The New Zealand Herald
Part of colonial past facing demolition
SINGAPORE: Bungalows to be razed in the name of progress
With their white-washed walls and black timber frames, Singapore’s ‘‘black-and-white’’ bungalows are the most distinctive architectural remnants of the city-state’s colonial past.
Built mostly between 1890 and 1950, the bungalows have broad verandas, stuccoed columns, high ceilings, tall shutter windows and wide, overhanging eaves to keep out the tropical heat.
Black and whites are among the most sought-after housing in Singapore, and soon they will be even harder to get as the Government plans to raze up to a third of the remaining bungalows to make way for an industrial park.
‘‘Singapore has very little to conserve in terms of heritage. It’s really unfortunate that they are going to demolish them,’’ said Uma Maheswaran Cheyyar Ramanathan, a visiting fellow at the architecture department at the National University of Singapore.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority estimates there are about 500 stateowned black and whites but the Singapore Land Authority estimates there are 700, a handful of which are privately owned.
The grandest black and whites are in Singapore’s prime districts. With rents of about S$20,000 ($16,700) a month, they typically house ambassadors or other highly paid expatriates.
But around Seletar Camp, a former British air base in out-of-the-way northern Singapore, a few hundred black and white bungalows are occupied mainly by Singaporeans and are rented out at about S$3000 a month.
Seletar Camp — where many streets have London names like Oxford St and Hyde Park Gate — is a unique part of Singapore’s architectural history and its village-style living provides a rare oasis of tranquillity in the frenetic city-state. But not for much longer. State-owned industrial landlord JTC Corp plans to knock down 174 of the 378 bungalows around Seletar to make way for an industrial park that will host aerospace design firms.
Seletar residents are bemoaning the imminent loss of their charming houses and spacious gardens amid towering old rain trees, so different from the Government-built housing blocks in which more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans live.
‘‘Singapore is now so crowded, we are not going to get this kind of space anywhere else,’’ said Manonmani James, 85, who has to vacate her bungalow by the end of next year.
Residents say the Government plan will destroy the close-knit community in Seletar, where residents leave front gates unlocked and allow their children to roam freely in the overgrown gardens. But they rule out any protest.
‘‘What are you going to do? The Government will stamp out the fire before it can even start,’’ one resident said.
Government-owned JTC says the new complex will create 10,000 jobs and expand Singapore’s aerospace sector by an estimated S$3.3 billion when it is completed in 2018.
‘‘We share the residents’ and public’s desire to retain as much of the architectural heritage and the environmental charm of Seletar as possible,’’ JTC said in an emailed reply to questions.
It added that 204 bungalows would be spared.
Razing landmarks to make way for development is common practice in Singapore, which has a population of 4.5 million on an area of just 700 sq km.
Although Singapore has preserved more of its colonial heritage than Hong Kong, critics say that too much has been lost and that the city-state keeps destroying valuable buildings.
The latest example is a plan to raze all but the facade of a 95-year-old NeoRenaissance-style bungalow in eastern Singapore.
The facade and porch will front a new condominium— an awkward mix that has led some to call the proposed block a ‘‘Frankenstein building’’.
‘‘I don’t know whether sometimes we are modernising too fast,’’ said Chan Yew Lih, an associate professor from the architecture department at the National University of Singapore.
‘‘A building reflects our country’s development. By retaining old buildings, you retain the memory of the place.’’ REUTERS