As an architect and veteran in the local design industry, Mark Wee believes that Singapore has what it takes to become a powerhouse of design. Here is what the executive director of Design Singapore Council has to say.

(This story was first published in the August 2018 issue of Home & Decor, for the “Voices” column.)

If you were to ask me how Singapore design has evolved over the decades, I would first invite you to step into the National Design Centre and visit the 50 Years Of Singapore Design exhibition.

Amid our design milestones stands a “cracked” stool (top) designed by Nathan Yong in 2006. Called the Break stool, it helped put Singapore on the global design map when it was picked up by French furniture company Ligne Roset for production. Since then, others like Studio Juju, Lanzavecchia + Wai, and Gabriel Tan Studio have followed in Nathan’s footsteps to win international admiration.

Today, the idea of design has broadened and continues to evolve. Globally, there is the growing recognition that design can play a role in finding solutions to lifestyle issues.

Nathan Yong’s Break stool

Within the health-care sector, Tan Tock Seng Hospital used design-led concepts to make its services more user- friendly. Patient waiting times were cut by 40 per cent through the reorganisation of hospital services and simplification of the various medical processes.

We cannot stand still as the design landscape evolves. It was for this reason that we recently revamped the President’s Design Award (PDA) to recognise the transformative power of design.

Good design goes beyond excellent craftsmanship to transform economies, improve lives, connect communities or challenge boundaries, thus advancing the design industry. One of our PDA products is the Air+ Smart Mask. It’s hard not to feel proud when overseas visitors tell us that they buy these designed-in-Singapore masks in bulk to cope with air pollution back home.

The Air+ Smart Mask

As to where I see the local design scene heading over the next 30 years, I believe that Singaporeans would have developed a strong design culture. We would also have a clear understanding and appreciation of the value ofdesign, through objects, places and images. Singapore would also have developed its own design language and brand that is recognised globally. It is one that embodies our unique identity, is the bridge between the West and Asia, is representative of our melting pot of cultures, and shaped by healthy pragmatism, and the use of technology.

In order to get there, we have a long way to go. We are a young country of only 50-plus years, with a young culture. If you refer to the Danish Design Ladder concept, much of our population understands “Design as Styling”, obviously so from the growth and publicity of the existing design industries. We are still educating private and public sector leaders on seeing “Design as a Process” and “Design as a Strategy”, with the latter referring to the view of design as integral not only to development processes, but also key to encouraging innovation.

This would involve a fundamental shift from understanding design in its current disciplines involving images, places and object-making to that of having design as a mindset – one that integrates everything ultimately for great experiences that bring new business value to organisations.

Red plastic stools by Chew Moh-Jin

As it is now, Singapore design has truly permeated our lives. The next time you’re at a kopitiam, take a closer look at its plastic stools (right). Exceedingly well designed by Chew Moh-Jin in 1990, the design of that stool has stood the test of time to be a part of Singaporeans’ lives.

I’m confident that in the coming years, we will see only more of our local designs making waves at home and overseas.