Tag: Singapore Architecture

FRAME: Why Singapore architects need to create a more equitable partnership with their builders

Singapore – From a starring role in the Hollywood flick Crazy Rich Asians to the backdrop of the science-fiction television series Westworld, Singapore has in recent times become a city for all sorts of fantastical projections. It is easy to see why. Skyscrapers such as the Parkroyal on Pickering hotel and the Marina One mixed-use complex are wrapped in lush greenery reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There is also the neo-futuristic domes of the Gardens by the Bay and the swooping Marina Bay Sands next door. Singapore is a playground for architects from around the world to imagine the buildings of tomorrow.

But the glitzy architecture in the city centre distracts from another reality. On the edges of Singapore, some 400,000 migrant workers live in starkly different conditions to the fancy buildings they help construct and maintain. Many workers are housed in dormitories built by profit-seeking operators that meet state requirements to the letter but are hardly liveable. The need to provide a minimum of 4.5 m2 of living space per dorm resident, offer a toilet facility for every 15 residents and meet the needs of their cost-sensitive employers equals drab industrial housing, where up to 20 workers are housed in a room packed to the ceiling with double-decker beds.

➜ Read the full essay on FRAME

30 Years of Conservation: A Lifelong Commitment

Conservation is a lifelong commitment, says Dr Richard Helfer who still has a soft spot for his first conservation/restoration project – Raffles Hotel.

Walk past Raffles Hotel today and one is struck by its grand façade with a welcoming cast-iron portico that harks back to the early 20th century. But what completes this historic view along Beach Road are four vintage street lamps in front of the Grand Old Lady of Singapore.

“We specially brought them in from Charlottenburg, Berlin, as part of the conservation, restoration and redevelopment of Raffles Hotel and Arcade from 1989 to 1991,” says Dr Richard Helfer.

“We had these conceptual models (of the hotel) and we knew what the front would look like… yet we thought that something did not look right,” recalls Richard. He oversaw the project and Raffles Hotel for 14 years as Founding Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Raffles International Hotels & Resorts and Executive Director and Chairman of Raffles Hotel.

Typical modern street lights would not fit what he and his team expected to become “the most photographed view in Singapore”. Armed with an early photograph of the hotel showing the desired street lamps, Richard went hunting for lamps similar to those that once stood outside of the hotel at the turn of the century and located them in Berlin.

He had to convince the German city’s mayor to sell four of the lamps, which up to this time were restricted to his city and then seek approval from the Public Utilities Board in Singapore to make an exception.

The lamps were not required by the conservation guidelines for Raffles Hotel. However, Richard went through all the trouble because he was convinced that such details in the immediate streetscape were important in contributing to the aura and experience of Raffles Hotel.

“When you do proper conservation and restoration of a building, you need to have a clear vision,” he says. “Our goal was to create something that Singaporeans and visitors could experience as an important relevant component of the history of Singapore and a national icon for Singaporeans to be proud of.”

➜ Read the full story in 30 years of conservation in Singapore since 1989

30 Years of Conservation: Science of Restoration

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.”

➜ Read the full story in 30 years of conservation in Singapore since 1989