Toby Fong 
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wild [ life ] nomad bootcamp_

A Back-to-Basics Bootcamp for the Age of the Amateur

Thesis Supervisor: A/P Dr. Lilian Chee

Teaching Assistant: Wong Zihao

Site: Northwest Region of Singapore

Context:

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of global supply chains. The immobilisation of global workforces and restricted international borders has led to severe disruptions of essential imports such as foods, medicines and daily necessities. Import-dependent Singapore is left to fend for herself - drawing on limited stockpiles and scavenging for alternative food sources.

 

Abstract:

A rewilding of Singapore into a productively secure nation must occur to address the continued crises. The thesis starts the process to reconcile food production with the household, beginning with a Back-to-Basics Bootcamp education of rewilding in the Northwest countryside. Singapore’s rewilding suggests production security as a shared responsibility between companies, the state and the individual.

This thesis proposes a Back-to-Basics Bootcamp, an intermediary between the Northwest and the city. Over the course of 50 years, the Bootcamp mints an urban population into resourceful and productive agents for Singapore’s rewilding. Life post-Bootcamp compels one to apply knowledge and physical specimens within our urbanized surroundings. By the year 2070, after the gathered Northwest practices root themselves into our daily existence, the Bootcamp will be rendered obsolete.

The Bootcamp is sited in Northwest Singapore, the last vestige where ground-based farmlands and wild jungle coincide. People and programmes in the Northwest retain an integral relationship to the wilderness, tapping into indigenous, generational and endangered knowledge of non-urban living to grow food and keep lands productive. The Bootcamp is experienced through the recovered fieldnotes of an alumni that unfolds in four phases - 1. Sprout (Initiation), 2. Seedling (Skills Acquisition), 3. Rooting (Farmhands), 4. Fruiting (Graduation).

Wild nature exists in many material forms - from barnacles to wild mushrooms. Through the manipulation of such materials, the architect enters an equal partnership with the wild to sculpt spaces of learning. This proposal demonstrates one such partnership through the detailed development of architecture’s collaboration with the native Ficus Kerkhovenii plant. The architectural outcome is in a tectonic centred around the Ficus’ behaviour as space-maker, construction material, educational tool and timekeeper which facilitates the transfer of basic knowledge and low-technology. 

Keywords

Rewilding, Northwest Singapore, Basics, Nature

Author's Note:

There is a stigma of danger and fear associated to the tropical jungle that is influenced in large part by colonial writings about the tropics as a space of the Other - a pestilential world where diseases and dangerous beasts are aplenty. Unbeknownst to many, tigers, the poster child of tropical beasts, used to swim over the Straits of Johor to terrorise Singapore island. Even though the last tiger was officially killed in 1930, no one can ever be certain of the jungle’s secrets. Large crocodiles measuring as long as 2 metres have replaced the tiger, with multiple sightings reported in recent years.

 

It took me almost 3 months to muster the courage to travel into the Northwest. The jungle was generous with its unexpected surprises. I went with the clear goal of conquering the Cashin House, but confronted my own fears instead.

The Northwest

In 2020, the wild [ life ] nomad bootcamp was founded in the Northwest - the last vestige where farmlands and wilderness coincide.

Ruin-Making:
Phasing the Bootcamp's Aspirations

In Crude Hints Towards an History of My House in Lincoln's Inn Fields, architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) imagined his home as a future ruin, inspected by visitors speculating on its origins and function.

The Fig Grove main campus leases its occupancy from the wild — in the currently disused Neo Tiew Housing Estate. In the prolonged absence of human maintenance, buildings quickly fall into decay. The conversion of the estate into a ruin mimics and accelerates the natural trajectory of dilapidation. Every period of The Fig Grove’s life confronts the human-nature relationship, better preparing its bootcampers to navigate the Age of the Amateur.

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Ficus Kerkhovenii:
Tectonics & Behaviorology

What was once the sole domain of the architect is now supplemented - and will one day be supplanted - by wild nature as co-creators of space. In this equal partnership, the architect designs the conditions for certain spatial futures to manifest. Wild nature does the rest.

The Northwest Nomad’s Main Campus mobilises the native and critically endangered Ficus Kerkhovenii plant to create spaces and connections that facilitates the transfer of indigenous knowledge from the Northwestern locals to the bootcampers.

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The Camper,
The Fig & The Northwest

Through the recovered documents of a Bootcamp alumni, Bootcamp Through The Lens follows a bootcamper’s journey in 2036 from start to finish. It is a firsthand perspective of the Northwest Bootcamp experience: their travels, the accompanying lessons, the trying environments, atmospheres and epiphanies.

The Bootcamp is split into 4 general phases, with each phase corresponding to a particular period of the bootcamper’s growth:

Phase 1: Sprout (Initiation); Phase 2: Seedling (Skills Prep); Phase 3: Rooting (Farmhands); Phase 4: Fruiting (Graduating); Life After Bootcamp: Ripening (Urban Rewilding)

Urban Rewilding:
Life, Post-Bootcamp

With the conclusion of the Bootcamp, the arena shifts from the Northwest back into the urban.

In the city, bootcamp graduates are truly put to the test — how will the knowledge and specimens acquired in the Northwest be transferred and integrated into everyday life?