Architecture of Artifacts: Transnational Histories of Design

Department: Architecture
Research Centre: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative
Active Dates: 2014 to 2017

Project title:
Architecture of Artifacts: Transnational Histories of Design

Principal Investigator:
Koon Wee and Eunice Seng

Project funding:
Seed Grant, pending GRF


This research documents six important artifacts transformed and borne out of specific architectural discourses of the twentieth century. It includes the big roof, the linear core, the curtain wall, the green patch, the historic carcass and the pilotis deck. It will uncover alternative design histories of each of the artifacts through an analysis of its form, function and signification, with a focus on transnational and transcultural specificities. More than mere building components of architecture, these artifacts have undergone significant transformation, bearing witness to major upheavals in the social fabric and technological capabilities. These upheavals were augmented by trajectories of travel and communication between multiple territories. More importantly, it was during the latter half of the century, specifically the postcolonial period, when the world gained greater tolerance of cultural and regional distinctiveness in the practice of architecture. These differences and identities are only just beginning to reveal and assert themselves in new strands of histories.

By describing these building components as “artifacts,” this research underscores humanity’s aspiration in crafting architecture to respond to urgent questions of utility and the prevailing environment. To draw even closer to the study of such aspirations, methods in archaeology and anthropology will be used. As such, the city can often be described as an assemblage of divergent artifacts and built forms. The engagements with architecture described in this research range from the circulations of materials, construction methods, building codes, urban policies, and even utopian visions of architecture. These circulations can often be mapped through strategic agents of change, such as transfers of educational pedagogies, exhibitions, mass media, memberships of professional groups, and many others. This research will make visible the connections between the formal, functional and symbolic meanings of the artifacts through the redrawing of historical exemplars and atlases of hybrid forms.

Published outputs and awards:

Seng, E., “Transnational Utopia: Diaspora as Creative Praxis,” in Singapore Dreaming: Managing Utopia, edited by H.K. Wee & J. Chia, 146-165. Singapore: Select Books & Asian Urban Lab, 2016.

Wee, H.K., “Shanghai as Method: Artifacts and the City,” in Crossing China: Land of the Rising Art Scene, edited by G. Goodrow, 130-145. Cologne: DAAB, 2014.



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