Conservation must go beyond face value

Changi Prison is undoubtedly an important historic site ("Parts of Changi Prison gazetted as national monument"; Feb 16).

Hence, it is regrettable that what is to be preserved is just a mere section of its perimeter wall.

The rest of the historic prison complex has been levelled, including key structures, such as its clock tower and blocks containing the prison cells where prisoners of war were incarcerated during World War II.

The wall by itself is merely a superficial representation of the prison's steeped history.

The true significance of Changi Prison lies in what went on behind the walls.

Preserving the prison complex would have been critical in telling a meaningful story of Changi.

Just imagine, for instance, how much less compelling the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland would be today if the Polish authorities had preserved only its main entrance.

Changi Prison's historical significance has long been recognised.

Instead of wholesale destruction of the complex - leaving just the entrance gate, wall and turrets - to make way for a new prison, the authorities could have tried harder to accommodate the original complex in the new plans.

Preserving the key structures would not have been so great a hindrance to redevelopment.

Of what value is a national monument if the integral parts of it are razed?

This is a disturbing trend.

The iconic Cathay Building was also demolished, leaving just the facade of its three-storey podium block, which is hardly significant by itself to be made a national monument.

Just what are we trying to commemorate and safeguard for future generations with such remnants?

It is unfortunate if this is the approach and attitude to conservation these days.

Loke Hoe Kit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2016, with the headline 'Conservation must go beyond face value'. Print Edition | Subscribe