Rediscovering the civic district of Singapore, a walk through Singapore Management University (SMU) campus, Singapore 2016

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As testament to the centrality of location of the Singapore Management University (SMU) campus, a reflected view of the CHIJMES steeple as seen on its building facade along Victoria Street, Singapore 2016.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro, Sweden 2016

The plan was to have an informal lunch meet with students from the Business Study Mission (BSM) Scandinavia, a course offered by the Singapore Management University (SMU), where students travel to Scandinavia with the learning goal of gaining a deeper understanding Scandinavian businesses, corporate cultures and their approaches to sustainable business practices. And while it has become a small tradition to meet in Sweden [1, 2], the lunch meet at SMU was a nice counter perspective for me, for one who has lived and worked in Sweden for almost fifteen years now. But before the lunch meet, a quick tour of the SMU campus with Tom Estad, Associate Dean Undergraduate Programmes of the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at SMU. Having not truly explored the historical civic district of Singapore since its refurbishment, the walkabout of the campus was something I looked forward to.

It turned out somewhat of a walk down memory lane when visiting the campus grounds of the SMU. Located mostly at the intersections of Stamford Road and Victoria Street at the heart of the Singapore’s historical civic district, SMU’s 6 blocks is built over 4.5 hectares. The campus is connected by the Concourse, an underground walkway lined with eateries and shops that are open and accessible to the public. Connected to the Concourse is access to Singapore’s mass rapid transit (MRT) train system whose various train lines service the entire city state all within forty-five minutes to an hour’s travel time.

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, Business Study Mission (BSM) Scandinavia meet at B3 - Burger Beer Bistro - by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

My own memories of Stamford Road and Victoria Street come from time spent at CHIJ (Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus) as a student with school excursions to the area. Although I recognised plenty whilst walking the quarters, a quick sweep with the eye tells that the buildings today are glossier, taller, and far more draped green than from when I was growing up. One of the more interesting places visited was 73 Stamford Road, formerly known as Vanguard Building that housed one of my favourite bookstores, the MPH Bookstore. I remember spending hours browsing the bookshelves there for textbooks as well as current literature reads. The bookstore sold beautiful stationary too with something I could always bring home for use on my school desk, coloured chalk pencils for canvas art were a favourite buy. That building today has been re-purposed towards a learning lab for SMU students [3, 4], containing spaces dedicated for student use that combines informal student living with innovative interiors that encouraged its use. With the various activities ongoing across three levels, some as dedicated sleeping rooms, scribble / brainstorm rooms and audio-video recording rooms, what comes across is a dynamic atmosphere that is much less passive and confined than the study spaces I was used to when pursuing an undergraduate degree in Singapore at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The food culture in Singapore offers more than culinary expeditions for tourists. In the growing understanding that learning can take place at anytime, in any place [5], Oldenburg’s third spaces (defined as public settings where people can gather to meet, such as coffee houses, cafés, restaurants, and public outdoor spaces) are increasingly seen as learning spaces [6]. On campus, cafés and eateries form an integral part of student life and living. We met for example, at B3 – Burgers, Beer Bistro – a café started by SMU’s alumni association (SMUAA) intended as a meeting place for the ‘SMU Family’. The dark interiors of the café, together with the undertones of year-end festive decorations lent a calm ambience for light-hearted conversation around the table even if in the middle of exam week for the students. Some individuals were at B3, sitting solitarily with their laptops, working, whilst others formed small groups, with laptops, in discussion. Service at B3 was prompt, friendly, and the food, better than anything I had experienced in terms of third spaces whilst an undergraduate student.

On my part, what I most of all came away with from walking the campus grounds of SMU, and meeting with the BSM Scandinavia students, was a sense of how student life and living in Singapore has evolved from when I was a student, from when learning was felt as if in process of a factory production line, to one that now embodies a sense of life-long curiosity and learning. As a point to note in terms of new spaces, or evolving urban spaces, while it used to be that Fort Canning Park was a place too isolated to easily access from the grounds of the National Museum of Singapore during the late 1980s, this time around, I found myself very quickly landing at the foot of the park grounds after what seemed as a skip and hop from SMU campus grounds. That, was a serendipitous find.

Singapore Management University (SMU), 2016

JE Nilsson (left,) with Tom Estad, Associate Dean Undergraduate Programmes of the Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University (SMU), at one of the university’s 6 blocks on a 4.5 hectare campus.

B3 - Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

Decked for the festive season, B3 – Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, the Concourse.

Business Study Mission (BSM) Scandinavia meet at B3 - Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

Business Study Mission (BSM) Scandinavia meet at B3 - Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, Business Study Mission (BSM) Scandinavia meet at B3 - Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

In good company, with Amber Estad.

B3 - Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

B3’s Heart Attack burger on a black bun.

B3 - Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

A favourite item on the menu for me.

Business Study Mission (BSM) Scandinavia meet at B3 - Burger Beer Bistro by SMUAA, Singapore Management University, 2016

Lunch meet with Singapore Management University (SMU) students of the Business Study Mission (BSM) Scandinavia programme.

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, Tom Estad, Singapore Management University campus, 2016

Above the Concourse, at Singapore Management University (SMU) campus.

Time-warp. An unusual view of a street in Singapore void of vehicles on a green traffic lamp in mid-day, brought me right back to the feeling of how Fort Canning was too isolated for easy access from the grounds of the National Museum of Singapore just about thirty years ago.

Fort Canning Park, by the Singapore Management University (SMU), 2016.

Voilà! Rainforest in the city, Fort Canning Park.

References
[1] Cordeiro, C. M. (2016). Singapore Management University BSM Scandinavia 2016, visiting the Swedish west coast. Online resource at cherylmariecordeiro.com at http://bit.ly/2h6RdKm. Retrieved 8 Dec. 2016.
[2] Cordeiro, C. M. (2015). Singapore Management University BSM Scandinavia 2015, visiting the Swedish west coast. Online resource at cmariec.com at http://bit.ly/2h9f27o. Retrieved 8 Dec. 2016.
[3] The Straits Times Singapore (2014). Former MPH building now learning lab for SMU students, SPH online 21 Dec. 2014. Internet resource at http://bit.ly/2gnsoeU. Retrieved 8 Dec. 2016.
[4] Chen, J. (2012). Old MPH Building: where the book people are, Stories of our Singapore. Online resource at Ghetto Singapore.com, published 12 Nov. 2012, http://bit.ly/2h9EEP5. Retrieved 8 Dec. 2016.
[5] Beckers, R., van der Voordt, T., & Dewulf, G. (2016). Learning space preferences of higher education students. Building and Environment, 104, 243-252. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2016.05.013
[6] Oldenburg, R. (1999). The Great Good Place (2nd ed.), Da Capo Press, Philadelphia.