The builders of Singapore by Adib Jalal

Photo: Waiting for Lorry

Photo: Waiting for Lorry

"Dreaming in Singapore, a Builder’s Perspective", is a project that documents the conversations that two guys have with various construction workers in Singapore while they wait for their transport back to their dormitories. Honest and self-conscious, these conversations surface the dreams and ideals of the Indian diaspora who often, suspend their own to help us build ours.

Stories of leaving families behind, being in debt with the belief that they can recover it all and have more by working here, remind me of the work that is being done at Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the ongoing documentation of Singapore Gurkhas by Zakaria Zainal and Chong Zi Laing, something which I once featured in a FIVEFOOTWAY Article.

Curious, I sent an email to the project email to find out more and learnt that the gentlemen who signs off as "Still, Waiting for lorry" are actually two Singaporean undergrads in their early 20s. Consciously choosing to remain anonymous (because there is no reason to not be), this project is unrelated to their studies but rather one that was driven by a social condition that they observed. 

They said,

"We have heard enough sad stories told about migrant workers. These stories have presented a homogeneous identity of the workers. We believe that there are more aspects to their lives in Singapore and we wish to uncover these stories through our project. Hopefully, the process of meeting these individuals, chatting with them and reflecting about it gives us a better idea of them by dispelling the preconceptions held by our society about migrant workers. "

Born over a plate of hokkien mee and beef horfun one night, this project shines a spotlight on the men who use their physical energy to literally build our cities, a fact that is easy to forget as buildings and roads just seem to sprout-on-demand in Singapore. I hope we never forget these guys during our SG50 celebrations.

The Design Society Conference 2014 by Adib Jalal

A shout out to friends at the TDS. The Conference is back for another year with the topic: "ORDER". We won't be able to go but if you have no plans, you should. Tickets available here

Speakers include: 

  • Benjy Choo, Creative Director of KILO
  • Hanson Ho, Creative Director of H55
  • Lee Hanyi & Mriz Sidah, Creative Directors of The Secret Little Agency (TSLA)
  • Naoko Takenouchi & Marc Webb, Founders of Takenouchi & Webb
  • Nathan Yong, Design Director of Grafunkt

Event Details

Promo discounts for bulk purchases and TDS Members available. Email for more information.

Pekeliling Flats by Adib Jalal

Documentary photographer Mahendran Bala relates a very human story about the homeless in KL, Malaysia, some of whom he found squatting in a development called, Pekeliling Flats. The flats which were previously known as the Tunku Abdul Rahman Flats were first constructed in the mid-60s, making it one of the earliest high-rise apartment buildings in KL.

Wihile the last of its flats was demolished earlier this year, the process of demolishing the Pekeliling Flats is expected to take until November 2015 and a redevelopment project to build a mixed commercial and residential area, as well as a hospital, is in the works.

Bala recalls his conversation with "Ah Heng":

"He sleeps on a piece of cardboard on a cupboard turned over on its side. He takes a nap each afternoon from 5pm to 7pm, after which he heads to the nearby Buddhist temple for a meal."

"He talks about his future plans for the place. A new door. A cover to keep the rain out."

I knew little about this block of flats until recently but from my google searches, it seems that the flats are strong in the memories of many Malaysians despite its infamous reputation as a place for the homeless, suicides and addicts. In fact, it was once a place where a vibrant multi-racial community once lived. Clearly, this was once a place, not just a space.

 Read Mahen Bala's post here. (via

I didn't shave and it might be causing a whole industry to slow down. by Adib Jalal

In October, I decided to grow out my facial hair, sporting a beard and looking 10 years older in 10 days. It was a prototype to a new look for the rest of my 30s, one inspired by the resurgence of moustaches and beards for those who can grow one. That was disrupted by my two-weeks reservist duty and shaven off for regimental discipline sake but with that over, it's time to regrow it. But more interestingly, this increase in acceptance and popularity of facial hair have had a noticeable impact on the shaving-related businesses such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble.

Analyst Nicole Tyrimou commented to "This trend is driven by a combination of economics and fashion. Younger people are adopting the look to appear on-trend, whilst some consumers are shaving less often to reduce costs. A lot of companies are also more relaxed about appearance in the workplace, which helps."

Because of this, sales of men’s toiletries are slated to overtake shaving products for the first time ever this year. I foresee beard oil and trimming scissors sales to go up too.

Original article at Via Quartz

November/December reads by Adib Jalal


We've been on a book-buying spree recently. It must have been driven by the belief that there'll be time to read at the end of the year coupled with the positive motivation to improve and inspire myself that comes right about my birthday. Here's a quick introduction and links to these books and if you like them, all books are available at BooksActually


Mindfulness and the Art of Urban Living - Written by a priest, a lecturer on Buddhism, Hinduism and astronomy, this book highlights things and ways to be mindful of despite the demands of hectic urban life. There are chapters that touch on Urban Gardens, Urban Culture and even Urban Problems such as Loneliness in the City. Chapters are short with various short passages inside and having read half of the book, I find that it is best to read one short passage and then walk away to contemplate on what you've just read and consider how you live your urban life.

Triumph of the city - This is a book by Edward Glaeser that advocates the amazingness of cities and why we should continue to build denser, higher, megacities. I've not read it yet but it's not hard to google around for an excerpt or an article that would quote ideas/statements from this book. Some even consider this book to be in the same category of Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida - the kind where many urbanists, innovators, politicians will quote as they make their case for building more cities.

Troublemaker - I've been a reader of Bertha Henson's blog, Bertha Harian and the now defunct Breakfast Network and was pleased to see a book featuring some of her best blog posts. Her commentary on Singapore's politics and society are often intelligent without making me feel stupid and I often leave each article questioning how and why Singapore ticks the way it does. Also, it is her articles from the GE that sparked my interest to research on urban governance in Singapore (PA vs Town Councils vs Active citizen participation). Great book to refresh yourself on what has happened in Singapore for the past years and prepare yourself for discussions in the GE that will come up in the next couple of years.

Underscore Magazine - Unless you've been living under a rock, you must know this award-winning publication by Hjgher. For this issue, they've rethought the whole thing and have come up with a lovely hard-cover publication and a "whenever-we-are-ready" publishing schedule. Perfect reading during the monsoon rain.

Yangon, a city up for grabs by Adib Jalal

 Featuring slightly longer and more in depth articles than Atlantic CitiesPlaces Journal is one of the smartest reads about cities that I've found so far.This article by Daniel Brook gives us a glimpse into Yangon, Myannmar, a city that I am learning more about everyday.

Having never been to the city, most of what I know is from articles and hearsay from friends who have friends attempting to doing business there. In this article, we hear about the ex-military man who is now leading the urban planning of the city, the involvement of the Japanese in advising and leading the way and the complicated political/military dynamics as Myanmar attempts a transition from dictatorship to democracy via a military government that struggles with legitimacy.  

Yangon is most definitely a city that can go either way now. Fortunately, it has many to look  for inspiration and support in dealing with issues like transport, dealing with heritage buildings, public spaces, safety, housing and everything else that comes along in the name of rapid political, economic change and urban change.

Still, Yangon has assets that other cities in the region didn’t have during their earlier development booms. It has a decent master plan for smarter development. It has wealthy Asian neighbors happy to invest in its future. It has the goodwill of the West, eager to aide its transition to democracy. It has considerable petroleum wealth that could be used to fund infrastructure and social investments. And it has, perhaps most crucially, an educated diaspora community returning to the country for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute

More goodness at the essay at Places Journal.

President Obama is confident of changes in Myanmar but you can wait for the change to happen or go visit the city to see it all for Myanmar/Yangon is the 'Destination of the year' for Travel & Leisure magazine with claims that "Besides being a land of spectacular landscapes and buildings, Myanmar boasts a fierce, proud, and kind population who will go to almost any lengths to make you feel welcome." Truly, this is one asian city that is up for grabs and looks like everyone wants a piece of it.


Dementia in the city by Adib Jalal

This article at Bloomberg explored the difficulties of an urbanite who had to take care of her mom who is suffering from dementia in Tokyo. As her mom has a strong urge to go out of the house (to the point of resorting to violence if denied), Akiko one day decided to let her mom, Asayo, wander around.

After that first walk, something remarkable happened. As Asayo rediscovered her freedom, her anger disappeared and her mood lightened. She was laughing, flirting with strangers and regaling her daughter’s friends with tales of her youth.

Akiko started off following closely behind her mom but eventually embraced the support of her local urban community; the businesses, restaurants, policemen, who help to look out for Asayo.

It's an interesting story about how the urban community got together to support one of theirs. Also, I start to wonder how the experience of a dementia sufferer and its caregiver in a dense and complex urban environment, would be different from one in a slightly less dense one.

Miscellaneous Finds 1.0: Rules by Adib Jalal

In the second episode of the first season of TV series, Newsroom, EP Mackenzie McHale presents to her team, a concept called News Night 2.0 where she listed down a series of guiding questions that will determine the editorial direction of the new show. Editorial decisions were based on that set of values and it gave some focus to a show that could easily cover anything and everything.

We've been thinking about having a platform to document the things that we are interested in and today, we are introducing a new section on the blog called "MISCELLANEOUS FINDS" where (no surprises), we share things that we've found. Just like McHale, we too have a set of very loose guiding questions to determine what goes on this blog.

  1. Does the topic/article INTERESTS us personally?
  2. Do we have an INTERESTING OPINION about the article/video that we want to share?
  3. Does the article/video INFORMS/INSPIRES others?

We think these rules are simple enough so that we can focus on sharing content that we personally believe in and also filled with a positive spirit. For a start, we will be testing out a twice-a-week post schedule and transmission will start tomorrow. Cheers!

Boedi Widjaja: Path. 6, Unpacking my Library by Adib Jalal

A few months ago, Boedi Widjaja, someone whom I've known since I was a lowly student project intern, sent me a text message about a project that he was working on; a commissioned solo artwork that deals with "Book complex, salons, oral histories, shelves of memories, reunions and separations, the city". A full-time designer turned full-time artist, Boedi shared with me his exploration of Bras Basah Complex, a place loaded with memories and culture that is often embedded in the vehicles of books and stationery. We chatted about the building, shared our experiences and memories of it, and Boedi suggested that we should continue the conversation as part of his artist talks for the artwork that he is presenting at Esplanade.

I'll be joining Boedi at Esplanade in late November and I hope you'll come join us for that conversation. Details below and also at this FB event page.


Boedi Widjaja: Path. 6, Unpacking my Library

Jendela Visual Arts Space |  3 OCT 2014, FRI - 4 JAN 2015, SUN 

Mon – Fri: 11am – 8.30pm Sat, Sun & Public Holidays: 10am – 8.30pm

Three books, three libraries, three generations. Book complex, salons, oral histories, shelves of memories, reunions and separations, the city.



Exhibition tour

1 Nov, 4:00 - 4:45pm Join the artist for a tour of the exhibition, followed by a brief Question-and-Answer session.


Live Art

1 Nov, 5:00 - 5:30pm Live Art by Boedi Widjaja in collaboration with Dawn Fung. Dawn is a folk singer-songwriter who has released two albums to good reviews. Fans of Dawn are attracted to her brand of storytelling, her knack for connecting with audiences intimately and her cosy gigs. 



15 Nov, 4:00 - 4:45pm  Teo Han Wue is a writer and former director of Art Retreat, a private museum. He wrote an article “Debunking the myth of the Chinese-educated” where he showed that the multi-cultural environment of Chinese bookstores in 1950s and 1960s Singapore “eloquently debunks the popular myth that the Chinese educated are inclined to be conservative, … chauvinistic.” Originally sited along North Bridge Road, many of these Chinese bookstores moved to the Bras Basah Complex due to urban development. Han Wue will talk about these Chinese bookstores of the past, some of which were also salons hosting intellectual discussions.



22 Nov, 4:00 - 4:45pm  Adib Jalal, design curator, writer and urban activator, is interested in turning urban and domestic spaces into meaningful and memorable places. He will talk about his special relationship with Bras Basah Complex and conversations that he had about the place. Adib is currently Creative Director at Shophouse & Co. Previously, he served as the Festival Director of Archifest (2012 and 2013), and is also co-founder of Fivefootway, an online journal about cities in Asia.  

Exhibition is commissioned and presented by Visual Arts Esplanade

Details here

Filing away FIVEFOOTWAY for good by Adib Jalal

FIVEFOOTWAY is special to me. The small blog to explore Asian cities was an idea that started from my naive school days and since then, it has brought me countless opportunities that I believe I would never have gotten if I had taken the well-trodden path of being a practicing architect. But after 7 glorious years, it is time to file away FIVEFOOTWAY for good.

Read More

That which we file under "miscellaneous" by Adib Jalal

Like many other designersI’ve always been a believer of personal projects as an avenue for exploration without the pressure of economics or being right. In these projects, I am an artist, a theorist, a philosopher and a scientist. I am the naive expert and the professional mistake-maker. I am everything and nothing and I don’t really care what others think about it. 

Looking back, it was personal projects that led me to learn how to read HTML, use Illustrator, practice writing, and develop so many skills and friendships that have led me to where I am today. There was no real purpose other than to simply scratch an itching curiosity but I grew immensely from it. 

Personal side projects are a staple for Mizah and I. Although we both run our own design-related studio/organization, there will always be projects that do not fit under what we do in our day jobs. Some of these are projects that our friends have asked us along as collaborators, curious explorations and also our own indulgent projects. Either way, it's the kind of projects that is often filed under the folder "miscellaneous" in our Dropboxes.

We've decided to embrace the miscellany and take it as an extension of what we do at our jobs. We also hope to make it a part of the culture of this new family that we are building, much like the inspiring families behind holycrap3puffsinapod and many others out there. 

More of our projects will be up soon. Meanwhile. Be miscellaneous!