Forum: Shortlisted designs for Founders' Memorial uninspiring

A girl uses coloured lenses to view a mural at the Founders' Memorial Design Showcase.
A girl uses coloured lenses to view a mural at the Founders' Memorial Design Showcase.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

If a key inspiration in constructing the Founders' Memorial is to honour Singapore's past and present, especially the legacy of the pioneering leaders, and celebrate the future in an exceptional setting, I fail to see this in the five shortlisted designs for the project (Voting starts on design of Founders' Memorial, Nov 5).

The proposed buildings are essentially static conventional structures that are topped off by a rooftop garden, a growing cliche in architectural design.

Most could easily pass off as a museum or concert hall.

The only exception is the proposal by Kengo Kuma & Associates and K2LD Architects.

This partnership's design comes closest to stretching the idea of the Founders' Memorial with its park concept.

Unfortunately, its rendering is too subtle and understated to represent the towering achievements and values of those who drove Singapore to statehood and nationhood.

As the memorial would be located in a section of Gardens by the Bay which seeks to highlight water and water-based plants, it is rather surprising that these aquatic features were not given greater prominence in the design submissions.

For example, the dramatic eloquence of the stunning Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay in evoking an urban forest on land, could easily have been served a counterpoint via several green structures of various heights and shapes that are partially submerged in water. These "underwater" multipurpose facilities would represent a certain fearlessness, freshness and fluidity that defined an entire generation's attitude towards nation-building, values which ought to permeate through posterity.

They would form the permanent foundation of the memorial, one that should be supplemented with an installation, such as a pavilion, for an open-air, mixed-use forum corner on the memorial's grounds that will change every two decades to symbolise the evolution of the Singapore identity over a generation.

Think of Japanese architect Tadao Ando's simple yet sublime design for the Water Temple on Awaji Island, Hyogo, Japan, as a starting reference for this dynamic nexus between land and water.

Instead, the public is now stuck with five conventional proposals to choose from.

One can only speculate what went into the design criteria for a Founders' Memorial project which had sought to be extraordinary, but which has resulted in uninspiring proposals.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2019, with the headline 'Shortlisted designs for Founders' Memorial uninspiring'. Subscribe