Case for sensitive approach to maintaining monuments

Dr Yeo Kang Shua, architectural conservator and lecturer from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) campus, with a 3D model of a Chinese temple sculpture that was produced in collaboration with SUTD assistant professor Stylianos Dritsa
Dr Yeo Kang Shua, architectural conservator and lecturer from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) campus, with a 3D model of a Chinese temple sculpture that was produced in collaboration with SUTD assistant professor Stylianos Dritsas.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Today's article marks the end of The Straits Times' weekly Heritage Gems series on Singapore's 72 national monuments.

For more than a year, ST has shone the spotlight on the architecture of these monuments, as well as the people whose personal histories were intertwined with them.

The monuments range from the former Keng Teck Whay Building, previously home to a Hokkien Peranakan "secret society", to the Central Fire Station with its "blood-and-bandage" brickwork.

National monuments in Singapore are legally protected by the Preservation of Monuments Act. Any work on them must be approved by the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division under the National Heritage Board.

A structure's architectural merits, historical value and national significance are taken into consideration before it is gazetted as a national monument.

Dr Yeo Kang Shua, assistant professor of architectural history, theory and criticism at Singapore University of Technology and Design, said public consciousness about heritage is higher than it was five years ago. But more can be done to educate building owners and professionals on how to properly maintain these historical monuments.

"We need to acknowledge that in the building industry we don't have sufficient expertise. And the authorities need to provide leadership and guidance. For example, how to deal with historical bricks and timber," he said.

Monuments owned by community or religious groups might need more financial support and technical advice than those owned by commercial enterprises or the state. Dr Yeo said: "There's this perception that the upkeep of monuments is expensive, because a lot of people do not know how to maintain old buildings properly."

Maintaining a building using inappropriate contemporary methods could cause more damage.

Also, Dr Yeo said, contemporary building codes could be applied with more sensitivity so that national monuments remain safe but do not detract from our enjoyment of their heritage features.

Thus, it is important to have better dialogue between the authorities, building owners and consultants. "If it is a small building, do we really need to put up an exit light?"


Toh Wen Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2017, with the headline 'Case for sensitive approach to maintaining monuments'. Print Edition | Subscribe