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Loke chee meng
Friday, May 16, 2014

Singapore, Mailbox

Conserve only the buildings worth conserving

The Straits Times | Loke chee meng | Friday, May 16, 2014

The facade of the 38-storey Pearl Bank Apartments in the Outram area. It was Singapore’s tallest residential building when it was completed in 1976.

SINGAPORE - Ideally, buildings representative of every era should be conserved ("Architects keen on conservation status for Pearl Bank"; last Thursday).

However, the decision to do so must be based on a critical examination of the buildings' worthiness in all aspects. A decision to preserve a bad structure is no better than a decision to demolish a good one.

Did the 1970s produce much architecture worthy of preservation? Many view these monolithic Brutalist structures of the era as eyesores.

Previously, when buildings like the art deco-style Singapore Improvement Trust flats in Tiong Bahru were conserved, this was hardly the opinion.

Buildings barely 40 years in age have yet to stand the test of time. We still have not come of age to judge their true merit objectively. Many involved in their design and creation are still alive, and we cannot rule out the element of personal attachment that today's architectural community holds for these buildings.

In contrast, how passionate were these voices of conservation when a far more historical pre-war skyscraper like the Cathay building was razed in recent years?

The 1970s began an era of widespread indiscriminate destruction of our built heritage from over a century ago. We may soon be conserving the very buildings that replaced our more illustrious monuments. This is an injustice to the lost monuments and lowers our conservation benchmark.

The premature proposal to conserve such buildings smacks of a desperate attempt to make amends for the past mistakes of demolishing more worthy structures. This is a distraction for conservationists as there are still buildings of greater historical value facing the threat of destruction today.

This article was published on May 14 in The Straits Times.

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