“Be A City Planner” Installation

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In honor of Singapore’s 40th anniversary as a nation, the Singapore Art Museum created the Blink! exhibition which presented a retrospective of the physical and social changes that took place in its first forty years.

The project was developed as a partnership between the GameLab at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, where I was serving as the lab’s director, and Ideaforia, the locally-based commercial company in which I was a partner. Ideaforia provided the concept development and creative direction for the project while the GameLab contributed the programming and image recognition expertise.

As the hands-on component to the Blink! exhibition, “Be A City Planner” helped young Singaporeans appreciate the challenges of a rapidly growing nation. Kids learned about the basic needs of a growing city—such as housing, industry, health and safety, and education—and experimented with how much to allocate to each to maintain an adequate balance. A large Singapore-shaped floor map served as an empty canvas for placing foam blocks of different colors, shapes and sizes. The blocks represented various city structures including hospitals, schools, residential buildings and factories, each of which corresponded to one of the city’s basic needs. A ceiling camera above the map fed the layout into a nearby computer that ran a simplified urban simulation program. The software program took the configuration of blocks on the floor map and recreated the layout as an onscreen virtual city, complete with images of buildings that resembled actual structures in Singapore. Visitors trying different layouts on the floor map were able to receive feedback as to whether their configuration achieved desirable living conditions. Based on city planning criteria defined within the software program, the city planner could not only find out how well or how poorly the city they created met the needs of the population within it, but also see the impact if adjustments were made.

The option to work independently with the map and building blocks or in combination with the urban simulation software made the exhibit accessible to a wide public audience. The museum also worked closely with educators to facilitate use of the exhibit, allowing them to focus on those aspects of city planning that were relevant to a class’s course content and age group.

Besides serving as director of the project, I also designed and developed the urban simulation software program. Wong Chee Kien Gabriyel of NTU’s GameLab wrote the image recognition software.