Balancing various interests necessary in conservation

We thank Mr Loke Hoe Kit for his feedback on the gazetting of the Changi Prison entrance gate, wall and turrets as a national monument ("Conservation must go beyond face value"; last Saturday).

The National Heritage Board (NHB) gazetted the prison's three key architectural features - namely, the two corner turrets, the entrance gate and 180m of the prison wall - to commemorate the sacrifices of the prisoners of war incarcerated there during World War II.

Gazetting them as a national monument confers recognition of the facility's national significance, and highlights its history to the wider public.

Mr Loke cited the example of Auschwitz, which was preserved in its entirety.

While Auschwitz is a defunct concentration camp, Changi Prison has to continue functioning as a correction facility.

Retaining the original prison structure in its entirety would have stymied Changi Prison's provision of improved rehabilitation facilities and a more conducive environment for inmates.

In 2004, when a new prison complex had to be developed, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the then Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts worked closely to address concerns, including security, and determine how much of the original prison structure to preserve, given the prison's historical significance.

Hence, the key features of the old Changi Prison deemed most representative of the facility's history were identified for preservation.

In its work to preserve key historical sites and monuments, NHB works closely with site owners and development agencies to address their interests.

NHB also seeks to ensure that gazetted buildings are active spaces for present-day uses, so that they remain relevant to our current and future generations.

In land-scarce Singapore where there are often competing needs, this also enables NHB to pursue a sustainable strategy of physical preservation and commemoration.

The significance of gazetted sites and monuments lies in the stories and memories of the people who use and frequent them.

Beyond preserving physical structures, NHB also seeks to protect our intangible heritage through other means, such as documentation, research, education and community outreach.

NHB invites the participation of scholars, experts and the community in this collective effort of preserving our shared memories and heritage.

Jean Wee (Ms)


Preservation of Sites and Monuments Division

National Heritage Board

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Balancing various interests necessary in conservation'. Print Edition | Subscribe