There was good news for heritage and architecture devotees last week when three Singapore River bridges were gazetted as Singapore's 73rd national monument. There was also news that $15 million would be available to owners of national monuments to access for restoration purposes. In Singapore, where buildings were, at one time, bulldozed more often than not, any gesture at preservation is to be celebrated. The latest tranche of funding is the largest yet released by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth since the National Monuments Fund was introduced in 2008. Tranches of $11.8 million and $5 million were granted in 2015 and 2008 respectively. The increasing amount of the grants signals recognition that architectural treasures are expensive. But a look at the bottom line suggests that $15 million may not be adequate.
The restoration of the Cathedral Of The Good Shepherd in Queen Street, which was gazetted in 1973, took three years and cost $40 million. The church had to organise donation drives to fund the restoration, completed in 2016. Singapore's struggle to balance practicality with nostalgia means that some national monuments have had to be repurposed for commercial usage. The prime example is Chijmes, once a refuge for orphan girls, now a food and beverage hub. This is the Faustian bargain that heritage and architecture fans have to accept in land-scarce Singapore.