by Sin Yee Koh.

Questioning Urban

Three perspectives of the urban

In my past life as an architect, I used to think of the urban as buildings. I, like many other architects, was motivated by the built form – who designed it, what materials were used, how the spaces linked to each other, how the building sat in context with other buildings surrounding it. Our renderings of what the built form and spaces would look like would be clinical clean and brightly-lit. The appearance of people – if any – would be strategically chosen and precisely placed.

In other words, the urban = the (aesthetic) building.

Then I moved on to master planning, urban design, and urban development. Then, the urban became a mini-city. I was playing the creator. A line here meant roads will run. A squiggle there meant lakes and water features would provide a breathing space and open landscape to accompany built forms. I saw the city top-down, flat, made up of lines and patterns and color codes. To convey the vision of these grand designs, we used the bird’s eye perspective. We used animation to show how future residents would live and go through the spaces we created.

In other words, the urban = the ideal city (best built from scratch).

My next move was to urban studies from the social sciences perspective. I was suddenly taught to see the intangible social, economic and political forces that dictated how the city functioned and developed. I was exposed to other urban worlds and ways of life I never knew existed or possible. Through the eyes of others I encountered, I in turn questioned the urban world I had lived in and taken for granted. Why were things done this way? Why did we accept that this was the only way of living? What other lives take place in the same city spaces that we chose not to see?

In other words, the urban = a stage performing and hiding the world’s problems.

Urban Vignettes

It is with this journey of three perspectives that I thought up Urban Vignettes. I wanted to understand how people in different living environments enjoy, struggle, love, hate, celebrate, escape from, document, and experience lives in their urban worlds. I wanted to understand how the urban is interpreted from their different perspectives. I wanted to create a platform for conversations across barriers and divides. I wanted to enable people who care to communicate and spin off new ideas and solutions.

In other words, the urban = hopes for a better world.

Was I too idealistic?