Archiving Our Built Landscape – One Byte At A Time

Queenstown Cinema, Singapore, demolished 2013 © Darren Soh

Queenstown Cinema, Singapore, demolished 2013 © Darren Soh

Guest blog by Darren Soh, Architectural Photographer

All images are © Darren Soh

My name is Darren Soh and I am an architectural photographer. I have been systematically photographing the built landscape of Singapore for the last 12 years – first on film and then with digital cameras when the technology became more advanced and yielded better quality images.

As you can imagine, over the years, I have accumulated terabytes and terabytes of raw data from my digital cameras. These are just bits and bytes to the layman, but for me, they contain important images that can never be replaced should they ever be destroyed.

Singapore is a country where development and redevelopment happens at a pace seldom seen in other countries. I often joke that you can leave Singapore for a month and when you return, an old building will be demolished and a new shopping mall would have opened. I may sound like I am exaggerating but it is closer to the truth than I care to admit. It is because of this pace that I have taken upon myself to document not just old buildings in Singapore but also the construction of new buildings because all buildings become old at some point and construction photography captures the liminality of a space that can never be re-captured again once a certain phase of construction has past.

A lot of my work focuses on vernacular architecture like cinemas and HDB Public Housing blocks and estates. For example, I made images of the iconic Queenstown Cinema and Bowl before it was demolished in 2013 and also HDB estates like Rochor Centre which is underwent demolition in 2018 or more ordinary and easily missed blocks like Block 406 Clementi Avenue 1 that was demolished in 2017.

Construction of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, early 2009 © Darren Soh

Construction of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, early 2009 © Darren Soh

Construction of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, late 2009 © Darren Soh

Construction of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, late 2009 © Darren Soh

Having little duplicative data backup is living dangerously

In the digital era, archiving and saving data is a double edged sword. It should technically be EASIER to save images because you can easily duplicate as many copies of the digital images as you would like to. The reality is quite different however, where many photographers I know (myself included at one point in time) live dangerously by having next to no backup nor a system whereby one can ensure that one’s files are stored and retrievable easily should the need arises. Nothing beats having files stored in different GEOGRAPHICAL locations obviously and cloud storage has come to the forefront in the support of photographers in this area. However, local storage and local backup of that storage is still important and this is where Seagate is helping photographers worldwide.

Ever since photographers moved from film to digital, they have had to store massive amounts of data on hard disk drives. And as the resolution in digital cameras started to increase dramatically from the late 2000s and early 2010s, so did file sizes, and hard disk drive sizes have followed suit as well. Today, it is not uncommon for working photographers to sometimes shoot 100-150 GB of images in a day, which is 1/3 to 1/2 the size of an average hard disk drive installed in a desktop computer just a decade ago.

Personally, I have seen myself progressively using hard disk drives of 1TB, then 1.5TB, then 3TB before jumping to 6TB and 8TB drives. The latter two sizes kept me going for awhile in 2-Bay and 4-Bay RAID enclosures, but now, in order to consolidate all my archives, I have moved to using some of the newest drives on the market – the Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS hard drives.

Especially designed for NAS and RAID applications

The Seagate IronWolf Pro series of hard disk drives are the highest tier hard drives available for NAS storage from Seagate and come with a five year warranty as well as a two year subscription to Seagate Rescue Data Recovery Services. Seagate has released the 16TB version of the IronWolf Pro hard disk drives so users who require even more storage space now have more options. In addition, like all IronWolf series hard disk drives, the hard disk drives come with Seagate IronWolf Health Management built in which allows you to monitor the health of each IronWolf hard disk drive when used with a partner system like the Synology Diskstation DS918+.

Synology DiskStation DS918+ © Darren Soh

Synology DiskStation DS918+

I have previously relied on RAID enclosures and not NAS enclosures which did not allow me to configure my drives in a RAID 6 configuration (which for the paranoid, has distributed parity across disks and provides fault tolerance against two drive failures). My former RAID enclosures have been configured in either RAID 5 or RAID 10, and I can unfortunately share that I have had multiple drive failures on not one but two RAID 5 arrays previously. With the Synology DiskStation DS918+, I can now configure my NAS in RAID 6, and with 4 Seagate IronWolf 12TB drives that means I get about 24TB of storage space.

In addition, should I feel the need to add more drives, I can use the Synology Expansion Unit DX517 to add up to five more drives with on-the-fly volume expansion with zero downtime to the array already set up.

Synology DiskStation DS918+ with 4x Seagate IronWolf Pro HDDs © Darren Soh

Synology DiskStation DS918+ with 4x Seagate IronWolf Pro HDDs

A small but nonetheless welcome feature of the Synology DiskStation DS918+ is its screw-less tray system when mounting 3.5-inch hard disk drives like the Seagate IronWolf and IronWolf Pro series of hard disk drives. The ease of setup using Synology’s Disk Station Manager (DSM) ensures that even IT-challenged individuals like myself can have the NAS set up and running smoothly.

Screenshots of the Synology web-based DSM © Darren Soh

The Synology web-based DSM

How to easily access and backup files to NAS remotely and automatically

With Synology’s DSM, I was able to quickly set the DS918+ and check on the health statuses of all the hard disk drives. In addition, a slew of customizable Apps will allow me to access the files on the NAS even if I am on the move and not connected to the LAN within the confines of my office. Synology’s QuickConnect allows me to do so without having to resort to overly technical settings (for me anyways) like port-forwarding.

Also with DSM, I can schedule backups to the NAS from my connected computers in the office so that copies of work files and important images are automatically transferred to the NAS and kept safe.

Some of the apps I have downloaded to my iPhone are DS finder, DS file and DS photo, all of which allow me to control the DS918+ from my mobile phone even if I am geographically far removed from my office, so long as both the NAS and myself are connected to the internet.

Screenshots of the Synology iOS apps © Darren Soh

Synology iOS apps

Assured that I have done my utmost in ensuring that my LOCAL data is easily accessible in my home network and more importantly – sufficiently protected to the best of my ability, I can then concentrate on what I do better – making images of Singapore’s architecture and built landscape. The less time I spend on figuring out my storage and worrying about my data, the more time I can spend photographing.

Rochor Centre, Singapore, demolition in progress 2018 © Darren Soh

Rochor Centre, Singapore, demolition in progress 2018 © Darren Soh

406, Clementi Avenue 1, demolished 2016 © Darren Soh

406, Clementi Avenue 1, demolished 2016 © Darren Soh


About the Author:

Darren Soh
Darren Soh | Landscape and Architectural Photographer. Born and based in Singapore, Darren is an acclaimed independent photographer with a particular interest in architectural and landscape photography.