Strange hues spoil views on Emerald Hill

URA director of conservation management Kelvin Ang (above) with home owners June Chia and Richard Helfer, who is also vice-president of the Emerald Hill Conservation Association. While both are in favour of maintaining a pastel palette for the herita
URA director of conservation management Kelvin Ang (above) with home owners June Chia and Richard Helfer, who is also vice-president of the Emerald Hill Conservation Association. While both are in favour of maintaining a pastel palette for the heritage shophouses, not all there are against the use of unusual colours.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Shophouse owners vote to retain traditional colours in URA survey, after more units seen in 'alien' hues

Some owners of Emerald Hill's historic shophouses have voted to maintain a traditional pastel palette across the facades of their estate, in the face of emerging "alien" colours such as black and neon orange.

Dark monotones and shades, as well as neon and metallic colours, are "alien to the character of Emerald Hill and should not be allowed", said most home owners polled in an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) survey.

These results were shared with home owners in a letter sent out by the URA on Aug 20. The owners of 55 conservation properties, out of 126 in the area, had participated in the poll last September.

One owner, retired engineer June Chia, 62, believes a pastel palette "can help highlight the shophouses' ornate motifs and allow their character to shine through".

Property owners were also against allowing mural paintings on the side walls and end gable - the triangular section of wall at the end of a pitched roof. This is even though URA conservation guidelines allow these, pending approval.

The historic Emerald Hill stretch opposite Orchard Central is home to residential terrace houses which feature Chinese baroque, 1900s architecture. Wealthy Peranakans used to live in the homes, which were designed by the late prominent architect R.T. Rajoo. About 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the residents there today are owners, with the remaining homes tenanted.

Presently, there are no mandated colours for conservation property owners to follow, but they are encouraged to follow URA guidelines provided online.

Only certain old buildings, such as Gedung Kuning, a yellow mansion in Kampong Glam, and black-and-white bungalows, must adhere to these schemes.

The survey is an initiative between URA and the Emerald Hill Conservation Association to "develop an understanding" on what home owners found to be desirable colours and painting practices, under a larger plan to reinstate the neighbourhood's historic beauty.

The association's vice-president, home owner and hotelier Richard Helfer, told The Straits Times that "it became a tipping point when, one day, we realised that something needed to be done".

He added: "Most of the people bought homes here not only because of property values and location, but also because it is Singapore's foremost heritage estate from the early 20th century and they wished to be part of it."

The next step for the URA will be to work with the home owners through the conservation association to define the preferred paint schemes. The association aims to do so by year end.

But not all the residents there are against the use of unusual colours.

Ms Amanda Ferguson, 47, creative director of Singaporean art and design company 50 Merlions, said she is "not for prescribing a specific palette". The brightly coloured shophouses are sometimes more photographed than others, she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Strange hues spoil views on Emerald Hill'. Print Edition | Subscribe