New York City has Times Square, but Singapore may not be too far behind, with 3D projection screen Ten Square. Located at Short Street in Rochor, Ten Square is a massive screen towering over all who pass by it. But what sets it apart from the regular billboards you see around town is how Ten Square comes with a distinct goal – to platform initiatives that aid the community by literally projecting it on the big screen.
Founded by Gary Hong, the project has also recently branched out into the arts, acting as one of the two screens that presented digital art show Crossroads by ToNewEntities (as part of the 2022 Singapore Art Week), showcasing the sheer number of possibilities that Ten Square offered potential clients. Gary also happens to be the owner of Autobahn Motors at Jalan Kilang, which in 2017, hosted ‘the world’s largest luxury car vending machine’, an impressive display of up to 60 high end cars that customers could choose to view, test drive or even buy with the simple push of a button. All of this is testament to how wild Gary is willing to go, in terms of ideas he considers bringing to life at Ten Square.
“Ten Square was always my passion project, where I imagined it as ‘the Times Square of Singapore,” says Gary. “After showcasing the car vending machine, I was able to convince the government with my vision and iconic approach towards the way I would present Ten Square. And after going to China to compare products, from factory to factory, supplier to supplier, we’ve probably got the best of the best screens available for Ten Square.”
Even before the car vending machine, Gary had already been volunteering Autobahn Motors’ space to social enterprises and NGOs to leverage on to raise awareness and funds to showcase what they were doing. “There are really so many passionate people looking to do something, but Singapore is a very small market, and often, stakeholders must pick and choose the ‘correct’ people to highlight,” says Gary. “I wanted Ten Square to play a placemaking role, so I’m building a platform that welcomes anything and everything – as long as the people we are working with have some synergy with us, I’m happy to support it.”
That is the mindset that led him to Ten Square, and how much potential it has for its clients in terms of visibility, requiring him to speak to clients and figure out if they share common goals and ‘synergy’. “When working with Crossroads, I had to screen through the work to make sure it’s not politically incorrect,” he says. “But beyond that, there’s a new rule that states we can’t advertise for cryptocurrencies, and people have been approaching me to display NFT-related marketing, so I’m mindful of the line I have to tread and the responsibility to ensure the work I put out is suitable. I believe that billboards remain one of the mainstream mediums of communication, and I wanted the work that we put out to be innovative, things that not everyone is rushing into.”
What Gary really wants to do then, is to go beyond sponsoring space or money alone, and really shifting mindsets, by showing corporations that the future lies in giving back to the community, whether it’s through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, or even in their day-to-day operations. “Rather than always just claiming they are the best, Brands can lean towards a social approach to marketing themselves, not just relying on brand name alone, but finding more innovative ways to encourage others to know them through doing good and giving back to the community,” he adds. LEssentially, even if they want to advertise with me, I’d appreciate it if we came up with a more sustainable or socially-inclined way to do it.”
Gary is passionate about ground-up initiatives and the future generation showing promise, and is willing to go the extra mile to support such initiatives and projects with Ten Square. Take for example, the recently concluded Liminal Matters project by Studio Archipelago, which comprises a group of young designers, who Gary aided by displaying their key visual on his screens during the exhibition’s run.
Gary makes it clear then, that creativity is at the heart of what Ten Square is all about, and believes that it is through this that a community can begin to form. “We’re not just here to sell the ‘billboard’ alone, but to sell the whole campaign. Back when we did the car vending machine, I was looking beyond just luxury brands, but if the car was colourful or unique in some way, that creates a whole vibe. A billboard is not a static affair, but like a marathon, where you’re constantly creating engagement and Instagram-worthy moments through the content you put up. As we wrap up the rest of the building, we’re planning on having a degree of interactivity as well, and maybe even host street events and flash mobs. And this doesn’t have to be expensive – we can simply use QR codes for example, and get them to tune in to music that matches what’s going on.”
Ten Square goes beyond a billboard then, to provide an opportunity to spur and let new initiatives flourish. “We came up with this initiative called Meaningful Sunday, where we wanted to find partners and stakeholders and leverage off each others’ resources, and come together to create awareness of events such as International Women’s Day or Grandparents’ Day,” says Gary. “When you gather these stakeholders, there is greater collective impact. All you need to do is gather like-minded people, and often, the synergy and common ground they’ll find is enough, and creates the potential for more possibilities.”
Gary’s dreams are big, and he certainly has the connections to get things off the ground, but he admits that with how ambitious he’s being, he knows that there are plenty of challenges still to overcome. “There are many factors that go into each contract – we’re still in town after all, and we do have to speak to many people and knock on doors,” he says. “But the moment there’s a little slit, you push that door open, go inside and push your vision. Government agencies are quite receptive to the idea actually, because they’re thinking up new ways to bring people back to the city. What’s important is to get people to really root for your cause, and see all that they’re doing as more than a job, that it’s a passion, and that they will do their best to work together with us to make the impossible, possible.”
As we speak, Gary is putting the last few touches to Ten Square, and aims to have the Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) ready by February. “It’s never about the end product, but how we can use this as an opportunity to inspire others, especially youths, to think creatively, strategically and how we can bring in other resources. It’s about getting people hungry and motivated to do good together, and we envision Ten Square will become a landmark of good content, good innovations, good creativity and good work that encourages corporations to volunteer their resources and do more community engagement.”
“COVID-19 has affected everyone, and we’re all so tired of the pandemic. So Ten Square wants to be the ones to shine the way forward, to motivate and provide that space for young talents in the arts and tech scene to be platformed,” he concludes. “I want Ten Square to be like America’s Got Talent; so long as you have some kind of skill, regardless of what you do in your day job or your age, if the talent can be showcased or highlighted, then I’m happy to be part of the journey, and use Ten Square as the megaphone to take your ideas and broadcast them to a wider audience, showcase it to more people, and champion you.”