Saturday, 15 September 2007

Architects - The Invisible Victims of En-bloc Sales

Friday's Straits Times carried a lengthy article on Singapore's veteran architects whose babies were subjected to the wrecking ball recently, courtesy of enbloc sales. Architects like Victor Chew, Timothy Seow, and William Lim, designed some of the earliest post-independence buildings and condominiums. These landmarks - Beverly Mai, Futura etc - are the true icons of Singapore's modern architecture. Yet in gaining huge windfalls, they are losing, as William Lim said "collective memories". Willaim Lim - "The Red House Bakery in Katong, the National Theatre - these may not be fantastic examples of architecture but they said something to the people"; "But there is no respect for the memories of the invisible public."

Victor Chew's question is poignant - what does a building mean to people? Is it just an investment waiting for the enbloc profit? Is it memories and histories for people who lived there? Is it just a place to stay, in true pragmatic Singaporean style?

Dr Timothy Seow's suggestion is likewise significant - he pointed out that many of the condos he designed were "well-designed buildings which if given a chance to be upgraded, would still be able to take on a new look that is relevant to the times".

Will the government continue to let the market-driven model of urban redevelopment systematically demolish the collective memories and architectural heritage of Singapore's modern era? Or will the government step in and put into place, like what Dr Seow suggested, upgrade schemes for condos which are worth conserving?

It's not impossible, it's a question of will. And if the government's actions in the past were any indication, when there's a will there's a way, as they say.

This article couldn't be more timely. I grew up on the west side of Singapore, and used to imagine Westpeak Condo (currently being torn down) as a giant Transformer (with its noticeable 'head'). Now I will never be able to drive past it and remember my childhood memories.

You can read the article reproduced in condosingapore here.

1 comment:

rebelrouser said...

Perhaps Singaporeans have a 'delete' button for their memory. Collective enbloc sale , systematic demolition of our living space we call home, deleting all sentiments , all memories of our past, leaving only photos of a forgotten past to trigger whatever little memory we may have..semblance of snippets from 'Bladerunner' we will soon become a breed of humanoids sans memory.
Collective enbloc sale is as infectious as collective Alzheimers disease which we as a generation are in danger of contracting.
I have absolutely nothing of my past to show my children when I bring them home every year. I feel like Rip Van Winkle who slept for a hundred years and woke up to a different planet when I return home each year. Other than seeing my family and friends , there is little incentive for me to want to return to a concrete jungle that holds little memory of home for me.
As a Singaporean who resides abroad , I too am a victim of this loss of memory.