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.