Kevin Hung, Architect, Serie Architects
May Anne Lee, Director, makk architects
Retail spaces have evolved over time since industrial revolution during the turn of the last century. The comparison attempts to identify a common element – the Escalator, that has existed within retail spaces through time and unravel the possible meanings it has encoded through the changing periods and how it, as a signifier, evolved through the periods in different locations of the world.
• Difference on time period/era (TECHNOLOGICAL)
The formal, side by side arrangement of escalators in Harrods speaks of the very early stage of use as a functional and efficient machine which transport people vertically since the discovery of steel. Being the first generation of machine incorporated into the user environment during that era, it coincidentally echoed the symmetry of the Classical arrangements – evident in the photo.
The similar machine has since evolved technologically into sophisticated, long straddling element, flying across voids, dressed up in mirror-finished undersides and concealed lighting which appeared like a huge architectural lamp of seduction. It has moved away from a mere functional machine into a machine of experience which seems to be tightly integrated into the retail spaces during design planning stage, thus affecting the arrangement of retail spaces.
• On difference in Historical Past and Social Politics
The escalator was once a signifier of riches, synonymous with the lifestyle of aristocrats since machines was created to ease mankind. The working class barrier seemed to be further reinforced by such machine. Hence, the association as a bias space.
These machines of today are accessible to all, including our pet. It has become a common sight and a daily element that literally ‘bridge the gap’. To pun it, it bridges all man, black and white, blue collar and white.
Thus evolving into a neutral space.
• On difference in cultural pursuit
The glorious past of the English, being the upper caste – known historically to the Asians as colonial masters has become a good nostalgia. It seems like it has become a culture for Londoners to pursue the old or classic. Hence, however primitive the escalators are in Herrods, it will always be read as a sign of the rich past.
Singa poreans being a young and fast growing city with little past to look back to, pursues everything new and technologically advanced as sign of riches and growth. The long flanking escalators through voids and its purposeful dynamic arrangement reflect such hungry appetite for speed as a cultural preference.
These photographs are taken by Kevin Hung and May Anne Lee as part of the Uniquely Singapore - Distinctively London? exhibition.