Makanpura by Ashley Chen

MAKANPURA- a conceptual and experimental packaging that focuses on the study of symbols to convey a sense of unity in Singapore through our diverse food cultures.

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Someone once said, “New york may be the city that never sleeps, but Singapore is the city that never stops eating.” Even though we are known for our racial diversity, the love for food is inherent for every Singaporean, regardless of our race and respective cultures. This project aims to show unity in diversity through the study of symbols, incorporating this concept not only in the design, but through to the packaging structure as well as the logo. Makanpura packaging combines 4 different sets of cutlery from Malay, Indian, Chinese and Caucasian food cultures to form one product that showcases all 4 cultures on one platform.

After removing the cutlery from the box, the capsule can be removed. At the bottom of the capsule, are information cards on the symbol of each respective capsule.

In every capsule, the packaging can be unfolded to reveal the interior of the box that consists of one set of cutlery, with a photograph of the cuisine’s particular dish and information on the particular culture.


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The structure of the packaging consists of 4 separate capsules that are hexagonal in shape. The research of the symbols continues here in the structure: the number 6 is a number of unity and equilibrium. The hexagonal shape is also found throughout nature: in honey combs, associated with bees and their co-operative nature as team players in the hive. Also, the hexagon is one of the dominant geometric configurations in human DNA. Therefore, the symbol of hexagon is employed in the structure to reemphasize the concept of unity in our diverse food cultures. As the capsules come together and is held together by a sleeve (shaped by 4 hexagons) that holds everything together, it is again symbolic of the coming together of all four races in harmony and unity.

Chinese: In Chinese food culture, it is common to see Chinese eating with chopsticks and a big, rounder and deeper porcelain spoon. This is because rice is a staple in Chinese food and is eaten usually out of small and deep rice bowls. Sometimes, spoons are omitted and chopsticks are used only. The bowl is brought forward to the mouth and the chopsticks are used to push the rice in. In almost every eating-place, Chinese food is available and loved by many Singaporeans. Famous foods known are dishes like Ba Chor mee (Minced Meat Noodles), Chicken Rice and Economical Rice.

Malay: Malay Food is one of Singaporeans’ favourite foods. From Nasi Goreng (fried rice) to Mee Rebus (Boiled Noodles in Sauce), it can be found in almost every hawker center and every food court. One interesting thing about Malay Food is that it is prepared in a Halal manner- this is because of certain Islamic Religious beliefs. At any eating-place, cutlery from any Malay Food Stall is green and cannot be mixed with food that is non-Halal. In homes however, Malay families usually eat with their hands. Only the right hand is used and only the fingers are used to scoop the ingredients and rice (this is only applicable for rice, not noodles). Before and after the food is consumed, a jug with a saucer will be provided for the washing of hands and a towel is used to dry them.

Indian: Many Singaporeans love Indian Food; amongst which, Curry and Prata are extremely popular. Like Malays, Indians eat with their hands. But instead of using only their fingers, Indians eat with their whole palm. Traditionally, Indian food is consumed off Banana leaves, without any use of cutleries. However, in modern times, it is more common to use a fork and a spoon while eating indian food. Males usually have a towel draped over their shoulders while eating, as it is convenient to clean their hands on the towel and they do not have to leave the table to wash their hands.

Caucasian: In Singapore, Western food is everywhere- restaurants and in food courts and even in hawker centres. From pizzas to pastas to steak houses, there is a wide variety of western food available to Singaporeans. One interesting thing about this western food culture is that we use spoons generally through every dish. Even for dishes like Chicken Chop and Fish and Chips, if a knife is unavailable, spoons are our best alternative.


At a glance, each capsule has its own individual design- a pattern made up of symbols that are specific to each culture. Through an intensive research of the symbols and motifs in each individual culture, the symbol for unity is chosen to strengthen the concept of unity in diversity- so that the patterns and the designs on the box are not random symbols that the designer feels is the most representative of a particular culture, but it is a research-based finding of symbols that have been used globally to represent unity in a certain culture.

Chinese: In Chinese Culture, unity and harmony is usually represented by the imagery of the crab holding a stalk of rice (he xie). For this symbol, the Chinese character of the word (xie) is used in the cultural colour red.

Malay: In Malay and Islamic Culture, the cube represents the Holy Structure, the Kaaba. This pilgrimage symbolizes the unity when people come together regardless of nationality to worship together For this symbol, it is used with the cultural colour green

Indian: An octagonal Mandala represents harmony in human existence. For this symbol, it is used with the cultural colour yellow.

Caucasian: In Western Ideography, the vertical line represents oneness, completion, unity. For this symbol, it is used with the cultural colour blue




Instead of researching on another set of symbols, the logo borrows the structure of the entire packaging and in turn emphasizes again the symbolism of the entire structure, of the honeycomb and the harmonious, cooperative nature of the bees.

Overall, this project has developed overtime to become an interesting and challenging way for me to discover the way in which I conduct research and I enjoyed especially reading several books to find specific information on these symbols.

Books referenced:

The Illustrated Sourcebook of Signs and Symbols by Mark O’Connell and Raje Airey

The Signs and Symbols Bible by Madonna Gauding

Chinese Art- a Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery by Paula Bjaaland Welch

Islamic Geometric Design by Eric Broug

Islamic Patterns: an Analytical and Cosmological Approach by Keith Critchlow





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