10 September 2010


Vince Ong, Architect, Fosters + Partners
Kelvin Ang, Head of Heritage Studies, URA

Bus stops are transitional spaces most city-dwellers encounter on a daily basis. The need to provide them on an urban scale requires a set-up that allows bus stops to perform their basic functional roles efficiently which gave rise to the generic transitional space we find in both cities today.

The basic set-up of a bus stop provides
1) Shelter, 2) Seating, 3) Bus service information, 4) Bus route information, 5) Means to generate revenue (advertisement stand)

However, beneath the banality of the generic is the information that brings us to different places, making each and every bus stop unique from one another. This information, usually in the language common to its locality, is presented on surfaces that may be updated and replaced easily. The places we go make us scrutinise the bus stop up-close after having walked up to it; like the white-washed walls which reflected the psychology of its time or the glass curtain walls that attempted to make buildings invisible, the surfaces we encounter today gives meaning to the generic. Both cities currently lay claim to be multi-cultural cities where the English Language is the medium of communication between peoples as reflected on the bus route maps in both places. While London fashions itself as a ‘World City’ in terms of its current day range of inhabitants, how much ownership of the city do these groups have when they have to navigate the Mother City of the old Empire through place names that are not of their own making?

Imposed by the British East India Company through its agent, Sir Stamford Raffles, (Singapura) – became SINGAPORE. But within the nascent settlement, the immigrants from all around the world named places and landmarks in their own tongue as they saw fit, and the authorities only sought to regulate the naming in a means that would facilitate documentation, taxation, and pronunciation by the administrators.

Through these names, seen at an anonymous generic bus stop, and, strangely made universal through the Roman script, one can sense and visit vicariously in Singapore, many different worlds.

What would happen if the new non-Anglo Saxon communities are to rename London’s places? Would Singapore still be Singapore if we were to rename all places only in English?
How would each city then ‘look’ like in the mind’s eye, from the map at the bus stop.

‘Places We Go’ takes the bus route map as the starting point for our place-making story.

These photographs are taken by Vince Ong and Kelvin Ang as part of the Uniquely Singapore - Distinctively London? exhibition.