Sand and Labour – Hinterlands of the Production of Architecture
Swiss Architecture Museum Basel
The case of Singapore sheds light on the role played by hinterlands in contemporary cities. In the island-state metropolis, vital resources including food and water are increasingly found only at large distances beyond the national border. A politics of incorporating productive territories in neighbouring Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere has been indispensable to Singapore’s success.
Sand and labour are among the essential resources for the production of architecture. Major consumers of imported sand in Singapore are the land reclamation and building construction industries. Foreign workers are engaged on temporary permits to construct both land and buildings.
Workers’ dormitories, sand quarries and sand depots are among the many architectural and urban spaces characteristic of hinterland territories that still remain under the radar of the architectural profession. In this contribution, the Architecture of Territory at ETH Zurich problematizes the role of design, which overlooks exploitative practices in the production of both architecture and territory. In turn, it provides insights that enable architects and designers to critically engage with urgent urban transformations in the hinterlands.

“Much of the work of architecture takes place before and after the actual act of construction, as architects probe the conditions governing the territories in which they are intervening. In a process similar to that of investigative journalism, they collect pieces of evidence, analyse them and synthesise them into a narrative.
The exhibition ‘Under the Radar’ presents an international overview of significant research projects dealing with this investigative form of architecture.” (SAM Basel)

Research project: Hinterland—Singapore Beyond the Border, 2012-ongoing
Principal investigator: Milica Topalović
Sand research: Hans Hortig, Lino Moser, Gabriela Schär, Milica Topalović
Labour research: Ahmed Belkhodja, Saskja Odermatt, Karoline Kostka, Michael Stünzi, Milica Topalović
Teaching team 2011-2015: Milica Topalović, Hans Hortig, Marcel Jäggi, Martin Knüsel, Stefanie Krautzig and Marie Laverre (video)

Concept, design and production: Milica Topalović, Hans Hortig
Team: Michael Stünzi, Karoline Kostka, Oliver Burch, Jeremy Waterfield
Drawings: Ani Vihervaara
Photographs: Mukul (disposable camera)
Videos: Ahmed Belkhodja, Lino Moser, Saskja Odermatt, Gabriela Schär

We wish to thank to our students and collaborators in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia for their insights and support.

About the Event:
Exhibition: Under the Radar
Swiss Architecture Musuem, Basel

Steinenberg 7
4051 Basel

Opening hours:
Tue/Wed/Fri 11am-6pm
Thu 11am-8.30pm
Sat/Sun 11am-5pm


Foreign worker dormitory Westlite Tuas Lodge I, Tuas reclamation area, Singapore.
Original drawing scale: 1:2’500
Architecture of Territory, Prof Milica Topalovic
Ani Vihervaara with assistents from students of NUS Singapore: Bek Tai Keng, Sheila Ong, Boyang Chew.