Why It Matters

Dialogue key to conservation

After a public outcry and more than a year of deliberation, the authorities will now retain a larger portion of the conserved Ellison Building in Selegie, which stands as evidence of early Jewish presence in the area. This has been seen as a victory for Singapore's heritage landscape.

Under the revised plan, just one, instead of three sections of the building's curved corner fronting Bukit Timah Road, will be demolished and rebuilt due to the construction of the North-South Corridor.

The section bearing the cupola will be retained. Other historic elements, such as the original timber window frames and the metal nameplate, will be removed and stored for future reinstatement.

Built in 1924, the building at the junction of Selegie Road and Rochor Canal Road was gazetted for conservation in 2008. In August 2016, news broke of its partial demolition and reconstruction.

The heritage community questioned the efficacy of a conservation gazette if it could be so easily overridden. They argued that reconstruction was "the falsification of historical artefacts".

They urged a rethink of the plan to tear down a significant chunk of a heritage structure which the Urban Redevelopment Authority had described as a building that bears "social importance in reminding us of the communities that settled here".

Eventually, the authorities engaged conservation and engineering specialists to advise on how best to minimise the impact of the upcoming tunnel works on the building. They also said they would discuss with heritage groups before finalising plans.

The incident reflects how development decisions should not be made in isolation of heritage stakeholders and experts, and that consultation with them can result in positive outcomes.

Ultimately, conservation and preservation can go hand in hand with development. A consultative approach will ensure that Singapore's historical landmarks can be better protected and retained as authentically as possible for posterity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2018, with the headline 'Dialogue key to conservation'. Print Edition | Subscribe