Alan Tay shares his thoughts on the recent Archifest and how craftsmanship influences a city’s identity.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Alan Tay shares his thoughts on the recent Archifest and how craftsmanship influences a city’s identity.

Alan Tay Festival Director, Archifest 2019 and Founder, Formwerkz Architects

The way homes and buildings look are reflective of a place, due to the abundance of certain building materials or the traditional techniques that have been used. In some parts of Asia, elements such as thatched roofs and wood carvings give the houses their distinct characteristics. As a result of the availability of technology, or in some cases the lack of, as well as market demands and the retention of traditional industries, craft is more apparent in some countries compared to others. Singapore faces a dilemma in that we are undergoing rapid development. Traditional crafts are disappearing, either because of a lack of succession from the younger generation or due to traditional crafts being replaced by more efficient means of production.

One of the agendas of Archifest is to create a platform for the general public to understand what architecture is about so that they are able to see architecture beyond just containers for housing, work etc. Craft is inextricably linked to the tradition of city-building. As an intrinsic part of architecture, we observe it in the way architects craft materials, space and form, translating the raw into spatial realities that interpret and manifest the genius loci of a place. 

Many of the workshops included in the Festival line-up are based on traditional crafts such as Kintsugi, indigo dyeing and woodworking, and showcases how some of these craftsmen are beginning to reinvent these traditional techniques. Similarly, in architecture, we should always look back at old building techniques, reapply the old wisdom and reinvent using new technology.

The objective

The annual Archifest (Singapore Architectural Festival) is organised by the Singapore Institute of Architects to celebrate the built environment.


Past themes have always revolved around big issues, such as sustainability and conservation, topics that are important and which the architectural fraternity constantly engage in. Craft however, is something that has not been tabled or put into discourse because it is something that architects have always assumed is an inherent part of what we are doing. But I realised that craft may not be so apparent to a lay person, because our built environment offers very few clues. This was what motivated me to pursue the theme of craft. 

It was a deliberate attempt to make Archifest more interactive since a few editions ago and the latest 13th edition was no exception. We structured the programmes and incorporated activities that would engage the public more, such as interactive workshops where they can share the artisans’ passions for their respective crafts and forums that encourage dialogue. This is something that I hope will continue in future editions of Archifest.