Design in Singapore’s Economic Strategies

In Creativity, Design, Policy, Strategy, Transformation, Vision on 2010/02/02 at 6:38 pm

The Singapore government yesterday (1 Feb 2010) accepted and released the report of the high-powered Economic Strategies Committee (ESC). The report called for a “High-Skilled People, Innovative Economy, Distinctive Global City” — nothing particularly earth-shaking at this level, to be sure. Go deeper into the report, beyond the strangely-familiar call for improved productivity (a current embarrassment despite years of nagging) and you will not miss “design”. It is directly and indirectly at practically every turn. Here is a quick guide:

First the overt references. In the fourth Strategy to “make innovation pervasive, and strengthen commercialisation of R&D” (p28) a specific call was made to “leverage on design” and to “emphasise design-driven innovation” through the following action: “instil design thinking“, “intensifying industry collaboration on design innovation“, and “establish an accreditation system to raise professional design standards“. These, taken as a coordinated set of action, is potentially game changing. The last one mentions a “Designed in Singapore” mark. The time has come to prepare for a post-industrial economy when goods and services are proudly designed in Singapore, made in outsourced locations such as China, and sold globally. To get to that point, a creative and sustainable design and innovation culture needs to be in place.

But the ESC report seems to have most of the angles covered on cultivating this new culture. In Para 23, it identified “product development and design” as one of the sectors for retaining more good jobs. In the Priority to “make Singapore a distinctive global city and endearing home” (p11), the report recognised that “we must develop thriving creative and arts clusters” (read: design), and that “we should also develop distinct eco-towns and residential precincts…” (read: through design). The report also recognises a “vibrant climate of innovation…through design…” (Para 40); the need to “step up efforts in the education system to inculcate a mindset for innovation among young Singaporeans”, mentioning the recent establishment of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) (p30); the “design and production of “mission-critical” components such as those in medical devices” (p21); and even the need for “creative incubators” to “provide affordable spaces and incentives for the creative industries” (p37).

But the trump card for design in the ESC report must go to plans to develop “a whole new waterfront city at Tanjong Pagar” (read: by very creative design — architecture, urban planning, landscape design, etc.) as a key strategy to develop Singapore into a “leading global city” distinctive for its clusters of artistic and creative energy, and for the high quality life (para43, p15). The symbolic significance of Tanjong Pagar (Malay: cape of fishing-stakes) is its current function as the great shipping port of Singapore — the lifeline and symbol of Singapore’s economic success for decades — and the world’s busiest port for many years. Until more recently with a more diversified economy, Singapore used to be branded by Tanjong Pagar port. In future the venerable port will be eclipsed by a post-industrial city which will be as different as flying into Changi airport today compared to sailing into Collier Quay in the past. See URA Masterplan.

Tanjong Pagar port (south-west) from the Pinnicle at Duxton

Tanjong Pagar port (north-west) from the Pinnicle at Duxton

Coincidentally, two of the Design2050 Studios who presented at the Icsid World Design Congress (23-25 Nov 2009) included visions for the Tanjong Pagar area in their 2050 propositions: Fosters and Partners, London, on “the sustainable city 2050” and WOHA Architects, Singapore, on “architects save the world and bring joy to millions. Singapore 2050”. See also my “Singapore Plans for 2050“.

A copy of the ESC Report can be found here:

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