Old Singapore Poly home may be conserved

The Bestway Building near Shenton Way was designed by colonial architecture firm Swan and Maclaren.
The Bestway Building near Shenton Way was designed by colonial architecture firm Swan and Maclaren.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

1958 building used to house first school of architecture

SINGAPORE - A 1958 modernist building in Tanjong Pagar that used to house Singapore's first school of architecture could be safe from the wrecking ball.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Singapore Land Authority (SLA) told The Straits Times that the Bestway Building near Shenton Way - the former site of Singapore Polytechnic - is "being studied for conservation".

Their response comes after design professional Liu Zhenghao, who works in the building, wrote to the ST Forum this week expressing concern that it would be demolished. Mr Liu, 32, said his office was served an eviction notice, and that he had seen workers conducting soil tests nearby.

The URA and SLA said Bestway Properties, the building's master tenant, was informed last year that its lease will not be extended after it expires on Nov 30 this year.

The building, which will be returned to the State, sits on land zoned as a reserve site under the URA's Master Plan 2014. That means that the land parcel's specific use has yet to be determined.

Architects and heritage experts have been calling for the building, designed by colonial architecture firm Swan and Maclaren, to be conserved for some time now.

Meanwhile, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be working in the area from the first quarter of next year to relocate the existing Shenton Way Bus Terminal along Keppel Road to a plot of land near the Bestway Building.

The new bus terminal will be ready in 2017, and have additional facilities such as a canteen and passenger service centre.

An LTA spokesman said a single- storey structure within the Bestway compound will be demolished "to facilitate the relocation". But the building will not be affected by the relocation of the bus terminal.

Immediate past president of the Singapore Institute of Architects Theodore Chan said the Bestway Building represents a key milestone in Singapore's education history. "It was Singapore's first architecture school and also an outstanding piece of architecture. It can easily be adapted and assimilated into new developments in the area."

The heritage community has also called for the authorities to provide more certainty on the fate of other nearby historic structures.

These include the Keramat Habib Noh shrine and Haji Mohd Salleh Mosque; the Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple - one of the oldest Hakka institutions in Singapore; the remnants of a Parsi burial site from 1828; and part of a former fort on Mount Palmer.

The shipping terminals nearby will be developed into the Greater Southern Waterfront in future.

Singapore Heritage Society's honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua believes there should be "transparent consultations on what the plans are for the area".

He said: "Impact assessments should be conducted to be clear on the heritage significance of the site, to establish the sort of heritage mitigation that will need to be carried out. Nobody seems to know the future of the building and the site."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Old S'pore Poly home may be conserved'. Print Edition | Subscribe