Exploring Design and Cuisine in Singapore

March 7, 2024

In a fusion of culture, design, and gastronomy, 21 University of Minnesota students embarked on a transformative learning abroad program to Singapore in January 2024 with Product Design Professors Carlye Lauff and Barry Kudrowitz. With a focus on the intersection of food and design, their trip proved to be a rich exploration of Singapore's vibrant culinary scene and innovative design landscape.

"I have always loved food and cooking, and Singapore has always been a place I wanted to see!” said Madeline Koul (Product Design). “I thought of it as sort of a bucket list item, so it was amazing being able to visit so early in my life. It also helped that I was able to get credit towards my degree as a product design student, plus it worked well with my schedule because it was over winter break.” 

During the trip, U of M students collaborated with peers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design and the National University of Singapore to rethink Hawker Centers—iconic food hubs in Singapore. “My group was designing solutions to the challenge of finding open tables in Hawker centers,” explained Tristan Kmoch (Product Design). 

A group of four students examine a blueprint.
U of M students collaborated with peers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design and the National University of Singapore.

Kmoch’s group aimed to enhance the dining experience without compromising the cultural essence embedded within a Hawker Center’s communal space. “There is a kind of awkward period after you grab your food where you are wandering around trying to find a table, and we wanted to make that experience easier. It was a great topic because Hawker Centers have embedded cultural practices and we didn't want to make something that fundamentally changed the experience. We ended up making a system that has occupancy lights over the tables so people can just look up to find open tables.” 

Three hands draw out a blueprint layout.
Students rethink Hawker Centers—iconic food hubs in Singapore.

The heart of the students' journey lay in their hands-on engagement with Singapore's culinary and design spheres. From farm visits to cooking classes and wet market explorations to dining at renowned Michelin-recommended and Michelin-starred hawker stalls, every experience contributed to their holistic understanding of Singapore's food culture. 

Students in front of the Garden by the Bay.
Students and professors pose in front of Gardens by the Bay.

“One of my favorite days was learning to cook laksa, a Singaporean noodle dish,” said Koul. “It was taught by a professional chef, and we all cooked together in her home. As someone who loves to cook, this was a dream come true! It was wonderful to learn from her and more deeply understand the culture behind Singaporean cuisine.”

Students pose over food they are cooking.
Three students pose with their laksa. 

Reflecting on the program, students were captivated by Singapore's unique blend of tradition and innovation and its seamless integration of architecture, transportation, and civic infrastructure. “There were a lot of great parts on this trip, but the overall experience of finding out about a new culture in a first-person way was my favorite part,” said Kmoch. 

Assistant Professor Carlye Lauff presents to students.
Assistant Professor Carlye Lauff presents to students.

“If anyone is considering learning abroad but is nervous about it, I would say to jump in and do it,” encouraged Kmoch. “Learning abroad is a priceless experience for your learning and growth, and it’s super fun!”

You can learn more about the University of Minnesota’s Learning Abroad Center and its programs on its website

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