"Nothing is done in vain because even if I cannot save the buildings, at the very least we have a thorough documentation of them in photographs to help us remember our follies," ~ Darren Soh PHOTO: CY KONG
If you come across a bespectacled man taking photos in an old housing estate, chances are it's photographer Darren Soh in action.
The 42-year-old runs his own studio and spends his time documenting Singapore's built landscape. The bulk of his work is architectural photography, capturing new buildings for architects, engineers, builders and developers.
He is also known among his peers for photographing old buildings, some of which have already been torn down. Mr Soh has an ongoing exhibition at Objectifs, titled Before It All Goes, that captures buildings from Singapore's early independent days, including Tanglin Halt housing estate, Pearl Bank Apartments and People's Park Complex.
"I don't draw a line between capturing new buildings and old ones, because at the current replacement cycles of our buildings, new buildings that I photographed a decade ago might very well be earmarked for redevelopment in another 20 to 30 years," says Mr Soh. "I see the paid work that I do photographing new buildings as a large part of this documentation of our built landscape."
He began capturing Singapore's built landscape in 2004. "I returned to my first home in Commonwealth Close to take photos, and it was then I realised how quickly Singapore was changing," he says. "I feel a lot of our older buildings that are not conserved need to be systematically and properly photographed so that they can be remembered should they not stand the test of time."
He also realised the need to try and save some of Singapore's modernist icons, such as Golden Mile Complex and People's Park Complex, because they were built at a time when the country was a newly independent nation finding its footing on the world stage.
Big Splash, 2006
Queenstown Cinema and Bowl PHOTOS: DARREN SOH
"Unfortunately many of these shining examples are now either going to be demolished or being put on collective sale, on the road to demolition," he explains. "I feel that this will create a state of national amnesia, where we will be missing a huge gap in our built history because we have many conserved pre-war and colonial buildings but only a handful of post-independent buildings have been gazetted."
His exhibition has garnered interest not only from historians, heritage groups and architects but also from the general public. "Judging from the people who have come for the exhibition and emails and messages I've been receiving, it appears that many people do care that their memories and childhood spaces are being destroyed in the name of progress," says Mr Soh.
Despite having photographed well over 100 buildings, Mr Soh is in a race against time. "I'm not exaggerating when I say that destruction, demolition and development are all happening in multiple sites, at the same time," he notes.
He hopes that with engagement and education from the ground up, policymakers will realise that there is value in these modern buildings beyond just letting them be sold to the highest bidder for redevelopment.
He is aware that buildings will eventually have to be torn down, but doesn't feel the many hours of photography will go to waste. "Nothing is done in vain because even if I cannot save the buildings, at the very least we have a thorough documentation of them in photographs to help us remember our follies," he adds.
Before It All Goes: Architecture From Singapore's Early Independence Years, is on till Sept 29, at Objectifs, 155 Middle Road. Opening hours from Tues to Sat, 12pm to 7pm, Sun, 12pm to 4pm. Admission is free.
- Singapore Architecture