An exhibit that highlights issues of heritage and conservation in SG

A Singapore modernist icon never fails to impress, as Dr Chua Ai Lin can attest.

“I went to the Golden Mile Complex in February,” recalls the executive director of the Singapore Heritage Society.

“There’s a stunning atrium with natural light and natural ventilation serving the offices. The building was cleverly designed with different spaces for shopping, office, residential and recreational (a swimming pool!) uses, but most people never get to see them.”

And it looks like more people probably won’t. “There’s an en bloc committee currently trying to gather the requisite approval from 80 per cent of owners for a collective sale,” she reveals.

Intrigued? This is just one of the things the upcoming exhibit, “Too Young To Die: Giving New Lease Of Life To Singapore’s Modernist Icons”, will tackle. Dr Chua, a Lead Resident of contemporary arts centre The Substation this year, is a co-presenter. Made up of images and documentary excerpts, among others, it will be held at The Substation Random Room from 21 August to 23 September 2018, Wednesday to Sunday, from 12 noon to 8pm.

Here are five good reasons why you shouldn’t miss it:

#1 You’ll get to know three Singapore modernist icons

They are People’s Park Complex, Golden Mile Complex and Pearl Bank Apartments.

#2 These modernist icons are important

“The exhibit will explain why they are so significant historically and architecturally. It will also show how there are alternative future possibilities for them, not only en bloc redevelopment,” shares Dr Chua.

#3 There are ways to help these modernist icons live on

“We will make recommendations for revisions to regulations and policies which are obstacles to their regeneration and conservation.”

#4 You’ll hear from people in the know

Dr Chua adds that one panel discussion will involve the architects William SW Lim (Golden Mile Complex) and Tan Cheng Siong (Pearl Bank Apartments) on 01 September 2018, while another (“Time is Up? A Panel On En Bloc And Singapore’s Modernist Icons”) will have a group of experts who’ll dig deeper into conservation and en bloc issues on 08 September 2018, from 4:30 to 6:30pm.

#5 You’ll see the modernist icons in a different light

She encourages visitors to join the site-based explorations and workshop. “These will help people understand and experience these buildings better.”

There’s one more thing she wants visitors to remember: “These are significant landmarks of the transformation of Singapore’s city centre from shophouses to modern skyscrapers. Their innovative architecture, which has been internationally praised, remains impressive today and is the work entirely of local Singapore talent,” she stresses.

“No post-independence, strata-titled, modernist buildings have been conserved in Singapore so far, but we have reached this crossroads now, and it’s time to make the effort to review existing policies and processes which might not be appropriate or adequate in this case.”

The exhibit tells visitors it’s not too late. “To give people hope that speaking up for modernist icons isn’t futile but might actually change something. Think back to the Old National Library, a modernist building we lost nearly 15 years ago to build a tunnel. Was the redevelopment worth it? Did we gain more than what we lost?”

Hopefully it’ll make people rethink of the words “conservation” and “heritage” as well, like she has.

“We used to think of conservation in terms of colonial-era buildings, or representing tradition such as places of worship, so the idea of our modernist buildings as heritage is something relatively new,” she says. “But even our 1970s modernist buildings will soon be 50 years old, and there are already numerous modernist buildings around the world designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.”

Will Singapore’s own soon come to that? Check out “Too Young To Die”. With the Singapore Heritage Society’s – and your – help, they just might.

The Substation is at 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936, tel: 65 6337 7535.