Tay Ze Bin Wesley
Externalizing Borderlands:
The Free Zone of Singapore

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Lee Kah Wee

Site: South border of Singapore

The thesis project aims to explore the physical manifestation of the state of exception at the borderlands.


The project is an allegorical building that straddles along the borders of Singapore and International Waters. This exclusive offshore zone sits right outside of Singapore’s territorial boundary where its jurisdiction cannot reach. The free zone legalises all “grey” activities that have a blanket prohibition and are criminalised in Singapore. Such activities include the use, ditribution and manufacturing of recreational drugs, consensual homosexual acts, private gambling dens, data piracy, development and distribution of pornography, to name a few. 

This project serves to be a critique of Singapore’s draconian law system that only exists with territorial sovereignty. All these “grey” activities are dealth with varying degrees of tolerance around the world. However, in Singapore, all these activites have been prohibited and criminalised.


Therefore, this project aims to expose the power of the State through architecture and explore the phenomena of the state of exception we are all currently experiencing today.

“A State of  exception is a situation where juridical laws are temporarily suspended by the State due to an ongoing emergency or crisis threatening the State. In this situation, the sovereign is able to transcend any normal or basic law and could potentially violate them.” - Giorgio Agamben

The borderlands are in a constant state of exception due to the ongoing war on terrorism. Borderlands have transformed from being imaginary lines that dictates territories to being a space where the violence and power of the law is exeperienced. 

The project situates itself along the borders of Singapore and International waters. The Free zone sits on international waters where Singapore’s jurisdiction cannot reach. The border is capture by two giant walls where users have to go through in order to reach the other side. 

The site is visible from Downtown Marina and Sentosa island. This visibility is explored in the design later where detainees are forced to look into the skyline of Singapore to remind them the power the State holds over its own people.

The tension between under the law and the freedom from it is capture during the encounter between the departing users going to the free zone and the people who are caught at the arrival immigration customs.

Although they never come into contact with one another, the design of the supreme court tower creates that chance of encounter that symbolises the extent of the power the State holds over its people. Two different groups of users defined by the imposition of the law within the same space.

Departing users will go through the departure immigration where it will take them through a series of checkpoints. These checkpoints allows the users to have interactions with other users of the building.

The heaviness and bareness of the concrete brings across the symbol of power and oppressivness the building embodies. All the views that the departing users get are curated to allow themselves to see their eventual outcome when they return from the free zone.

The Free Zone is an exclusive zone defined by the wall that is voided of any law imposed by Singapore. The transcendence of the law within the free zone can be understood to be in a state of exception as well but in an opposite maner to which Giorgio Agamben explains it.


The space is free from the violence and power of the law. Without a sovereign control over the spce, the free zone is allowed to organically grow itself over time according to the social activites that happen there.

The free zone is a symbol of freedom from the oppression of the law in Singapore. It is the manifestation of the suppressed society and behaviors Singapore uses the law against.

All arriving users have to go through a series of rigorous checkpoints to check for possesion of contraband items from the free zone and consumption of drugs. Anybody caught will be detained immediately and sent for hearing in the Criminal Mentions courts. Those who contest trial would eventually end up in the Supreme court..

The Supreme court that sits at the highest point of the building is made of the purest and rawest form of concrete. This is the space of ultimate judgement where the State forever reigns supreme over all things under its sovereignty. The monumentality and bareness of the concrete symbolizes the absolute power the State has over its people.