ross mcleod and tan kok meng


Three Frenetic Journeys into the Future

'From the eleventh floor we gazed at a continuous wall of hotels, HDB's and office buildings glowing hazy orange against the motorway lights. For a moment I felt I was in a sci-fi detective novel.'

Diary entry January 1997


Journey one


The development of mankind is closely linked with our ability to develop prosthetics to enhance our physical capabilities. From the most basic stone tools and weapons, human beings have been able to further their natural abilities through the creation of implements. Today roller-blades, skateboards, push-bikes, motorbikes, cars, trains, and aeroplanes propel us around the globe at an accelerating rate. Physical disabilities are countered by wheelchairs, artificial limbs and electronic implants (hearing aids, pacemakers), and the manufacturing industry is sustained by automatic robotic assembly lines.

Modern man engages in interface with, and access to, computer-generated information, communication and amusement. Whether we are aware of it or not we are becoming increasingly skilled manipulators of electronic media.

In this rapidly growing technological world a new definition of the prosthetic arena has emerged: cyberspace, the physically uninhabitable, electronically generated alternate reality inhabited by human beings as an extension of their brain. Cyberspace in its simplest terms is a social environment. It is a form of techno-sociality which allows us to access people and information around the clock.

Through the use of communication/information devices we enter the electronic domain. By assimilating cyber capabilities and rules, we are further enhancing human capability beyond our normal parameters. In this sense these and many other devices in our lives have become virtual prosthetics.

With any emerging technology the role of the designer is to humanise this interaction between man and machine. The Apple computer screen for example uses an analogy of an office space, complete with desktop, filing cabinets, pens, rulers, mailbox and trash. The familiarity gained through everyday use of these items allows easy navigation and operation of the virtual office. This design approach-relating the digital world to the physical-is one of the cornerstones of the computer revolution.

In order to engage in a prosthetic technology we must first recognise the capabilities and limits of the human body. We must explore the needs, wants, rituals and actions of our daily lives. The designer of cyberware needs to consider human perception and preconception in order to successfully design within this environment. The physical embodiment of the device (its shape, size and form), how it is used and how it fits into the needs of our lifestyle must be carefully considered. Cyberspace created by the design must in a similar way hold a direct connection to our physical senses and psychological associations. We must feel comfortable in our engagement with the ethereal world of digital information.

Urban Cyber Jewellery explored the human connection with information technology on an intimate scale via the creation of a wearable device (such as a piece of jewellery), designed to access computer/information/communication systems at any time of day or night. The piece of jewellery was to meld seamlessly with the wearers' actions and conscious needs. The students not only formulated how the prosthetic was to be worn and used by its owner, they also indicated the nature of information the user would receive from it: designing an interface between man and machine.

As computer technology develops in the twenty-first century, designers will be faced with a new dimension in the design of objects, spaces and buildings. The gap between the body and the mind, the real and the virtual, and the local and the global will blur and shift, creating a rich, complex, multilayered field for designers to embrace.


Journey two


While the Cyber Jewellery project defined the parameters of cyberspace and the potential for the enhancement of everyday activities via the use of electronic prosthetics, the Intelligent Dwelling project extended this knowledge into the realm of the house. Students developed design responses to the integration of intelligent building technologies in everyday rituals of home life.

Modernist architect Le Corbusier was quoted as saying 'the house is a machine for living in'.1 This view of architecture was a response to the radical changes occurring in the world of machinery and manufacturing as building technology moved from the craft base of the nineteenth century to the prefabricated systems, materials and components familiar to us today. One of Le Corbusier's seminal buildings was the Unite de Habitation in Marseilles (1945-1952). This high rise building and its style of living became the prototype for urban density housing, and is the form that has been successfully adopted by the Housing Development Board (HDB) for Singapore.

As Christian Thomsen points out in his 'Media Architecture' essay,

'we are now on the verge of another revolution in architecture, the result of advances in information and communication technologies and the widespread use of the computer. With these changes in mind we can frame a new definition of house and form new models for the idea of a dwelling place in the electronic age'. 2

By examining their own home and mapping rituals enacted within them the students began to redefine the activities of dwelling space beyond familiar room typologies. This study led to the construction of a dynamic understanding of the interaction between humans and elements of architecture in our daily lives. From this base the students created an abstracted approach to the examination of dwelling, forming the conceptual foundation for further design exploration.

The Intelligent Dwelling design proposals addressed issues of space management, comfort, aesthetic, materiality, lighting, environment, entertainment, information technology, energy efficiency and ecological concerns, proposing new forms of thought appropriate to our changing lifestyle


Journey three


'The city flashes, revolves in red, blue and shining white, yells in green and sinks into black nothingness, only to experience that game of colours again, newly born a moment later.' - Fritz Lang 3

As citizens of planet earth, ours is a mixture of differing countries, attitudes and approaches to the concept of modern living. Every day the products we use, television we watch, music we listen to and foods we eat can come from all over the globe. Internet connection allows a permanent gallery/shopfront for personal interests open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; an international information mall in cyberspace.

The resulting projects articulated a cultural reading of Singapore, its inhabitants and their values. Responses to the brief included:

  • A World Music Club, sited at Boat Quay designed around the principles of frequency and vibration, transmission and reception
  • A fleet of Mobile Libraries situated at Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations providing information via books, CD ROMs and the internet;
  • A fashion chain called Street Style, merging fashion trends from around the world, providing cyber cafes and video conferencing; and
  • The Instant Office, situated in the atrium of SunTec city exhibition building, catering to the office and communication needs of exhibitors and travelling businessman.

The projects reflected much about a culture that thinks of design primarily as a social force. Its participants remain acutely aware of local needs and practices, while absorbing influence and information from the accessible tide of global information.

The studio culmination was a multimedia installation of studio aims and outcomes. The intrigue of the proposals was reinforced by rhythms of sound, light and spatial manipulation. Videos and slide shows, atmospherically-lit models, soundtracks and computer imaging engulfed the audience entering the Urban Global Space. The subject and its medium of communication dissolving into the continuum of spatial experience.


1. Jeaneret, Charles Edouard, 'Le Corbusier: 1910-65', Les Editions D'Architecture, Zurich, 1967, p. 28

2. Thomsen, Christian, 'Mediarchitecture', A+U 94:01, A+U Publishing Co.Ltd., Japan, 1994, pp. 80-83

3. Fritz Lang, from 'What I saw in America', Film Courier Magazine, December 1924