“A Room of One’s Own”, Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay, argues for the place of women in the literary tradition. The title also makes for an apt underlying theme of this issue of BiblioAsia, which explores finding one’s place and space in Singapore.
With 5.3 million people living in an area of 710 square kilometres, intriguing solutions in response to finding space can emerge from sheer necessity. This issue, we celebrate the built environment: the skyscrapers, mosques, synagogues and, of course, libraries, from which stories of dialogue, strife, ambition and tradition come through even as each community attempts to find a space of its own and leave a distinct mark on where it has been and hopes to thrive.
A sense of sanctuary comes to mind in the hubbub of an increasingly densely populated city. In Justin Zhuang’s article, “From Garden City to Gardening City”, he explores the preservation and the development of the green lungs of Sungei Buloh, Chek Jawa and recently the Rail Corridor as breathing spaces of the city. Zhuang echoes the thoughts of former Minister Othman Wok from the first tree-planting projects: seeing the planting of seeds as not just the start of the garden city, but also as planting the seeds of the nation.
Libraries are also traditionally viewed fondly as places of retreat. In Singapore, they are increasingly seen by the population as urban respites. Joanna Tan and Liyana Taha’s article, “Icons of Learning: The Redesign of the Modern Library”, spotlights libraries and their cutting-edge designs that have been making waves in the
community. These libraries continue to reinvent themselves as community sanctuaries where one is inspired to engage in contemplation, conversation and collaboration.
Continuing the theme of finding one’s place, Dan Koh brings to life the intriguing little-known story of the Singapore Jewish community in his article, “Oriental, Utai, Mexican: The Story of the Singapore Jewish Community”. He examines the
history of this small ethnic group and how they found a space and definition of their own in Singapore. He considers the impact of the Japanese Occupation, Israel’s assistance with the Singapore Army and dispersal of the former Jewish quarters on this under-studied group.
In “The Invention of a Tradition: Indo-Saracenic Domes on Mosques in Singapore”, Ten Leu-Jiun, a Lee Kong Chian Research Fellow, reviews the Indo-Saracenic dome that tops almost all the mosques in Singapore. She also examines the impact of how the choices made by the local Asian community shaped this familiar sight into something of our own, a unique Singaporean translation.
Benjamin Towell in “An Introduction to Design, Aesthetics and the Ethics of the Built Environment” underlines the importance of the designing the built environment for the human experience. The responsibility of urban design, Towell posits, is to provide an identity and sense of belonging for the people who live within that space.
The two exhibitions featured in this issue address the theme of leaving a mark in the ever-changing landscape of Singapore. “Sumbangsih MAS: An Exhibition on Muhammad Ariff Ahmad”, organised by the National Library, traces the life and works
of the illustrious and highly regarded writer, Muhammad Ariff Ahmad. Finally, “Yang Menulis” (They Who Write), an exhibition jointly presented by the National Library and the Malay Heritage Centre, features early Malay manuscripts from the National Library’s Rare Materials Collection.
We hope that you will be inspired by the diverse attempts by many over the course of generations to continue seeking a place of comfort and community – in essence, a room of one’s own in a wider environment sometimes too large for one to master.
Mr Gene Tan
Director, National Library