1984 National Exhibition organisers tour The Future

(From right) Prof Lim, Prof Lee and Mr Chia helped organise the National Exhibition in 1984, which commemorated 25 years of nation-building.
(From right) Prof Lim, Prof Lee and Mr Chia helped organise the National Exhibition in 1984, which commemorated 25 years of nation-building.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

While past event marked nation's successes, current one focuses more on 'people factor'

Thirty-two years ago, then-deputy commissioner for parks and recreation Lee Sing Kong spent more than 16 hours a day over eight weeks making sure the landmark National Exhibition where VivoCity mall now stands ran smoothly.

Last Thursday, Professor Lee, now 64, took a far more leisurely tour of The Future of Us exhibition at the Gardens by the Bay. Like its predecessor, it envisions daily living in the future, this time in 2030.

He was joined by two fellow organisers of the 1984 show, Singapore Management University professor Lim Soo Ping, 65, then a deputy director at the National Development Ministry, and Mr James Chia, 64, president of exhibition and design company Pico Art, which helped to organise both the 1984 exhibition as well as the current one.

They were among the more than 300,000 people to have visited the 6,000 sq m display, which opened in December and closes in 16 days.

Over the hour-long tour, they marvelled at the exhibition's audio-visual displays - including a video showing possible inventions in the future projected onto a dome - and made comparisons with the National Exhibition they worked on decades ago. "With all the technology available, you have condensed what would have been 200 exhibits in our exhibition into a fantastic four-minute video," Prof Lee told Mr Gene Tan, the exhibition's creative director.


  • • The Future Of Us exhibition runs till March 8, from 9am to 9pm daily, including weekends and public holidays.

    • It is located at the Gardens by the Bay. The nearest MRT station is Bayfront.

    • Tickets are free and available at www.thefutureofus.sg. Tickets are also available at the door.

The National Exhibition of 1984 commemorated 25 years of nation-building. Held at the former World Trade Centre, it took stock of the country's achievements and milestones since Singapore gained self-governance in 1959.

These included the establishment of a citizen military force in 1967 and the transformation of swampy Jurong into a sprawling industrial estate over the years.

By examining the past, the 1984 exhibition hoped to help Singaporeans look forward to the future, just as the Future of Us exhibition hopes to do for the current generation, said Prof Lim, the secretary for the exhibits sub-committee in 1984.

But the current exhibition emphasises the need for Singaporeans to have a sense of ownership over their country and to establish a more compassionate society, he added. "In 1984, we were heavy on infrastructure and building the city of the future. There was less of the people factor."

It had few interactive elements, though one of the highlights was a mock-up of an MRT carriage. Visitors were invited to pick the material for the seats, three years before the first train started running.

The exhibition then was also largely driven by the Government.

Its present iteration features ideas not just from government agencies, but also ordinary citizens.

For example, sitting alongside a room showcasing policymakers' futuristic ideas - such as a virtual nurse to attend to elderly residents - are models of floating Housing Board flats; the dream of a 10-year-old student.

Prof Lim said Singapore has gone far beyond what the Government proposed in its models and mock-ups in 1984. "It was unimaginable that we would have polytechnics, ITEs and our subsequent universities. Or the National Gallery and the Esplanade. Singapore has grown beyond our wildest dreams."

The last segment of the current exhibition encourages visitors to pen their dreams for the future. Prof Lee's hope: Greater food security, such as by producing low-priced but land-intensive wheat and grain.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline '1984 National Exhibition organisers tour The Future'. Print Edition | Subscribe