The first exercise in this, the next People and Place project, ‘Space and Function’, revolves around thinking of an interior space, public or domestic and photographing it. However, it is the step before the photography that is important. I needed to select this space and think about its function and purpose before going to photograph it. For this reason I chose somewhere I knew well and then decided to decipher what its function was. I chose a food hall in the basement of a shopping mall. The questions were;
“Who uses it or will use it?” – This seemed to require a straight forward consideration. The general public would use it. Of course that answer would mean overlooking a significant amount of other people in this equation and so I needed to think harder about the answer and break it down. Other people who would use it were; cooks, food servers, cleaners, mall shop staff, local workers coming from outside the mall for lunch, shoppers taking a break, tourists, expats. This doesn’t feel extensive by any means but is clearly more than just ‘general public’.
“What is it intended to be used for?” – With the previous answer in mind I looked to expand my answer to this question to encapsulate what maybe the designers and architects thought it would be intended for. Sufficed to say this rarely ends up being solely what it is actually used for. I think the space was intended primarily for the actions of preparing, eating and clearing away food with provision for access for people to move about freely. It would also be designed with the idea in mind that people should be walking in to and out of the mall to get there. This would help potential footfall for both the food court and the shops in the mall.
“How many different aspects are there to that activity?” – This is the second part of the questions whose answer will contain the many nuanced differences within the formally laid out plans of the designers. So the different aspects in relation to the answer above in this space are many.
Preparation – This would start with the food being prepared by the back room staff and then sent to the front of the stall for cooking in the kitchen area. It also takes in the marketing of the product both with fluorescent signage, traditional signage and the look and smell of the food itself. These stalls are numerous in a small area so competition is tight. The food needs to look and smell good before anyone will buy it. From the perspective of the customer preparation for eating means they need to chope. This entails putting down on one’s table of choice a pack of tissues, a bag, a receipt or in fact anything that will delineate hat this is their territory and must not be sat in by anyone else. Woe betide the would-be eater who comes back from the food stand with a tray stacked with food who hasn’t choped in advance. Theirs could be a long lunch of looking for room to sit down.
Eating – The tables are set out regimentally to make best use of the surface area provided. Some people eat with chopsticks, some with spoon and fork and a very few with a knife and fork. Because of the many food stalls the dishes produced are innumerable and so the ways of eating them are also varied. Noodles are lifted with chopsticks and loaded into soup spoons and eaten. Chopsticks deliver the noodles straight to the mouth with no need of ovaled steel intervention. Forks stab at errand vegetables. Spoons chase dishwater soup at the bottom of the bowl. People slurp, burp and spit their way through their food. Alongside this is the inevitable noise of general chit-chat, laughter and all the other things that go to make up the experience of eating in a food hall in Singapore. Food is a social experience.
Finally, clearing away – In theory, Singapore is in the grips a self-tray-clearing initiative led by the government which has some people up in arms as they feel, rightly or wrongly, that their plates and cups should be cleared for them. In fact what is happening is somewhere in between where the customer goes to clear their plate and is sometimes stopped by a frustrated auntie whose job it is specifically to do just that. That aside, this part of the process makes for one of the most interesting aspects of the intended use. The cleaners chat and laugh amongst themselves whilst waiting for the customer to finish eating and then either pounce once the dish is empty or look disdainfully as the customer leaves their dirty dish behind expecting someone to pick it up. Of course the customer’s duty is to guess which one he or she is supposed to do. Other aspects to include here are the scraping of the plates in to bins, the stacking of dishes, the pushing of trolleys and finally the wiping down of the tables in preparation for this cyclical event to begin again.
I am starting to build a pretty good image in my mind of what I want to express in my final image. With this vision in mind here is what I wanted to include in the final image both obviously and to read in to. The physical space needs to show the various elements I have described; food stalls (both the cooking area and the signage), the mall, tables, food and cutlery, tray clearing area and the staff members of which there are various. It isn’t necessary to include people in this final image providing the space shows what its function is. However, this type of venue is rarely empty so people inevitably will be involved.
My final image is below.
I have taken this image with a wide angle lens to attempt to capture what I considered to be the fundamental elements I described above. I think I have included them all and a couple of others for good measure, namely the hand basin and fire-extinguisher on the wall far right. The fire extinguisher intimates that this is a public space. The hand basin tells us that there is the potential for grime and mess. The mall aspect is included just barely in the distance where the Guardian Pharmacy sign can be seen. The tray return can be seen centre right as a grey box. There are many people in this image however, I think many elements would still work just as well without their presence and the space would still be able to function within the frame.