with Chair of Landscape Architecture
How to see, describe and even construct an urban space through moving images? Looking through the camera lens and sampling what we see into a video reportage, we explored Singapore’s fragmented borderlands. At the same time, the explorations led to questions on cultural aesthetics and hidden ideologies of images. A video work is closely tied to a territory; a moving image and a map are considered as complementary ways of seeing urban space.


We would like to thank the students, collaborators and experts who contributed to Images of Territory. A special thanks to professor Christophe Girot and video artists Susanne Hofer, Marc Westhof and Marie Laverre who helped us set up and teach the course. We are grateful to guests Charles Lim, Bas Princen, Benjamin Leclair-Paquet and Naomi Hanakata, and to the Pigeonhole for hosting the final review.
Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia
After its independence in the early 1960s, it looked like Singapore had low chances of survival because of its lack of natural hinterland and material resources. But today, on the surface at least, the city appears to defy limitations. Owing to its open economy and function as an entrepôt, vital resources including labour, energy and food are being supplied from the outside. No doubt, Singapore’s greatly controlled and technologically oriented urban model represents a specific answer to its restricted context.

Looking further, across the city-state’s borders, it is apparent that Singapore’s economy uses land and labour far beyond its territorial limits. Its strategic hinterlands (agriculture zones, water sources, sand quarries, etc) are found anywhere from the neighbouring areas of Malaysia and Indonesia, to sites in Cambodia, China and the Middle East.

During the ETH autumn semester 2012, the hinterland was described through the thematic lens of resources. The origin, the flows, ‘the map’ and other territorial dimensions of the five key resources for Singapore – sand, water, food, energy and human labour – were the focus of the study. The investigations have shown the manner in which each resource is increasingly sought by the city-state in a geopolitical frame in the ASEAN countries and beyond.


Teaching team: Milica Topalovic, Martin Knüsel, Marcel Jäggi ETH students: Gabriela Schär, Lino Moser, Simon Zemp, Pascal Deschenaux, Caroline Schillinger, Desirée Damport, Ahmed Belkhodja, Saskja Odermatt, Martin Garcia, Magnus Nickl

Special thanks to experts, collaborators and guests: Joshua Bolchover, Goda Budvytyte, Paolo Cucchi, Cuthbert Choo, Chem Gallery Jurong Island, Stephane Grandgirard, Andy Hauw, Lee Chee Hock and Lee Chee Wee of the Hock Wee Nurseries, Poison Ivy, Sree Kumar, Marie Laverre, Charles Lim, Patricia Lim Pui Huen, Gordon Mathews, Mary Ann O’Donnell, Till Paasche, Myriam Perret, Bas Princen, Colin See, Sharon Siddique, Edgar Tang, Hendrik Tieben, Marc Westhof, Jolovan Wham. Special thanks to BAPPEDA BATAM (Municipal Planning Authority of Batam): Wan Darussalam, Rahmat Kurniawan, Agung Aidil Sahalo, Azril Apriansyah; UNRIKA BATAM (University of the Riau Archipelago): Hanung Nugroho, Disha Nuralmer, Rino Purna Irawan, Tri Sutrisno, Purwono Budi Santoso, Sigit Wardoyo, Yuga She Uchul, Rozaini Zai, Andri Aan Sofian, Agus, Hadi, Rino Gade; UTM (University of Technology Malaysia) FACULTY OF BUILT ENVIRONMENT: Ho Siong, Chau Loon Wai, Abdul Rahim Bin Ramli, Ibrahim Ngah; INSTITUTE OF SOUTH EAST ASIAN STUDIES: Ooi Kee Beng, Francis Hutchinson; PORT OF SINGAPORE AUTHORITY: Ng Geok Kwee, Alvin Chow, Tan Liang Hui; MARITIME AND PORT AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE: Yi Young Lam, Tiancheng Song, Wee Kiat Lim, Kwong Heng Goh, Ah Cheong Toh, Daniel Tan; MINDEF, NRF: Lui Pao Chuen; NUS ASIA RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Johan Lindquist; NUS DEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURE: Eric G. L’Hereux, Im Sik Cho, Jörg Rekittke; NUS DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY: James Sidaway, Tim Bunnell; SINGAPORE MARITIME INSTITUTE: Jason Lin, Daniel Zhang, Ace Leong and URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE: Charlene Chua, Heather Chi.

Special thanks to ETH ZURICH and FUTURE CITIES LABORATORY: Iris Belle, Remo Burkhard, Stephen Cairns, Kees Christiaanse, Alexander Erath, Anna Gasco, Lisa Giordano, Mathias Gunz, Uta Hassler, Dirk Hebel, Max Hirsh, Susanne Hofer, Rolf Jenni, Vesna Jovanovic, Ozan Karaman, Rudolf Krieg, Benjamin Leclair, Alex Lehnerer, Kevin Lim, Charlotte Malterre, Christian Müller Inderbitzin, Lwin Maung Chan Myae, Edda Ostertag, Faizah Binte Othman, Christian Schmid, Gerhard Schmitt, Sin SooMeng Daniel, Cheryl Song, Lorenzo Stieger, Amanda Tan, Tao Wang, Denise Weber and Ying Zhou.
Lino Moser and Gabriela Schär
The reclamation of land is a long-standing practice in Singapore that had its first im­prints in the island’s coastline in the 1820s, during the colonial period. Efforts to reclaim land have increased significantly since Singapore’s independ­ence in 1965; the land area of Singapore has grown from 581 square kilometres in 1957 to 775 square kilometres today, adding 25 per­ cent to the original land area. For 2030, a goal to create an additional 100 square kilo­metres of land has already been set by the government.

The urban use of the reclaimed areas is extremely diverse. Large expanses of re­claimed industrial lands are located in Jurong; in the downtown, the most central business and commercial areas were reclaimed, too. Strategic infrastructures and facilities, such as large parts of the Port, the Changi Airport and the military zone of Pulau Tekong are constructed on new land. Finally, land reclamation is also a tool for increasing the population density: along the East coast, housing and recreation areas are built on a wide strip of land, which did not exist before.

In the past, the common strategy for providing material for the new land was the leveling of terrain in Singapore’s inland ar­eas. This strategy, known as the ‘cut and fill’ contributed to a complete, tri-dimensional transformation of Singapore’s topography: in order for new land to be built, the old land had to be de­molished and rebuilt as well. In the process, many coastal villages and mangroves have van­ished. While the radical treatment of Singapore’s urban surface presented an almost magical mechanism for generating wealth ‘out of nothing’, the island and the city have been flattened into places without history.

An important feature of the land recla­mation process is that over time, it becomes technically more difficult, more costly and requires more and more sand. The older reclamation projects were carried out in the zone in the coastal zones with depths be­tween 5 to 10 meters, but as the coastline keeps moving further and further into deeper wa­ters, going to zones with the depth of 15 me­ters or more is now required. Singapore has not been able to meet its needs for sand and therefore imports from other countries in the region. Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam have been topping the list of exporters to Singapore are with 3.8 to 5.8 mil­lion tons (in 2008).

Overshadowing Singapore’s reputation as the single biggest importer of sand in the world are the detrimental aspects of sand trade. Due to environmental and political im­pacts of vanishing lands, nearly all countries in the region with the exception of Myanmar and China have placed official bans on sand trade with Singapore. In spite of this, the trade seems to continue in an informal man­ner, with a silent approval by local govern­ments and authorities, helped by corruption.

The main protagonists of land reclama­tion projects in Singapore are state agen­cies, in particular the Housing Development Board (HDB), the Port of Singapore Author­ity (PSA), and the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC): the state is the designer and the creator of its new territories. The production of the new land is a necessity in view of the high population density and the limited sur­face for growth. The newly built land on prime locations generates high revenues; the production of land is one of  the most lucrative businesses for the entrepreneurial state. As long as the territorial boundaries are not vio­lated, despite all the misgivings, Singapore will continue to rely on land reclamation for an ongoing reinvention of its urban environ­ment and for the creation of wealth.

The goal of the work was to investigate and describe the phenomena of sand trade and land reclamation in Singapore and the region. The study represents the architec­tural, urbanistic, economical and cultural characteristics of the artificial landscapes reclaimed from the sea.
A Record of Dependencies
Pascal Deschenaux and Simon Zemp
Singapore has no natural water sources, and the history of its urban growth can be traced in parallel with the evolution of techniques of water management. The first reservoir in Singapore, the MacRitchie Reservoir, was completed in 1868 to supply the booming new port under the British. Two similar waterworks, The Lower Pierce Reservoir, and the Upper Seletar Reservoir were completed in the early twentieth century. In the 1930s, Singapore also began to look for water sources in the neighbouring Sultanate of Johor. From rented land properties in Johor, a strategic supply for the city was then created via a pipeline that was laid along the Causeway on the Johor Straits.

In 1961 and 1962, in the eve of its independence, Singapore had managed to secure two vital, long term water contracts with Malaysia: the first contract valid until 2011 allowed the leasing of nearly 3000 hectares of land for the purpose of harvesting water, while the second contract valid until 2061, still guarantees Singapore an access to 250 million gallons per day from the Johor river. At the time of the independence, 80 per cent of Singapore’s fresh water came from Malaysia, underscoring Singapore’s extreme vulnerability and the political dimensions of water trade in the neighbourly relations. Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had expressed this in great clarity in 1965, when he said: “If Singapore’s foreign policy is prejudicial to Malaysia’s interests, we could always bring pressure to bear on them by threatening to turn off the water in Johor.”

In the years to follow, this vulnerability became a motive for Singapore to develop its local water resources. The Public Utilities Board, created in 1963, embarked on the construction of more water schemes inside Singapore. They included the damming of river estuaries to allow for greater storage volumes. After a series of political twists and turns over the year in negotiations with Malaysia, the city-state had decided to achieve a complete self-sufficiency in its water supply before 2061.

In the past ten years, two new technologically sophisticated strategies for saving and providing water were added to Singapore’s water management repertoire: water reuse (the so called creation of NEWater by reclamation) and desalination of sea water. New facilities including the reclaimed water plants and the seawater desalination plants were built in the early 2000s.

With this, Singapore’s current national water policy called the “4 Taps” was put to effect. The first and second taps refer to local water catchments and water imports. The “Third Tap” is reclaimed water, while the “Fourth Tap” represents desalination. In 2010, the “largest taps” were the imported water with providing the 40 per cent of the total supply, and reclaimed water with 30 per cent. In the future, as the demand to water grows, Singapore expects to reduce its dependency on water imports.

Perhaps the most impressive among the water management strategies in Singapore has been the increasing efficiency of use and conservation of water, leading to the reduction of water consumption per capita since the mid 1990s. For example, through public education and campaigns urging people to conserve water, consumption has been reduced from 165 litres per person per day in 2003 to 155 litres in 2009. The target is to lower it to 140 litres by 2030. The level of water losses is also one of the lowest in the world at only 5 per cent.

Water management strategies are the most important influence determining the shape, materiality and uses of Singapore’s urban territories: water is collected from more than two thirds of the island’s surface. This is a physical image of completely designed and engineered territory and a powerful illustration of a planning and development system fully in the hands of the state.

The goal of the work was to shed light on the process of shaping the territory of Singapore through water management.
Singapore's Food Supply
Desirée Amport and Caroline Schillinger
Being a island nation devoid of natural resources, Singapore imports around 90 per cent of the food it needs. The almost complete absence of agriculture, combined with the need to feed the population of over 5 million inhabitants and 13 million tourists per year has stimulated the food imports from Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries. As Singapore plans to grow in the next decades, the dependency on food imports will increase.

Around 1960, nearly a quarter of the country’s territory (then 140 square kilometres) was devoted to agriculture. After the independence in 1965, the city-state in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other international agencies, undertook huge efforts in order to increase its food production. Shortly after, the local food production was able to fully meet the demand for eggs, poultry and pork.

By the mid 1980s however, less than 50 square kilometres of the agricultural land remained in use, only 1,6 per cent of Singapore’s land area. Today, agriculture contributes 0,2 per cent to the GDP in Singapore and provides employment for 0,2 per cent of the workforce. These low-wage foreign workers maintain Singapore’s 200 farms.

Due to the rapid growth of the built-up area and industries during the 1970s and 1980s, agricultural production was reorganized and moved away from the urban core to the so-called hinterlands of the island. For example pig farms were resettled and grouped in the Punggol District in the north of Singapore, before being phased out completely in the late 1980s. Other agriculture activities were partially regrouped in Lim Chu Kang District and Mandai hills, where flower farms and aquaculture developed over the time.

Most of agriculture and fishing was outsourced abroad to the proximate hinterlands in Malaysia and Indonesia; similar process took place in the manufacturing sector. A growing number of Singaporean companies, such as the supermarket chains, are active in the cross-border region, contracting out or investing in food production for Singapore.

Singapore allows free import of food supplies and products but as a country reputed for safety and hygiene, it has strict regulations ensuring safety of food imports. The major governmental bodies controlling the food trade are the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and the Food Control Department.

In recent years agrotechnology parks are becoming synonymous for agriculture in Singapore. The advanced technologies and techniques for intensive farming have become the new and high earning tyoe of agricultural activity, earning the city-state an unlikely title of having ‘the most productive agriculture sector in the world.’ With the products of agrotechnologies, Singapore plans to take the markets in the  Southeast Asia.

The goal of the work is to describe and map Singapore’s food hinterlands.
Migrant Workers in Singapore
Ahmed Belkhodja and Saskja Odermatt
The mixing of ethnicities and migrant labour have been enduring characteristics of Singapore’s population. When the country became independent in 1965, most of its new citizens were uneducated immigrants from China, Malaysia and India. Many of them were seeking to earn some money and had no intentions of staying for good. After the independence, the process of crafting the new national identity began. The former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew stated that Singapore does not fit the traditional description of a nation, calling it a society in transition. Singapore’s population continues to be highly mobile, multi-ethnic and global in character. According to the recent census, it consists of 74.2 per cent Chinese residents, 13.4 per cent Malay, 9.2 per cent Indian descent residents, with Eurasians and other groups forming 3.2 per cent. The present population of the country is around 5.18 million people, of whom 3.25 million (63 per cent) are citizens, and the rest (37 per cent) are permanent residents and foreign workers.

It is fascinating that Singapore’s economy continues to depend on imports of both labour and inhabitants. Nearly half (47.9 per cent) of the Singaporean workforce is comprised of foreigners, and this number is expected to increase due to the decline and aging of the resident population. The government estimates that 30,000 migrants per year are needed in order to maintain the constant size of the country’s workforce; the actual immigration statistics in the past decade confirm these projections.

More than one million foreign workers currently in Singapore, from a relatively heterogeneous group. A smaller proportion belongs to elite professionals, the so-called expats, but the majority (nearly 900,000) consists of low-wage workers, especially the construction workers and domestic helpers. This part of the workforce originates from countries in the region, including Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Elaborate transnational systems of workers’ recruitment form an invisible structure behind the foreign workers’ presence. Various protagonists play a role in this system, starting with local recruitment and training agencies, to employment agencies in Singapore.

The temporary working contracts (usually with 2-year duration) and high commissions that workers pay in order to enter the recruitment process, are illustrations of employment regulatory systems providing high security for both the Singaporean state and the employing firms.

The political consequences of foreign labour are not to be underestimated. While attracting foreign talent has been important for Singapore’s position as a global city, immigration and income inequality have also emerged as pressing issues. The need to strike a balance between openness and local concerns presents one of the most critical political challenges for Singapore. The sensitive problematic of the foreign labour is perhaps best understood by looking at urban spaces of foreign workers and their relation with the rest of the city. Even at first glance, a separation of spaces of resident and foreign worker populations is noticeable. In the case of foreign construction workers, a separation of living, working and socializing spaces, along with exclusive means of transport and various services, such as the ATM machines, reinforce a perception of parallel urban spaces, carefully kept at a distance from the rest of the city through planning and regulatory instruments.

The goal of the work was to shed light on the complex phenomenon of transnational work migration in Singapore, and to investigate and describe the architectural, urbanistic and social characteristics of spaces in the city used and adapted by the foreign workers.
Singapore's Oil Hub
Martin Garcia and Magnus Nickl
Ever since its independence in 1965, Singapore has been importing nearly all the energy it consumes. Today, its electricity is generated from around 80 percent of natural gas and 20 percent of petroleum imports.

Not only is Singapore completely dependent on imported energy sources; the city-state actually imports more than double the amount of energy it spends for consumption. The reason behind this surprising strategy is the booming petrochemical sector on the island, developed since the 1970s and strongly expanding since the mid 1990s. At the time when electronic manufacturing in Singapore was beginning to loose its international competitiveness, the Singaporean government identified existing potentials for developing the export oriented petrochemical industry. Being one of the biggest harbors in the world, having strong banking and insurance sectors, political and economical stability, and China as a fast emerging market in the region, have proven to be the key factors in establishing a strong oil industry on the island.

Today, Singapore is developing toward one of the biggest oil and gas hubs in the world. It is considered to be the world’s top bunkering port and the third largest oil-trading center with more than 800 professional oil traders working on the island. Besides, Singapore is also one of the major oil refinery centers in the world. In total, the oil sector creates nearly 20 percent of Singapore’s exports and represents one of the strongest pillars of the economy for the city-state—paradoxically, without sourcing a single drop of oil within its territory.

The history of the oil industry in Singapore began in 1891 with Shell as an oil bunkering pioneer, supplying shipping companies with fuel oil. Around the steadily growing oil trade on the island, various oil related spin-off sectors emerged in the last decades, such as the petrochemical industry, oil and gas equipment manufacturing and rig manufacturing. Singapore for example now owns 60 percent of the world’s oil-rig market.

On the one hand, Singapore’s development toward a diversified and complex oil hub appears as an imported construct; on the other hand, the ideal local conditions have made it attractive and prosperous.

The goal of the work was to describe the character of the energy system in Singapore and the region, and to speculate about its implications. Is Singapore becoming a global petrochemical hub? The study also investigated the urban impact of petrochemical facilities and infrastructures in Singapore.