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Lighting Detectives Maxwell Light-up Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore


Lighting Detectives Maxwell Light-up
Maxwell Food Centre, Singapor

2022.07.08-09 Sherri Goh

Changing the lighting ambience of Maxwell
Hawker Centre, part of the UNESCO-protected
hawker culture.

As part of the closing of Venice Architecture Biennale Homecoming Exhibition that was held at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) from April to July, we fought to do something at Maxwell Food Centre due to its prominent reputation, close proximity to the exhibition and to celebrate hawker culture (in line with the theme of the exhibition).

It was our first time working with the National Environmental Agency (NEA) as they run the local hawker centres here. Supported by Louis Poulsen, we managed to have a successful exercise that had many members of the public take part.

We had a ambitious plan that was to transform the space by implementing ambient, coloured linear light, along with spotlights to emphasise the tables. However, that was phased out as we coordinated with officials to find that it would require formal licensing and permits to enact the entire idea into place. To obtain sufficient funding also meant that we would need to create something that would last around 6 months with many safety protocols covered.

Hawker centers are far and many in Singapore. We put out a survey to the members of the public to take. We see that more than 58% of respondents actually dine at hawker centres multiple times a week. It is part of the regular routine of the average Singapore resident.

Scaling down the plans, we realised that it was more befitting the culture of “cheap”, “fast” and “good food” that the hawkers are well known for. We needed to implement something that did not make the place look too fancy with too many tricks.

We were worried that people might be intimidated and might shy away. We wanted to elevate the dining experience whilst keeping that approachable nature of the centre. The atmosphere should not convey the ambience of a fine-dining restaurant where there is a preconceived notion of higher cost, but a low-key method to allow people to comfortably eat and appreciate their meals whilst winding down after a long
day; perhaps gathering with friends to socialise after a hard day’s work. A survey of the site was done and we found that the existing lighting levels was not as high as we throught.

Original site photo
Daily nighttime environment of the hawker centre
Testing different colour temperature of lamps
Having 2 colour of light on one table
Table lamp that does not detract from lighting of stallowners
Food looks yummy with table lamp
Couple using the set up for dinner ©Alex Tang

Ambient light was mostly contributed by signage and stall lighting, which made it impossible to modify or turn off due to concern on the impact of business for the stallowners. However, we discovered that the colour rendition of the exisiting environment was very low. Providing a fixture that with higher CRI made a big difference in the mood and the visuals of food.

We decided that a table lamp with warm colour temperature and high colour rendering was sufficient to make a change in ambience, with white tablecloth to increase the brightness on table surface in contrast to the proprietary dark green.

The event itself spanned 2 days, Friday 8th July – Saturday 9th July. It was held for 3 hours at the food center. Due to material constraints, we selected the row of tables facing the main road to have perceived darkness from the night sky and create a different visual of the hawker environment for people passing by.

Some people were hesitant to use the tables with our setup as it was intimidating to be the first few in a seemingly exclusive event. However once we were there to explain the setup and that it was free for public to use, people started to warm up and were soon excitedly occupying the tables and taking many pictures of their experience. We conducted interviews and a survey for feedback and the general census of the event. There were mostly positive feedback, with select individuals that were very passionate about extending this study to other hawker centres for more members of the public to have the opportunity to experience the setup.

We also had the privilege of having Professor Lai Chee Kien from NUS School of Architecture bring his exhibit down from the Venice Biennale Homecoming Exhibition to showcase at Maxwell as a educating marker on Singapore hawker culture for the public to peruse. (Sherri Goh)

People enjoying the set up.© Alex Tang
Table lamp that does not detract from lighting of stallowners

Members of the public giving feedback
Prof Lai Chee Kien being interviewed