In the absence of formal conservation status for many of these residential developments, private citizens have taken on the challenge. One of the most comprehensive organisations is Docomomo, an online archive of modernist architecture with chapters in cities around the world operating independently. The Singapore chapter is one of the most prolific in Asia, with architectural historians and photographers contributing entries to their Modernist 100, although only six private housing developments have made the list.
Instagram is typically the digital platform of choice for photographers looking to share their appreciation for modernism more widely. The account @modernistarchitecturesingapore from architect Ronald Lim leans into the retro vibe, with throwback images of developments and architects, while @foto_momo specialises in modernist architecture across Thailand, but occasionally ventures to other areas of Southeast Asia and around the world. On a smaller scale, Bangkok resident Oliver Irvine documents the city’s residential modernist gems through the Instagram account @bangkokcourts. In Vietnam, architectural photographer Trieu Chien captures modernist features in buildings of all scales across the country (@trieuchien on Instagram), as does Alexandre Garel (@saigonsnaps), collaborating with architect Mel Schenk on the modernist appreciation account @architecture.vietnam. The duo also produced a book in 2020 titled Southern Vietnamese Modernist Architecture, which explores the period from 1945 to 1975 that they believe to be the ‘golden age’ of Vietnamese modernism.
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Similar collaborations between designers and photographers can be found in Singapore. In 2022, NUS Associate Professor Jiat-Hwee Chang and Justin Zhuang launched Everyday Modernism, looking broadly at the movement in Singapore and the societal implications, supported by images from architectural photographer Darren Soh. The same year, urban planner Samantha Chia and architectural photographer Finbarr Fallon launched their self-published book UNIT. a glimpse into Singapore’s 1970s – ’80s private apartments, which gives readers a glimpse into the residences of selected modernist icons across the island. With these individual efforts to record architectural heritage, public appreciation of the era is growing. However, official recognition of modernist architecture across Southeast Asia is still weak. Many buildings, especially private developments, remain at risk of demolition.
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Heather Banerd is an urban and landscape designer, and freelance writer on the subject of sustainability. Based in Singapore, she has a background in architecture and is a graduate of the MSc Integrated Sustainable Design programme at the National University of Singapore. In her work, she strives to create meaningful, ecocentric urban spaces that will contribute to building a sustainable and self-sufficient future.
Read more stories from FuturArc 2Q 2023: Old is Gold!