To ensure historic buildings last, we need to pay closer attention to the science of restoration, suggests Dr Yeo Kang Shua, a conservation expert.
Exposing an old building’s brick walls has become trendy to show its historic value. But this could be doing more harm than good, says Dr Yeo Kang Shua.
Not all bricks are fired to withstand the elements openly, and the contemporary practice of applying an adhesive to create such designs often damages a building in the long run.
As adhesives are hard and the bricks are soft in comparison, such walls will typically cave in over time, says Kang Shua, the Associate Professor of architectural history, theory and criticism at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Focus on materials
Such “purely aesthetic” practices may cause Singapore to lose its built historic fabric. Thus, Kang Shua has been advocating for a more scientific focus for restoration work. He first got interested in this topic while interning at RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, which was then restoring the Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery and the House of Tan Yeok Nee.
Since attaining his PhD in architecture history and theory at the National University of Singapore, Kang Shua has taken up a variety of roles as an academic, advocate and even practitioner — all with an eye on improving the profession’s understanding of the materials that make up Singapore’s historic buildings
“When we say restore back to original, at the end of the day, a temple looks like a temple, a church looks like a church, you do not change the motifs,” he says. “The question is how do you do it? How do you make sure there is no change? There is a lot of very grey areas.”