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Singapore Gothic: Discovering Singapore’s Typographic Vernacular in the Archives

Singapore was an important port town within the British Empire for more than a century before it rose to prominence as an island city-state within Southeast Asia. The typographic vernacular of Singapore bears traces of the various indigenous and migrant communities that form its multicultural core. This presentation will focus on hand-lettered commercial signboards from the 1940s through the 1980s as sieved from archival photographs. These signboards capture the multilingual landscape and visual history of Singapore’s fast-changing economic landscape as it emerged from World War II, experienced rapid urban redevelopment, and arose as an “economic miracle” by the early 1990s. By combining archival photographs with present-day photo documentation, this project attempts to discover typologies, styles, and motifs that characterize a “Singapore Gothic” in the same spirit that one can ascribe a typographic flavor to global cities like New York, London, or Tokyo. A sample of languages and scripts covered include English, Chinese, romanized Malay, Jawi, and Tamil.

This project is a collaboration between type designer Mark De Winne and design educator Vikas Kailankaje.

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Speaker

Mark De Winne

For more than a century, Singapore was an important port town within the British Empire before it rose to prominence as a island city state within the South East Asian region. The typographic vernacular of Singapore bears traces of the various indigenous and migrant communities that form its multicultural core. Our focus will be on hand-lettered commercial signboards from the 1940s to 80s as sieved from archival photographs. These signboards capture the multilingual landscape and a visual history of Singapore's fast-changing economic landscape, as it emerged from World War II, experienced rapid urban redevelopment and emerged as an 'economic miracle' by the early 1990s. By combining archival photographs with present-day photo-documentation, this project is an attempt to discover typologies, styles, and motifs that characterise a 'Singapore Gothic' in the same spirit that one can ascribe a typographic flavour to global cities like New York, London or Tokyo. A sample of languages and scripts covered include English, Chinese, Romanised Malay, Jawi, and Tamil. This project is a collaboration between type designer Mark De Winne and design educator Vikas Kailankaje.

Speaker

Vikas Kailankaje

"Vikas Kailankaje is a lecturer at the Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, and oversees the second-year studio curriculum and the final-year dissertation module for its BA(Hons) Design Communication program. His teaching foci covers typography, information design, user experience, and design research. A Master of Architecture graduate, Kailankaje’s professional experience covers visual communication and editorial direction for institutional clients and publishers.

Outside of his practice and teaching, Kailankaje leads walking tours that draw upon local issues and historical intrigue. His past research interests covered the pre-independence history of craft education in British Malaya (present-day Singapore and Malaysia). Kailankaje’s current research covers the history of urban graphics in Singapore, combining his interests in commercial signage with local urban history. Since 2018, Kailankaje has collaborated with type designer Mark De Winne to document and historicize the “Singapore Gothic” as a constituent of the city’s graphic vernacular."