The gazetting of parts of Changi Prison as the 72nd national monument would gratify all who champion saving our national heritage. There was a danger that an important chapter of Singapore's wartime and early independence history would be lost when much of the original Changi Prison made way for a new prison complex in 2004.
However, key architectural features were retained: the entrance gate, 180m of the prison wall, and two corner turrets.
Their gazetting, which has taken quite a while since it was signalled by the authorities in 2004, acknowledges the public sentiment associated with the trials of a formative generation that suffered during the Japanese Occupation and the anti-colonial struggle. To the passage of time, it pays the homage of visual memory.
The gazetting of Changi Prison's historical features is an instance of how heritage has to be construed broadly. It involves not only what is grand but also what is not. The austere facade of a prison could hardly be considered beautiful, but it does fall within the official remit of identifying monuments that are worthy of preservation because of their historic, cultural, traditional, archaeological, architectural, artistic or symbolic significance and national importance.
Sadly, the old National Library did not make the cut, but misgivings over its demolition showed that public association with a structure goes beyond its architectural value. Since preservation needs to be matched with promotion, adequate public access to the preserved parts of the old prison is needed. Just as important is communicating the significance of preserved places, so that visitors see their value as national monuments.