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.”