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Century-old shophouse in Orchard Road awarded a conservation award


(ST Photo: Desmond Wee)

The sensitive restoration of a century-old shophouse, near MacDonald House in Orchard Road, picked up one of the island's most prestigious conservation awards at the annual Architectural Heritage Awards on Monday (Oct 21).

Called Temasek Shophouse, the building which used to be a townhouse with apartments and shops, was the sole winner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) award for restoration.

The URA, which has been administering the award since 1995, said the building's original ornamentation and missing features were carefully restored, returning it as close to its original form as possible.

For instance, false ceilings at its five-footway were removed, drawing attention to its original double height columns.

Inside, a two-storey atrium now stands in the place of bulky escalators from the 1980s, introducing a new sense of spaciousness to the building, it said.

The 18-month restoration of the state property had been undertaken by lessee Temasek Trustees and architect Surbana Jurong Consultants.

The site is home to Temasek’s philanthropy arm and has space for its co-working partners, as well as a public arena on the ground level.

The award was announced by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, at an event which also marked the URA's 30-year conservation journey.

He spent much of his speech emphasising the importance of community partnerships and support in making the cityscape more diverse.v

On the award, Ms Yvonne Tay, director of Temasek Shophouse, said: "To take over an old conserved building and re-imagine it as something that can make an impact on Singapore's future, is something we are happy to be doing."

In his speech, Mr Lee noted that the authorities have taken a more inclusive and consultative approach to co-create and sustain Singapore's built heritage landscape.

For example, he highlighted the efforts of a group of Singapore Chinese Girls' School alumnae who conducted community workshops to put together a proposal to conserve their former campus at 37 Emerald Hill Road.

URA, which had already been studying the overall plans for the Orchard Road area, carefully considered the group's proposal as part of its review, he said.

The site's three oldest buildings are now conserved.

Mr Lee said Singapore's conservation journey can be traced back to as early as the 1960s when pioneer planners saw the importance of selectively and pragmatically protecting the island's built heritage.

He paid tribute to individuals such as Mr Alan Choe, the first general manager of the Urban Renewal Unit in the 1960s; Mrs Koh-Lim Wen Gin, who as a young architect led an urban design team in the 1970s to conserve low-rise historic districts in the city centre and made conservation a priority; and Mr Khoo Teng Chye, who later took up the role of chief executive and chief planner of URA.

Mr Lee added that then-Minister for National Development, Mr S. Dhanabalan, who was present at the event, had provided critical political support to make urban conservation a reality in 1989 when URA formalised its conservation programme and conserved more than 3,200 buildings in the districts of Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam, Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Cairnhill and Emerald Hill.

Mrs Koh-Lim, who also addressed event attendees at the URA's building in Maxwell Road, noted the challenges ahead of Singapore's conservation journey, such as the question of the future of Singapore's now rundown post-independent, modern architectural landmarks.

She urged for their retention and for them to be "reused and recycled" in the name of sustainability as they serve as markers of Singapore's progress. This was met with applause.

These buildings include Golden Mile Complex and People's Park Complex.

Mr Lee also recognised the efforts of URA's conservation partners such as public agency, the Singapore Tourism Board, and organisations such as the Singapore Heritage Society.

He said: "We have taken a more inclusive and consultative approach to co-create and sustain our built heritage landscape.

"We will continue to engage and collaborate deeply with the industry, community, and all Singaporeans to protect, sustain and enliven our built heritage for the next 30 years, and many more generations to come."

Written by Melody Zaccheus for The Straits Times.

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