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Singapore's Skyline Made Abstract – by a Berlin Photographer

By Guan Tan

Lumas Gallery

Sabine Wild has a twin brother. Both of them popped unexpectedly early when their parents were on their babymoon in Pauda, Italy. Growing up in Berlin, she studied German Linguistics and Spanish, and worked for the German Chamber of Architects. By and by she found a camera in her hands. “Terrible digital cameras back then!” she recalled. The photographs were so bad, Wild was perpetually doing post-production picture processing. “From then on I started photographing everything day and night. That was the beginning of my life in photography.” 

Wild has been documenting forests, seascapes, and mega-cities since then. What sets her apart is her abstraction of these structures into architectural forms. “The first pictures [I took] in New York, it was a mixture of fascination as well as shock – even scariness,” the intuitive 55-year-old recounts. Where she lives, the cityscape lies low. New York’s staggering heights and concrete jungle made her skin crawl, “Because of how big the cities were!” 

Later in Tokyo, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Chicago, and Vancouver where she felt the same trepidation. And it wasn’t before long found her way to Singapore – where she felt strikingly different. “In Singapore it’s positive. Here they are trying to find a solution to mega-cities’ problem that the other mentioned cities face too.” She continues to explain that by 2030, 80 percent of the global civilisation will be housed in mega-cities. “What to do with traffic, environment? Who is going to deal with electric and environmental protection?” 

Lumas Gallery

Wild made a trip to Singapore last year end, “I was reading about Singapore before that. I expected, and was looking for green architecture.” She spent eight days observing and photographing the PARKROYAL on Pickering, Oasia Hotel designed by Singaporean-based architecture practice WOHA, Thomas Heatherwick’s eight-storey facility at the Nanyang Technological University, and the city skyline.

“In Singapore, the lines of architecture are softer. They’re not so strong, they break down tectonic lines, [are] not so harsh – almost flows into the sky.” Wild gestures towards an image of the Marina Bay Sands skyline and says, “It’s about to lift up from the ground and start flying.”

She shoots with a Canon Mark II 5D, and two tilt-shift lenses – 17mm wide-angle, another 24mm, “It doesn’t change my perspective as I photograph buildings.” On casual days out, Wild is always armed with a Leica M and 35mm lens.

Lumas Gallery

Her photography trips are methodical – she checks when the sun rises, to avoid backlighting against the subjects. She then takes a walk around the vicinity, and weighs up architecture that might cast a shadow on her subject. Finally, she goes on another walkabout to scrutinise the different perspectives of the building. This, to her, is especially time-consuming. “The taking of photos [doesn’t] take as long, since I already know my cameras well,” she quips. 

Post-editing takes up the bulk of her time, “usually when I make it blur in a vertical manner, it feels as if the buildings have lost their ground. And it feels very scary.” But it’s at this stage where Wild gets to articulate her emotions. 

This trip, Wild is looking to photograph Punggol’s Eco-Town and the ongoing construction of Oasis Terraces, “a complex covered in greens. It’s apparently the largest green building in Singapore.” Wild noticed there’s a vertical planting trend happening in China, although she’s never seen any city more committed to green architecture than Singapore. “Not even in Berlin. Here green architecture cools buildings down,” she adds.

Marina One, designed by Düsseldorf-based Ingenhoven Architects is one of them, “A round building. [They] specialise in buildings that are great for the climate. And in Singapore round buildings [allows] wind to draft around, so the building cools down. Singapore is so interesting because it’s one of the few mega-cities you do feel like you’re living in a jungle. You hear birds chirping everywhere.”

Lumas Gallery

The phenomenon of mega-cities is dark: wealth inequality, traffic, environment and climate change. And good design makes problem-solving seem effortless, “The Oasia Hotel is so ingenious. All you have to do is to build metal gates around buildings to grow plants. It’s so simple.”

Back in Berlin, Wild has an attic apartment. The walls are sloped so she can’t hang art nor plants, so she takes the latter outdoor to a small terrace in the building. “I tried to grow plants [from seed] as well, but I don’t have green fingers so they always die on me,” she said laughingly. “Theoretically, I am interested. But practically, I can’t do it."


View Sabine Wild’s photography at Lumas Gallery at 290 Orchard Road, Paragon Shopping Centre. Lumas Gallery is also located in various cities and have over 40 galleries worldwide.