Singapore / The Urgency and Conservation Philosophy of Boat Quay

Bu Ye Tian Proposal source: Lim, William. Singapore River: A Conservation Proposal for Boat Quay
Bu Ye Tian Proposal
source: Lim, William. Singapore River: A Conservation Proposal for Boat Quay
Bu Ye Tian Proposal source: Lim, William. Singapore River: A Conservation Proposal for Boat Quay
Bu Ye Tian Proposal
source: Lim, William. Singapore River: A Conservation Proposal for Boat Quay

Development of Boat Quay
Boat Quay area along Singapore River was the first conservation project of Historic District among the first ten Conservation Areas developed by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). There were some clues of it being the first, regardless of the already abundant historical structures and culture within. The plan of the quay could be traced back to 1819, when Stamford Raffles ordered to fill up the swamps on the banks of Singapore River as the first development project of Singapore. As time gone by, towers and high rise buildings instead of the warehouses mark the skyline of the city after over 150 years of prospering. The function as a trading depot had been stopped and shifted to a new site off Pasir Panjang since bumboats and barges were banned during the Clean River Campaign started in September 1983.

Bu Ye Tian
Added to, the conservation proposal, Bu Ye Tian, which William Lim and Dr. Goh Poh Seng developed in 1982 regarding to the growing concerns for the conservation of heritage of the government in the built environment, was not adopted by URA. The basic idea of Bu Ye Tian was to convert the area into a big commercial entertainment complex with tea houses, restaurants, and a floating restaurant on the river. The proposal was a comprehensive scheme that addressed the programmes and uses in every area. However, the rejection of the proposal left the area dead and empty from 1983 to around 1990, until the URA made it as the prior district to redevelopment and started to take over the conservation work. The reconstruction work eventually began by 1993.

Conservation Principles
The Planning Act was revised to establish a clear approach on conservation. As defined in the Act, conservation was set to be as, “the preservation, enhancement or restoration of: a) the character or appearance of a conservation area, b) the trades, crafts, customs, and other traditional activities carried on in a conservation area.” URA advocated the 3R principles which refers to maximum Retention, sensitive Restoration and careful Repair. The principles are to be applicable to all conserved buildings irrespective of scale and complexity. The principle is strict with the originality and authentic of the structure elements, as stated in the guidelines. “Any alteration or strengthening to structural elements is to be done in the most sympathetic and unobtrusive way, using original methods and materials wherever possible.” It requires certain degree of appreciation and understanding of the structure of the original building. Accordingly, the research and documentation of existing building structures and the restoring process were emphasised.

The demanding conservation guidelines by URA are based on the principles set out in Venice Charter, the International Charter for Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites. (ICOMOS, Venice, 1966) The current guidelines were an integration of the principles established in Venice with the relevant local building codes and cultural concerns. Strict on the restoration and authenticity of the architecture, the programme, on the other hand, has less restriction. With the spirit of the pragmatic tradition of Singapore, the overall objective of the URA’s guidelines seem to maintain the cultural heritage while keeping it beneficial to the economy. Regardless of the overpriced restaurants and touting, the Boat Quay proves the strategy works and prospers as the old days.


“Boat Quay.” National Library Board. Accessed December 09, 2016.

“Conservation.” A Brief History of Conservation. Accessed December 09, 2016.

Powell, Robert. Living Legacy: Singapore’s Architectural Heritage Renewed. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, 1994. 25.

“Singapore River, Singapore: Adaptive Re-use of the Historic Boat Quay.” Singapore River, Singapore: Adaptive Re-use of the Historic Boat Quay. Accessed December 09, 2016.

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