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Conserving Domesticity

Ong&Ong’s monograph on its shophouse conservation projects goes beyond pretty pictures and good paper stock.

Conserving Domesticity


November 6th, 2012

Ong&Ong is undoubtedly one of the most diversified architecture and design firms in Singapore. It not only handles projects of vastly different scales and types, but also includes masterplanning, engineering and landscaping in its portfolio of businesses.

Considering the larger scheme of things, it is surprising that the first monograph that the company’s publishing arm (yes, they have one of those too) Three Sixty Review is a documentation of projects of a smaller, albeit very poetic, sort – conserved domestic spaces, namely shophouses.

Projects like 31 Blair Road exemplify a new hierarchy of spaces

Written by Lilian Chee, Conserving Domesticity is a compact publication that looks at shophouse conservation projects by Ong&Ong, including acclaimed projects such as 55 Blair Road, 59 Blair Road and 68 Cairnhill Road

In her introduction, Chee accurately iterates the challenge that the shophouse faces in “[modernising] itself so as to keep pace with the contemporary demands of familial life, individual privacy, and transformed metropolitan lifestyles and taste”.

More than a mere picture book of projects, Conserving Domesticity looks at the shophouse projects in Ong&Ong’s portfolio through the lenses of “atmosphere, programme and landscape”. Using these three aspects as a guiding framework, Chee examines how selected projects have reinterpreted and, indeed, subverted traditional notions of the shophouse.

One of the more intriguing arguments that Chee makes is the notion of identifying shophouse architecture, not just as form ¬(“louvers and pitched roofs”), but understanding it as matter (“rain-slivered plywood, insect gossamers, sun-burnt brick”). Given the inclusion of the exterior environment within the traditional shophouse system via the central courtyard, this proves to be an aptly poetic way of thinking and identifying the shophouse.

In addition, issues such as extended family living come into play, as do ideas of changing notions of served and service spaces, all of which are often addressed in the projects. The book is a sample reflection of not only lifestyle changes, but also how ideas and ideals of domesticity have changed.

Three Sixty Review is currently producing its next publication on Ong&Ong’s experience design, due for release in early 2013.

Read more about Ong&Ong in Cubes Issue 58

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