Students designed the Chinese New Year display in Chinatown

The lanterns are covered in a special fabric to enhance the light.
The lanterns are covered in a special fabric to enhance the light.ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN
The lanterns are covered in a special fabric to enhance the light.
The lanterns are covered in a special fabric to enhance the light.ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN

The Chinese New Year display designed by SUTD students follows the theme of family

From this Saturday evening till March 19, be greeted by the sight of 338 goat lanterns when you visit Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road. The lanterns are part of this year's Chinese New Year street light-up.

If you look closely, you may see 28 of the goats slowly bobbing their heads, mimicking the action of the animals grazing or looking up at the sky. These lanterns are motorised, the first time such lanterns are used in the display.

The goats, which range from 0.8m to 1.7m tall, are grouped in clusters to reflect the theme of family. The theme was decided by members of the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens' Consultative Committee, which has been in charge of the Chinatown Chinese New Year celebrations since 2000.

The goats are orange, brown, white and grey to symbolise their different levels of maturity, and appear to be trotting on rocky terrain towards the display's 10m-tall centrepiece of three goats - each weighing about 400kg - standing atop a mountain.

Overhead hang 1,500 coin-shaped lanterns glowing with soft orange light, each imprinted with five bats in a circle, a play on the Chinese idiom wu fu ling men, which refers to the arrival of the five blessings of longevity, wealth, health, virtue and natural death. Bat and blessing are homonyms (fu) in Mandarin. Bats are also believed to be auspicious animals that represent longevity and happiness.

The display was designed and conceptualised by 13 undergraduates from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), under the guidance of Assistant Professor Stylianos Dritsas. This is the fourth time SUTD students have helped design the Chinese New Year light-up display.

"It is always exciting to see how these young talents from SUTD inject their creativity to incorporate traditional symbols of Chinese New Year, such as the zodiac and emblems of prosperity, into an artistic design," said Dr Lily Neo, Grassroots Adviser and Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC, who was at a media preview of the light-up on Tuesday.

One of the students, Mr Tan Wei Lin, 21, said: "We started brainstorming for ideas in July last year. It helped that we stayed in the hostel, so we could work on the designs together after school."

The students presented their ideas to the committee after rounds of critiques with Prof Dritsas. Interesting elements - such the idea of a herd of goats heading towards a mountain, which came from 19-year-old student Nurul Marsya Mohd Shahruddin - were selected by the committee.

Being the only Malay in the team, Ms Marsya said she was initially "quite lost" with the wordplay on Chinese idioms. For instance, in the idiom san yang kai tai, the Chinese character for the sun was changed to the one for goat, as they are both pronounced yang in Mandarin.

However, Ms Marsya caught on quickly. She said: "I was thinking of a pilgrimage of goats returning home, to gel with the family theme. I'm really honoured that the organising committee liked it."

After submitting their final designs last October, the students translated their plans into Mandarin for the Chinese contractors and also walked down Eu Tong Sen Street with them.

This was to ensure that details, such as the exact positioning of the goats, and the coin lanterns being equidistant from one another, were followed.

Forty-five craftsmen from Sichuan, China, made the students' designs come to life. They worked 10-hour days for over a month to shape the goats with metal wires, install the lightbulbs and wrap the lanterns with fabric, among other tasks.

About 8km of a special fabric, which enhances the lanterns' light and prevents the wiring inside from being visible, and 10,000 light bulbs, were among the materials used. The organisers declined to reveal the actual cost.

The media preview of the light-up drew the attention of passers-by.

Ms Lina Lew, 47, a Malaysian who is on vacation here for two weeks, said: "The light-up is conveniently located as it's in the heart of Chinatown and really adds to the festive atmosphere of Chinese New Year."

But Mr Nick Wong, 40, a project executive, feels that the goat display looked too cluttered, and that sheep should have been included in the display as they share the same Chinese character, yang, with the goat.

The official light-up and opening ceremony, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will attend, takes place from 6 to 10pm on Saturday. Thereafter, the lanterns will be lit from 7pm every day till March 19.

sarahgyx@sph.com.sg