Reconsider demolition of former S'pore Poly building

I work at Bestway Building (formerly the Singapore Polytechnic building) in Prince Edward Road, which is facing demolition.

I have been tracking the development plans for the site, which also includes the Hock Teck See Temple and Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque in Palmer Road, for a number of years. There has been no information from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and its Master Plan 2014 shows that the area remains a reserve site.

Civil society groups are often told to engage the planners at the Master Plan stage, rather than react when the bulldozers roll in.

But in the face of information asymmetry, there is hardly room for engagement.

In the last few months, I have seen people doing soil investigations, and my office has been served an eviction notice.

Furthermore, a National Heritage Board plaque indicating that the building was formerly the Singapore Polytechnic building was removed from the side entrance.

I question the facility to unilaterally retract the heritage value of a building without a published impact assessment.

The building is significant because it housed Singapore's first polytechnic, which was the first institution to provide technical education in South-east Asia.

It pre-dates the independence of Singapore and should be seen in the same light as the Singapore Improvement Trust flats.

From a personal standpoint, I very much appreciate the site's laidback atmosphere, where one can enjoy open-air casual dining similar to the Satay Club, and its own forest in the backyard, all right in the heart of the city. The diversity of flora and fauna is also remarkable - dogs, water hens, squirrels, monitor lizards and kingfishers can all be found here.

From an urban design perspective, even if the site is developed, there is great potential for the existing buildings to be incorporated as part of a high-rise development, much like South Beach in City Hall.

The tangle of quirky buildings - a former technical institute, Chinese temple and mosque - can be commercially appealing propositions, and will lend uniqueness to the new Central Business District, as well as dovetail well with the future civic quarter, encompassing the Singapore Conference Hall and upcoming Chinese Cultural Centre.

It would be a shame if everything was white-washed.

Liu Zhenghao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Reconsider demolition of former S'pore Poly building'. Print Edition | Subscribe