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Discipline Yourself at The Substation!

The Discipline the City show has begun at The Substation, responding with a grunt to issues of control and access in the modern city and the failures of architecture and planning.

Discipline Yourself at The Substation!

Playground/Wonderland/Utopia by Jiehui Avery Chen

Leave any typical expectations about spatial and exhibition design at the door when you enter The Substation gallery over the next few months. Currently on display, and supported by a changing programme of displays and events, is Discipline the City – a response, says the gallery, to the question of control, access and the politics of space.

Prepare yourself mentally for signage that is deliberately difficult to read, access ways that are purposefully too narrow, a ladder (rather than stairs) as a mode of circulation to the basement, and a white curving room that appears to have no distinguishable boundaries. Take it from us, it’s entirely disconcerting to experience! The exhibition’s co-curators, Alan Oei (the Artistic Director at The Substation) and Joshua Comaroff (a designer and Assistant Professor at SUTD) refer to it as disciplinary architecture.

Space controls and delimits our movement in many ways, suggests Comaroff. “[T]he assumption of the role of architecture in enlightenment thought,” he says, “was that of an ‘uplifting’ framework, an increasingly lucid, efficient and rational setting for emergent modern mankind. Architecture was imagined, in a sense, as a public good.”

He continues, “The disciplinary design we see so much of today is the very antithesis of the great utopian movements with which design is often associated. Disciplinary architecture is not a source of discipline. It is merely a superficial technology; generally it is used to hide the visible effects of a broad social problem. It does not treat the problem itself. Pavement studs make the homeless ‘disappear’ and go elsewhere; they have no effect whatsoever on homelessness.”

Adds Oei with regard to Singapore specifically, “In a city that is constantly erasing and redefining itself, I think it’s really necessary [that] we have a larger national conversation. The recent events of Save Sungei Road, Oxley Road, Bukit Brown – all of these are indicators that we as inhabitants and citizens want to have a say in how our spaces are shaped. The current approach of over-designed, curated cities, can seem really exciting in bending the city to our will (whether it’s for national advertising or commercial development) but I fear it reduces the possibilities. In an over-designed space, there is no alternative if you aren’t the model citizen or consumer.”

So what else will exhibition goers find at The Substation? For one thing, a punk-in-residence programme called A Manifesto for Space, where individuals from Singapore’s punk scene will occupy a space in the gallery and do what they will with it. (Pass by the gallery on Armenian Street and see what they’re up to through a ‘shopfront’ window.) There will be a temporary office for the Persuasive Design Agency, which will propose solutions to design problems posed by the public. Guided tours will examine how spaces are shared in The Substation. Also check out artworks by Kuang-Yu Tsui, Chen Sai Hua Kuan and Debbie Ding among others.

Designers and architects will be keen to see the results of the competition ‘(Not the) Singapore Venice Pavilion’. (Read our article about the competition here.) Three finalists were announced this week! The Substation describes them as follows on their Facebook page:


From what started in Junior College as a lifestyle and fashion blog, Candy, a third-year communications student, and Gabrielle, a third-year architecture student, are still bouncing creative ideas off each other five years on.


FRIENDS is a vague constellation of like-minded creatives independently exploring various facets of Singapore and the universe beyond. With the combined strength of its members, FRIENDS has produced a number of works with a focus on design/aesthetic narratives. 


A design practice in public spaces and landscape architecture, Stable~Unstable is driven by the idea that everything natural and manmade are constantly interacting, influencing and adapting to each other.

We’re looking forward to seeing who takes the $10,000 first prize!

Discipline the City is not a presentation of singular authorship – as in the god-like hand of Le Corbusier gesturing over a model of a twentieth-century city. This exhibition is more poly-vocal, and embracing of multiplicities. Brace yourself!

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