The Lost Treasures of Architecture

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The Lost Treasures

Time advances, people come and go, same fate for the old and outdated buildings. The treasures we once had were long gone; our lifetime memory; the familiar smell; the familiar sight; the familiar sound; the familiar touch; the familiar taste. The rapid development in this little red dot forces renewal of buildings every now and then, there is not a single area without construction going on. Our places’ identity slowly fade out, or immerge into a new form of space.

Every place we know is a location that has its particular meaning in our mind. It can be your first dating place; your favourite hangout spot; or the nearby mall that you are so familiar with, you go to the specific store you want to without thinking but subconsciously. Emotions are attached to this specific places. It might not have to be a strong, lovesick emotion but definitely an emptiness followed when the specific place is deconstructed.

A space is an almost abstract notion, except it's filled with things (can be the eco-nature, can be man-made). The biggest difference between a space and a place, is that you will not have any emotional attachment to a space. Spaces such as the nearby grass patch, workplace toilet, canal along the road you walking home. This also mean that certain attractive places for others could become a meaning-less space to you, or a place in your mind could be a meaning-less space for others.

However, it is possible to transform an impersonal space into a personal place. Since a personal space involve personal emotions and memories, we could possibly replicate the atmosphere/items that trigger ones’ emotions and memory into an impersonal space which therefore become a personal place for the person. For example, designing and decorating a brand new empty room for yourself. The empty room itself give you a sense of unfamiliarity, discomfort, making you want to leave the space as soon as possible. However, with walls flush with your favourite colour; old new furniture that you have been long for, and the perfect cosy ambient you created, the space has become a brand new place that is personal to you. A place to rest and get comfortable in. Yet, replicating a similar atmosphere/items into a space might not be a fool proof solution to transform an impersonal space into a personal place. After all, a replacement will never fill emptiness, but cover it.

Nonetheless, replication is not the only possible solution. By understanding your own needs and daily experiences, you can create a personal place for yourself out of a space. The purpose of the place-making is the first thing to consider. What is the space for? Is it for working? Playing? Resting? Eating? If a desire place is created that does not work well for the purpose, the entire place become a nuisance, a space that you do not wish to enter, causing the place to be place-less. For example, a place for working should have basic air ventilation, sufficient lighting, table and chair. You cannot expect to have wok and oven right beside your working desk, it is space consuming and not useful for your daily experiences in this specific place for work.

Figure 1 when a place lose its purpose, it become a space

How about large scale projects? How do we counter the problem of place-less-ness in spaces like hotels? Hotels building is a never ending process. As more and more people travel for leisure, hotel is a must-have facility for the tourists. Yet, designs of hotels are duplicates of one after another, you can barely differentiate the hotels except the fact of having different names board allocated at the tip top of their hotels.

Maybe all it takes is to add in a theme for the hotel’s design; a historical theme; a sensory theme. Waking up in the morning or from a short nap being able to smell the fragrance of your mum’s cooking is a unique experience you have that no one else does. The clashing sound of turner against the frying pan; the smell of home fried rice; the figurative shadow of mum in the kitchen, it is a similar yet totally different experience from anyone else. When this experience can be considered as sensory theme into the hotel, it start to become a place with meaning, with a certain emotional attachment made, despite the experience is unreal, illusional, partially similar.

Or could we include the historical/geographical aspect into design? Take a look of our Singapore’s Airport. Art installations such as the Kinetic rain, is designed due to Singapore’s weather where rain is a common sight in the tropics. Or the Floral Inspiration, it resembling a cluster of giant seedpods, their corrugated surfaces symbolising the naturalistic texture of botanical organisms, an expression of Singapore as a garden city that continues to sprout and flourish. The installations definitely represent certain expressions the artists want to show case, but do other people actually feel positively towards this art installations, or just a neutral emotions and take photos of it in awe. In this situation, this installations could not change the space into a personal space, even though geographical and historical factors are considered for the decorations for the space (airport).

Figure 2 Floral Inspiration@ Terminal 3, Singapore

Figure 3 Kinetic Rain @Terminal 1, Singapore

Indeed, modernisation pushes us to follow the technological trend, and our desire for new is never ending. Historically meaningful structures were torn down; places filled with memories were torn down; transient venues such as airports and stations become place-less-ness. Treasures were lost. Ancient treasures. Treasures which include our past memories, our possible sensory experiences. However, is these treasures still a treasures to the younger generation? Their past memory do not include street hawkers walking around; nor merry-go-round or rocky aeroplanes in pasar malam (which have been replaced by air-pumped playrooms/slides). It is also rare to have parents cooking for children in the early morning. The sensory experiences have been reduced down to the tiniest bit possible. The idea of having places all over spaces is merely a wild fantasy, it cannot overcome the current situation of the world, where profits are the sole reason of why corporates continue erect building after building, with the demand of time efficiency and cost efficiency, with a little decoration of art to spice up the market.


Blesser, Barry. Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing Aural Architecture, (The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2009)

Gibson, William. Disneyland with the Death Penalty, September/October 1993, Wired magazine issue 1.04.

Available from: (Last Accessed on 20th May 2014)

Pallasmaa, Juhaini. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, (John Wiley & Sons, ed. 2005)

List of illustrations

Fig 1 --- Irwin Tan, TREKKING THE KTM TRACKS: A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE Last updated 21st July 2011.

Available from: (Last accessed 4th May 2014)

Fig 2 --- business traveller, New & Noted at Singapore's Changi Airport Last updated 31st May 2010

Available from: (Last accessed 4th May 2014)

Fig 3 --- Kingrant, Guess which race? Kinetic Rain Siao charboh Last updated 4th November 2013.

Available from: (Last accessed 4th May 2014)