Commentary: How do we decide which buildings are worth conserving?

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SINGAPORE: The conservation status plans for Golden Mile Complex (GMC) has been extremely well received by the conservation circle. 

This is a landmark decision for heritage conservation in Singapore as it opens a new page in our efforts to preserve significant architectural heritage. 

Particularly, since GMC is a strata-titled property, the gazetting of this substantial private property for conservation while given enough development incentives is indeed trailblazing locally and even regionally. 

As the first project of its kind, we might want to consider the framework in which this decision was made and how the community can embrace the framework objectively. 

Conservation is value-based, it is about passing on heritage of significance to future generations. The buildings that are preserved are identity markers of society’s achievements that community in the future can be proud of or debate over. 

READ: Golden Mile Complex to be proposed for conservation, incentives will be offered: URA

READ: Commentary: Conserving Golden Mile Complex is a paradigm shift for Singapore architecture

Architecture conservation is primarily a sociocultural endeavour. Historic buildings are conserved for their intrinsic role in the development of the society and community, and not just for the technical or aesthetic value of the architecture. 

However, much has to be done to convince the current generation that a rigorous assessment process had been carried out in conservation decisions to ascertain the value of heritage for the community to buy in.

Golden Mile CNA Insider 18 home

The long corridors of the complex used to be a child’s playground. 

This is fundamental in the conservation process. There are three pillars in value-based conservation assessment recognised internationally: Historical, social and architectural value. 

In the case of GMC, a great deal of research and advocacy went on behind the scenes: The Singapore Heritage Society, International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Singapore and International Committee on Documentation and Conservation of Buildings (DoCoMoMo) Singapore had been at the forefront in advocating the conservation of modernist buildings in Singapore. 

Likewise, architectural students in NUS and elsewhere had been exploring the conserved and reused future of GMC.  

HOW THE GOLDEN MILE COMPLEX WAS DESIGNED

To begin with, all buildings and urban planning are products of the historical and cultural development of a society. Urban and architecture designs reflect the context of the society and contribute to the national history in her development.

In the early 1960s, Singapore went through a difficult time with much political turmoil. However, with independence in 1965, the new nation looked towards an exciting future with a new identity. 

READ: Commentary: We mourn the loss of Robinsons because it was a key piece of our childhood

It is in this context that the Government sought a new planning, urban design and architectural vision to usher in the new era of self-confidence and nationhood. 

The result was the plan to develop the eastern section of Beach Road into the…



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