How Singapore Became This Artist's Muse
Visiting the Lion City always gets Michael Cu Fua's creative juices flowing.
Singapore is not just one of Asia's leading business hubs; it's also a prominent creative center in the region. After the city-state embraced the Smart Nation Initiative with innovations in museums and design schools, as well as other technological and cultural advancements, it was designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Design. Today, creatives from all over the world, including the Philippines, pay a visit to Singapore for inspiration.
One such artist is Philippine-born architect Michael Cu Fua, who first went to Singapore in 1994 to work as an architectural designer before establishing his own firm in the island city-state in 2000. The University of Santo Tomas graduate has been flying in and out of his adopted country to visit his family and hone his craft ever since.
"Being fairly fresh out of university, I was struck by the intensity of life in Singapore—from the vibrancy of street life and variety in cuisine to the diverse culture and efficient transportation system the country has to offer," he says.
"The architectural industry was booming. The art scene was exciting and welcoming to foreigners like myself, and I felt that there was so much opportunity to grow and share ideas with like-minded people in arts and design."
Despite having already made a name for himself with high-profile projects, such as designing the interiors for Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's and Madame Ho Ching's residence, Fua continues to look for inspiration in Singapore's cultural tourism, particularly its art and architecture.
He cites the older parts of the city-state, specifically the Tiong Bahru housing estate, as one of his favorite spots to visit. Fua usually finds himself strolling around the area, admiring the old low-rise residential blocks. Along Yong Siak Street, he frequents the quaint indie bookstore BooksActually and the rustic Plain Vanilla bakery. He says he gets a feel of that authentic Singaporean neighborhood vibe from the pre-war designs of architect Alfred G. Church. He's also impressed with how well-maintained the apartment blocks are to this day.
Singapore's Chinatown, where he met his wife, and Little India, where one of his studios used to be located, are also close to Fua's heart.
He explains, "Chinatown is a conservation area where the owners of the shophouses are obliged to maintain the original features of the building. I especially appreciate the eclectic mix of Chinese and Malayan architectural features combined with the elements of Victorian and Baroque architecture."
As for Little India, he says, "It's famous for its traditional Indian restaurants, especially along Serangoon Road and Race Course Road. The busy streets are filled with malls, jewelry stores, flower shops, and tailor shops." His favorite destinations include the one-stop cultural Jothi Store and Flower Shop, the 24-hour Mustafa Centre where he gets a good bargain, and the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one of the oldest of its kind in Singapore.
Fua attests to the thriving art and pop culture scene, especially in the annual Singapore Night Festival and its exhibitions spread around the civic district areas of Bras Basah and Bugis. He also soaks up other forms of art during Singapore Art Week and the Singapore Writers Festival with family and friends.
He says, "I've always felt energized and refreshed every time I go back to Singapore. It's a place where I can choose to immerse myself in art, culture, and entertainment, yet it's also conducive to quiet reflection.
"I guess being in a position where I have to straddle between Manila and Singapore has made me view these cities with a new perspective and appreciate each for their unique differences, which allow me to draw inspiration for my craft."
If you're passionate about culture and the arts, find out what Singapore has to offer. You can plan a trip now or learn more about its emerging creative scene through its official website or Facebook page.