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Respecting historic identity, removing boundaries and connecting to nature are crucial to loveable cities, suggests visitor data from the Singapore Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia

  Published: 20 December 2023

More than 97,000 visitors to the Singapore Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia contemplated what makes a loveable city. 

Values Measurement Machine, a spectacular series of analogue plotting machines that mark visitors’ responses on 5-metre-tall calligraphic scrolls. Photographers: Claudio Martin and Chiara Becattini

The 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia came to a close on 26 November 2023, with a rich trove of data collected by the Values Measurement Machine, a spectacular series of analogue plotting devices at the centre of the Singapore Pavilion, co-commissioned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) and organised by the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA). The Values Measurement Machine marked visitor responses to what people really want from their cities and how measuring the unmeasurable could effect change on a global scale on the calligraphic scrolls throughout the duration of the Biennale. 

Over the last six months, more than 97,000 visitors had the opportunity to participate in this interactive installation. Members of the public from across the globe, ranging in age and professions responded to six questions that reflected a series of qualities that could enhance the urban landscape to be a more loveable one. These included agency, attachment, attraction, connection, freedom and inclusion. Navigating through a spectrum of artistic renders and AI images, visitors were asked to pinpoint qualities that evoked their desired habitat, weighing their preferences and registering these values at the Singapore Pavilion. The responses created a dynamic display of the audience’s desires through a sequence of markers; reflecting on their individual values, but collectively revealing the public’s desires that architects, developers and city planners might want to consider in the future.

A dynamic juxtaposition of measurement markings revealed over the past six months. Photographer: Chiara Becattini

The Singapore team then collated a series of their findings into headlines, which give a collective voice to individual aspirations.

• Two out of three visitors to the Singapore Pavilion prefer homes that are more connected to nature and vegetation, blurred boundaries between public, communal and private spaces, with shared amenities and opportunities for serendipitous encounters with their neighbours.

• People were twice as likely to change their mind or form an opinion when interacting alone on their phone than in other group settings and community activities.

• Nearly half of visitors prefer heritage places in their original state; if redevelopment is undertaken, visitors had a clear preference for differentiating between the old and the new.

The data gathered at the exhibition debunked some commonly held beliefs. For instance, visitors were found to prefer blurred boundaries between their homes and public spaces, as opposed to sharp delineation of space. Similarly, surrounding heritage structures with pastiche buildings was believed to not be authentic, and these homogeneous-looking areas do not necessarily make for a ‘better’ heritage neighbourhood or district.

The co-curators of the Singapore Pavilion, Ar. Adrian Lai, Ar. Melvin Tan and Ar. Wong Ker How, are hopeful that results from the Pavilion’s interactive public engagement could encourage new frameworks for more collaborative planning processes or even as alternative measurements of success in post-occupancy building evaluations. The team hopes that design can have a positive global contribution and address some of the most urgent issues in people's lives. Inclusion, agency, connection and attachment affect everyone, and are making their way to the top of the agenda for governments, societies and businesses. In finding new and better ways to live sustainably, architects and designers could intervene proactively in the practice of everyday life to create spaces that embody the public’s preferred values. In the future, similar measuring installations could act as a testbed to see how students and residents, for example, could form focus groups for more insightful virtual dialogues. 

The co-curators presented their findings, alongside artist and technical builder Isabella Ong, at the World Architecture Festival, in Singapore on 30 November 2023. The discussion addressed whether architecture and design can move the needle on the public’s sense of agency, freedom and inclusion.

Ar Adrian Lai commented: “Imagine homes open to our neighbours - like the kampungs and villages - and neighbourhoods with no fences, where public and private spaces are seamlessly overlapping, and nature and animals dominate the urban fabric. Rural aspirations can make for urban opportunities, and these are important considerations for developers, city planners and architects. We want to invite designers, sociologists, innovators, engineers, architects, planners and communities to help define, improve and calibrate ‘loveability’ within their own cities and help us shift the thinking about making successful and sustainable human habitats.”

Annex A [PDF, 93kb]   Commissioners and Organiser
 Annex B [PDF, 135kb]  Curators
 Annex C [PDF, 135kb]  Collaborators
 Annex D [PDF, 13kb]  Contributors
 Annex E [PDF, 284kb]  The Loveable Singapore Report