Conserving Singapore’s Heritage
Singapore is an island that is dripping with history. Its streets, buildings, monuments and places of worship define the nation, and display its rich cultural past. It is also a place where developments are happening at an almost astonishing rate, and it is essential that in its quest to improve and progress, it doesn’t lose its identity, and the essence that makes Singapore – Singapore.
The first concerted and organised efforts to conserve the nation’s historic buildings began in 1973 under the direction of the Preservation of Monuments Board. Eight buildings were identified and given legal protection as national monuments:
- Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
- The Armenian Church
- St Andrew’s Cathedral
- Hajjah Fatimah Mosque
- Telok Ayer Market
- Thong Chai Building
- Thian Hock Keng
- Sri Mariamman Temple
Following on from the safeguarding and conservation of specific buildings and monuments, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s saw the initiative extended. Singapore’s characteristic shophouses began to be valued and restored. Common throughout much of South East Asia, shophouses are narrow two or three storey terraced houses with a covered pedestrian way at the front. Used for both residential and commercial purposes, they date from the 1840’s right up until the 1960’s. Under careful scrutiny to ensure renovation adhered to strict guidelines, many of the state owned buildings along Tudor Court and Murray Street were conserved and in many cases practically rebuilt. Emerald Hill Road was pedestrianised, and the iconic no. 9 Neil Road was completed and opened up to an ever more interested public.
1989 saw a massive increase in the conservation efforts with the declaration of 10 Historic Districts that would be afforded the strictest protection possible. These districts were:
- Bukit Pasoh, Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Kreta Ayer (all in Chinatown)
- Little India
- Kampong Glam
- Boat Quay
- Clarke Quay
- Emerald Hill
These districts covered a total of more than 3200 individual buildings, and it was recognised from the start that as opposed to keeping these buildings as exhibits they should be maintained and used in a manner that was in keeping with their original design. This ensures a sense of authenticity, as opposed to the feeling of merely walking around a museum.
Black and Whites
Another characteristic building of Singapore are the “black-and-white” bungalows. These standalone two-storey houses were built in the first half of the 20th century and feature verandas and broad, overhanging hipped roofs. They combine classic Tudor styling with that of Malay kampong houses, and tend to be set in spacious grounds. Originally home to high ranking British officers, this type of building was given protective status in 1991, with several conservation areas set up specifically to protect good examples. These include:
- White House Park & Nassim Road
- Chatsworth Park
- Holland Park & Ridout Park Conservation Area
Since the Preservation of Monuments Board’s small steps in the early 1970’s the desire to protect the island’s historic and iconic buildings has gathered apace. Today, there are more than 7000 buildings all across the island that have been granted special conservation status.
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