hotel by Ministry of Design

One of the first boutique hotels in Singapore was designed by Seah's studio, Ministry of Design. Called New Majestic Hotel, it comprises four converted shophouse tucked away down a quiet street in Singapore's Chinatown.

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
New Majestic Hotel by Ministry of Design

Seah believes that the recent demand for hotels like New Majestic Hotel provides an important source of work for designers in the city.

"Without this increased level of curiosity and diversity, firms like ours would not really be able to exist," he says. "There would just be no market for the work that we do."

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
New Majestic Hotel by Ministry of Design

He also believes that the cultural shift is encouraging more young people to study architecture and design.

"Because of the need for more firms to provide work of this nature, I think young people feel that it's less of a risk to enter the design field," he says.

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
New Majestic Hotel by Ministry of Design

"In Singapore, most of our parents want us to be accountants or lawyers or doctors. [To be an] architect is a bit dodgy and [if you study] interior design or art, you're a lost cause. But not any more."

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
SOTA by Singapore architecture practice WOHA

Singapore's government is also starting to take design seriously, Seah says. In 2008 it established SOTA (School of the Arts), which offers an arts and design-based curriculum for 13 to 18 year olds.

Private art schools have also emerged, such as Lasalle College of the Arts, designed by Singapore practice RSP Architects.

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
Lasalle College of the Arts by RSP Architects

"Schools like SOTA are not just great physical examples of architecture," Seah concludes. "They are also symbols of where Singapore is headed in terms of culture, in terms of design."

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."
Singapore skyline

We are in Singapore for World Architecture Festival and Inside Festival, and will be publishing interviews with some of the key speakers in the coming weeks.

See all our coverage of World Architecture Festival 2013 »

We drove around Singapore in our MINI Cooper S Paceman. The music in the movie is a track called Feeling Beast by Man Oeuvre. You can listen to more music by Man Oeuvre on Dezeen Music Project.

Watch all our Dezeen and MINI World Tour movies »

"Most of our parents wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. Not anymore."

  • El Jiji

    Loved the quick glimpses of the OMA Project.

  • Leandro Llorente

    Good interview and a very positive outlook. we need more of this testimony on this island.

  • franz

    No offence but your parents should have also told you to take off your sunglasses when getting photographed. I know some people do that, but that doesn’t make it less wrong.

  • Masthead10

    Who is that? Looks exactly like the Karim Rashid of Singapore!