Singapore / Similarities and Differences between Bu Ye Tian and URA’s Urban Regeneration Project

Before the proposal of URA’s Urban Regeneration Project in 1983, Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group (SPUR) has proposed another conservation project “Bu Ye Tian” for Boat Quay in 1982. While URA’s proposal emphasized on boosting economy, Bu Ye Tian aimed at creating a culture hub where all sorts of people can enjoy on daily basis. Despite the difference in objectives, both projects still share similarities in redeveloping Boat Quay.

The major similarity between two projects were the methodology of revitalization. Both URA’s Project and “Bu Ye Tian” suggested to re-occupy existing shophouses with new activities. In “Bu Ye Tian”, it was proposed that restaurants and shops would mainly occupy 1st and 2nd storeys of shophouses, and subsidized culturally-orientated activities such as opera stage and workshops would occupy the 3rd storey. The proposal aimed at representing culture and traditions to people lively, hence, the appropriateness of the activities introduced was emphasized in the proposal, as it said “appropriate activities must be re-introduced deliberately to bring people from all walks of life back…” In URA’s Project, the restoration was less-controlled. The Government rezoned Boat Quay from industrial into commercial uses and waived a variety of financial fees to encourage owners rent out their properties. The result was market-driven and the shophouses were occupied by fine-dining and bars. Although the cultural-spirit from “Bu Ye Tian” could not be realized, its concept of adaptive re-use of shophouses was coincided with government’s project and executed.

Area breakdown according to usage in Bu Ye Tian, 1982 Bu Ye Tian
Area breakdown according to usage in Bu Ye Tian, 1982 Bu Ye Tian
Programs suggested in Bu Ye Tian Proposal, 1982 Bu Ye Tian
Programs suggested in Bu Ye Tian Proposal, 1982 Bu Ye Tian

However, two projects still have different focuses towards Boat Quay’s redevelopment. While URA’s project showed more enthusiastic in conservation part, “Bu Ye Tian” emphasized more on the restoration part. Regarding the conservation of heritage buildings, URA has set detailed guidelines for each architectural elements, yet, “Bu Ye Tian” proposal just briefly presented a vague concept. For instance, concerning structure’s conservation, “Bu Ye Tian” mentioned that “the non-repetitive nature of the existing structure is deliberately emphasized”, which was general in nature. While the government project has specifically pointed out that “horizontal or vertical structural supports, if required to be added, are to abut the party walls to minimize impact on the existing structural system which is to be retained”. Comparatively speaking, “Bu Ye Tian” emphasized on programs and spatial arrangements. For example, it proposed to connect the back-lanes and form an internal street, so as to provide “great variety of spatial qualities and its untidiness add up to marvellous setting for human interaction” for Boat Quay. While the URA’s project relied on the private sectors to shape the architectural aspect of Boat Quay.

The divergence of two projects can be explained by 2 reasons. Firstly, two proposals were developed to different depth. The URA’s project was executed and its guidelines were open to public, it has to be clear to different stakeholders in order to carry out the conservation. On the contrary, “Bu Ye Tian” was a concept, detailed methods on how to conserve the heritage were far too realistic and unnecessary. Secondly, two parties cut into the redevelopment in different angle. While the government had an urban vision of entire redevelopment of Singapore River, “Bu Ye Tian” sees Boat Quay as an architectural project. Therefore, the representation of two projects were entirely different. The URA’s projects were documents, regulations and guidelines, while the “Bu Ye Tian” proposal presented with architectural plans, sections and rendering. To conclude, the differences of two projects were mainly contributed by the role of the proposers, while the government focused on an executable plan, academician’s proposals were usually more visionary.


  1. Authority, Urban Redevelopment. 2016. Boat Quay.
  2. Lin, Eunice M. 2016. Adaptive Re-use of the Historic Boat Quay.
  3. Wang Jingyao; Heng Chye Kiang. 2011. Urban Entrepreneurialism in Conservation Redevelopment: the case of the Boat Quay Historic District in Singapore. Singapore: National University of Singapore.
  4. William Lim, Goh Poh Seng . 1982. “Bu Ye Tian.” Proposal, Singapore.

1 Comment on “Singapore / Similarities and Differences between Bu Ye Tian and URA’s Urban Regeneration Project

  1. Was the proposal for Boat Quay by the SPUR group a submission to the URA, or just a scheme proposed publicly? As mentioned in your earlier post about the criticism for the Bu Ye Tian Proposal, I am quite interested to know more about how different stakeholders react to both SPUR and URA’s proposal, any news or articles discussing about this at that time? Why the proposal was not realized in the end? For the market-driven conservation part, the way of conserving heritage is still questionable for me. Although it seems inevitable for a heritage to ‘survive’ in a metropolis by reprogramming it to some profitable uses, yet I think government should have a vision in conserving both the architecture and the culture instead of leaving the program completely defined by the private sectors, avoiding the failure like The Pawn in Wanchai and 1881 heritage in Hong Kong that turned into a luxurious place and shut unaffordable people away.

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