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There is no more land, there is only sand

20 August

Lecture by Milica Topalovic

The process of Singapore’s transformation from a backwater colonial port, predominantly rural, to the new nation of industrial middle class housed in public high rises, was dubbed a “territorial revolution” with many layers: the social, political and economic dimensions of the national territory have been sculpted by the hand of the state, using topography as the main medium.

Singapore also shows that construction of urban land usually doesn’t come without a (vast) hinterland. The city-state is known as the world’s largest importer of sand for construction, as is located at the center of the sand-trade region whose radius extends to South China, Cambodia, and Myanmar. With nearly a quarter of its land area, around 140 square kilometers, added over the years, it has been estimated that three-quarters of this is “built on foreign soil.”

Milica Topalovic is an architect, urbanist, and an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Territorial Planning at ETH Zurich. Expanding the traditional focus of urbanism and urban studies, her research expertise is on territory and territorial urbanization beyond the limits of “the city”. She has worked on these themes since 2006, when she joined the ETH Studio Basel and directed urban research programs on international cities and on territories including Havana, Hong Kong and the Nile Valley. From 2011-15 she held research professorship at the Singapore-ETH Centre Future Cities Laboratory, studying the relationship between Singapore and its transnational hinterlands. She has also studied extensively informal urban transformation in Europe and the world. She is the author of Belgrade: Formal/Informal, and is working on the forthcoming book Hinterland: Singapore Beyond the Border. In her ongoing studio series at the ETH Department of Architecture she is conducting a series of investigations on European Countryside.



Johann Jacobs Museum


Johann Jacobs Museum
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