What is home? It’s a question that’s only grown in weight and complexity since the start of the pandemic. It’s also one that lies latent within the pages of Singapore-based British architectural photographer, visual artist and designer Finbarr Fallon’s latest project: a 224-page book co-authored with urban planner Samantha Chia titled UNIT. a glimpse into Singapore’s 1970s–’80s private apartments.
Released at the end of July, the self-funded publication features 10 households in 10 different private high-rise developments built at a time when the nation was grappling with land scarcity, yet landed property was socially regarded as the criterion for exclusivity and affluence. These include Golden Mile Complex; Pandan Valley, one of Singapore’s first condominium concepts completed in 1978; and the charming Palisades in Pasir Panjang with its idiosyncratic funicular lift.
“Architects back then were trying to define what attractive high-rise living should look like and, to some extent, how they would represent Singapore’s ambitions as a modern nation,” explains Fallon. “Unlike today, living in a high-rise was a relatively uncommon experience.”
The charming pink-hued Palisades with its one-of-a-kind funicular lift – a development built in 1985 and located in Pasir Panjang – is one of 10 private apartments featured in architectural photographer Finbarr Fallon’s book UNIT. a glimpse into Singapore’s 1970s–’80s private apartments.
For the uninitiated, the 30-year-old has been based here since 2016 (he met his now-wife – a Singaporean – at university in London and followed her when she moved back for work). In person, the architecture-trained multi-hyphenate (he does photography, film, and both physical and digital installations) is soft-spoken yet steady, a largely pensive figure with a hint of playfulness.
Even with his commercial commissions, he’s come to be known for infusing his architecture-led images of spaces with a certain gossamer veil of delicacy. The effect is such that familiar monolithic structures take on a romantic, softened aura. Despite their striking shapes and lines, they come across as characters set in a mystic land. See Fallon’s portrayals of, say, the water storage tanks that resemble spinning tops off Tampines Road, or the trilobite-esque Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, on his personal Instagram account @fin.barr. Even the seemingly mundane – such as elevated MRT tracks in mid-construction – takes on a serene majesty.
British architectural photographer, visual artist and designer Finbarr Fallon (right) co-authored the 224-page UNIT. with urban planner Samantha Chia (left).
This all makes UNIT. even more fascinating because instead of capturing a building from the outside or afar, he – for the first time – gets truly up close and personal. Besides pictures of lived-in residences shot in his cinematic style, there are plain-spoken interviews with their inhabitants. “The idea of documenting these buildings through the unit-level, lived experience was prompted by our experience of living through the pandemic, or more specifically the Circuit Breaker in 2020,” says Fallon. “We were spending every day confined to our apartments. That made us ruminate on what it meant to be ‘at home’. What does the home mean and how important is an apartment’s interior in defining this?”
Even though he’s lived in this adopted country for more than half a decade (he’s a permanent resident) and immortalises dwellings as part of his profession, these are topics even he finds difficult to unpack. Like the most sensitive of bystanders, his perspective is gleaned from what he’s learnt through seeing how others live.
Things To Do In Singapore: SGIFF 2022 Kicks Off, A Leica Exhibition Headlined By Iconic Photographer & More