Sense of identity through preservation of Singapore’s built and natural heritage
Sustainable development is much more than building infrastructure or preserving the environment. It is about putting the community at the heart of development, building rooted and cohesive communities, as well as preserving the city’s local character and sense of identity through the preservation of their built and natural heritage. Through Singapore’s Conservation Programme, more than 7,000 buildings and structures have been conserved to date.
Singapore historic buildings and districts give people the visual and physical link to the city’s past in their changing urban landscape. However, Conservation is much more than just preserving a facade or the external shell of a building. It is also important that the city retains the inherent spirit and original ambience of these historic buildings as far as possible. This requires an appreciation and understanding of the architectural structure of the buildings, good management, and practice in conserving buildings.
Conservation in Singapore
Singapore’s Conservation Programme began in the early 1980s as an integral part of city planning. It was the first large-scale urban conservation programme in Southeast Asia that protects urban streets and areas. Within the small island home of 714 sq km, over 7,000 heritage buildings and structures in more than 100 areas have been gazetted for conservation. About 6,500 of these are shophouses. The first shophouses to be conserved and restored in Singapore were in Tanjong Pagar in 1987.
Shophouses are also a historical source of delight and nostalgia, a prevalent building type in Singapore’s architectural and built heritage. They are commonly found throughout the historic cities of South East Asia. They are narrow, small terraced houses, with a sheltered ‘five foot’ pedestrian way at the front. These buildings can be used for both business and living. Constructed between the 1840s and the 1960s, these shophouses formed the majority of the pre-WW2 urban fabric of the old city centre as well as several other parts of Singapore. The buildings are generally two to three storeys high, built in contiguous blocks with common party walls. Shophouses hence form the bulk of Singapore’s gazetted conservation buildings. Till today, they have been carefully restored and conserved according to the city’s conservation guidelines.
Shophouses styles according to the chronology of Singapore’s physical development :
The balance between heritage and development has never been a straightforward issue of retain or destroy. Often, planners have found creative ways of ensuring that buildings continue to be viable and relevant. Sometimes, retaining a city’s heritage is not just about conserving key buildings alone but is about protecting and enhancing neighbourhoods with unique identities. Better pavements, tree planting and other works have been carried out to areas like Balestier, Siglap, Holland Village and others so that these continue to thrive.
In Singapore, the city is guided by the ‘3R Principle’ when it comes to conservation buildings:
- (Maximum) Retention
- (Sensitive) Restoration
- (Careful) Repair
In addition, conservation buildings are selected based on:
- Architectural significance and rarity
- Cultural, social, religious and historical significance
- Contribution to the environment and identity
- Economic impact
Heng, Derek Thiam Soon. Reframing Singapore Memory, Identity, Trans-regionalism. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009.