Photo series provides food for thought on hawker centre architecture

The architectural features captured by the photography series range from Tampines Round Market and Food Centre's circular roof to Pasir Ris Hawker Centre's wave-like metal facade (above). PHOTO: FABIAN ONG
The architectural features captured by the photography series range from Tampines Round Market and Food Centre's circular roof to Pasir Ris Hawker Centre's wave-like metal facade (above). PHOTO: FABIAN ONG

Hawker centres are a haven for cheap and good food, but a new photography series aims to encourage and satisfy a different kind of hunger - for their architectural features.

These range from Tampines Round Market and Food Centre's circular roof to Pasir Ris Hawker Centre's wave-like metal facade.

The online series by the National Heritage Board (NHB), titled Our Hawker Culture: Built For Great Taste, covers 12 hawker centres and comprises more than 100 photos by four local photographers: Fabian Ong, Rebecca Toh, Khoo Guo Jie and Lee Yik Keat.

Among the hawker centres featured is the two-storey Geylang Serai Market & Food Centre, which is modelled after a Malay kampung house.

Built between 2006 and 2009 to replace the former Pasar Geylang Serai, the centre incorporates traditional motifs and has a tiered roof resembling that of a thatched house.

Mr Ong, who photographed three hawker centres in the east for the series, said participating in the project helped him to see hawker centres from a new perspective.

For instance, when photographing Changi Village Hawker Centre, he climbed up stairwells of surrounding housing blocks to get a higher vantage point, and saw the roofscape of the hawker centre, which he said reminded him of Japanese shrines.

Meanwhile, Ms Toh said photographing hawker centres made her appreciate them more, as she got to see them "in the context of their neighbourhoods".

She said she saw how they served as a gathering place, especially for the elderly, and how they were like a community centre, helping people in the neighbourhood feel connected to one another.

She said: "I hope that viewers can learn to see the beauty of hawker centres, even though they are not conventionally beautiful."

"I think this beauty arises from the fact that a hawker centre is doing exactly what it was built to do and does it so well - feed us," she said, adding that hawker centres do so in a "fuss-free, unpretentious way".

NHB said the photo series is part of its ongoing efforts to document and safeguard hawker culture. It can be accessed at go.gov.sg/built-for-great-taste

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2021, with the headline 'Photo series provides food for thought on hawker centre architecture'. Subscribe