Footprints of history enhance city skyline

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 August, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 August, 1996, 12:00am

Old world charm is safe in Singapore, where historic landmarks are not sacrificed for profit but are instead sensitively woven into the city's futuristic vision.

Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam and Singapore River are four neighbourhoods which have been declared conservation areas and are now being restored. Already 5,315 historic buildings have been protected by legislation.

More than 1,000 have been restored and plans are in place to repair another 2,000. So far, 33 landmarks have been declared national monuments.

'Conservation planning is an overall part of planning strategy,' a spokesman at the Urban Redevelopment Authority said.

'The main objective is to retain Singapore's multi-cultural heritage while blending old and new developments.' But architectural conservation is not just an expensive, aesthetic exercise. It can be adapted to pay dividends and some restoration programmes have even fuelled commercial booms.

Boat Quay, once a rundown area, has become the nightlife centre of Singapore.

Chinatown is a tourist attraction and so is the Raffles Hotel.

This year, one of the best-known architectural landmarks, the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, was re-opened following a S$100 million (about HK$546 million) restoration as an arts centre called CHIJMES.

It also houses an international auction house, art gallery, old-style shops and alfresco restaurants in a sunken forecourt, serving food from California, Italy, France, Mongolia and China.

'It will provide an excellent venue for classical music concerts and operas.

In addition, the chapel, regarded as one of the finest examples of 19th century Gothic architecture left standing in Asia, will be used to stage plays and musicals,' a spokesman for developers CHIJMES Investments said.

The chapel and its stained glass windows have been returned to their original splendour and, apart from being a stage for concerts, it will also be a venue for weddings, complete with a one-stop gift centre selling flowers, jewellery and wedding accessories.

The company is also negotiating with an innovative American theatre company to open a restaurant-theatre to stage operas and unusual theme parties.

Also restored on the site, next to Raffles Hotel, is the 150-year-old Caldwell House, the oldest free-standing home in Singapore. It is now home to an art gallery and international auction house.

Another major restoration project to be completed this year involved the conversion of St Joseph's Institution, a former Catholic boys' school, into the new Singapore Art Museum.

Built around the turn of the century, its classical columns, archways and silver dome have been restored at a cost of US$21 million over the past three years.

The museum, with 13 galleries converted from former classrooms, now has state-of-the-art amenities and houses the national art collection.

The Commissioner for Singapore in Hong Kong, See Chak Mun, said: 'Any city is lifeless without its past.

'Singapore is not like Hong Kong, where people are even talking about changing the name of Victoria Park, and there are very few colonial monuments left. We believe in preserving our history.'