Archive for the ‘Publications’ Category

Research: Cultural Heritage of Singapore’s Over-100-Years-Old Kinship-Based Clan Associations

Saturday, November 13th, 2021

In 2019, the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) invited the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) to run a joint call for their Chinese Arts and Culture Research Grant, open exclusively to members of SHS. The grant was awarded to Lynn Wong Yuqing and Dr Lin Chia Tsun for the project, “Cultural heritage of Singapore’s over-100-years-old kinship-based clan associations”and the project was completed in March 2021.

Download the key findings report here.

The researchers presented their findings in two talks at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre on 13 and 14 Nov 2021. The talks can be viewed online at SCCC’s Facebook Page.

Policy Analysis Exercise: “Conserving our modern built heritage amidst collective sale fever: Addressing gaps in the collective sales process” (2019)

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

Singapore Heritage Society was the client organisation for this Policy Analysis Exercise by Masters in Public Policy students from the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP). The report was completed in March 2019 and can be downloaded in full here.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Singapore Heritage Society.

“Conserving our modern built heritage amidst collective sale fever: Addressing gaps in the collective sales process” (March 2019)
by Foo Mingyee, Monnaphat Jondeepaisal (Sai), Regina Marie Lee and Xu Qiaoqiao

Executive Summary

The collective sale of sites plays an important role in urban redevelopment in land-scarce Singapore. While collective sales are seen as a market-efficient strategy that benefits both residents and developers, little attention is paid to other aspects such as the historical, architectural or even socio-cultural elements of the building and its surroundings. In the last year, several prominent modernist landmarks such as Pearl Bank Apartments, People’s Park Complex and Golden Mile Complex (GMC) have been targeted as prime sites for collective sale, with Pearl Bank Apartments sold and slated for demolition soon. These three buildings are modernist icons highlight the achievements of local architects in Singapore’s post-independence era. GMC, a mixed-used commercial and residential building and enclave for the Thai community in Singapore, is used as the focal case of study.

Through our research, we studied the various policy instruments used to facilitate collective sales and identified the gaps in the process that allow for the premature destruction of buildings with high heritage and socio-cultural value. We noted that profit is the key factor driving the collective sales process. However, some users mourn the loss of socio-cultural ties and community roots with the sale of the site. Our fieldwork also highlights the disenfranchised role of tenants who have no say in the collective sale of a building despite their deep connection to the community and place. Our secondary research shone light on the various ways that urban redevelopment can occur without the necessary demolition of buildings and other strategies to keep the original communities intact. Furthermore, the research also brings out the various ways that buildings can be given a new lease of life without complete demolition, through adaptive reuse and stronger placemaking.

In view of our findings, we propose several policy recommendations to improve the process of collective sale and to prevent any unnecessary demolition by considering different forms of conservation. We propose a two-pronged strategy, considering the roles of the government and SHS, before a collective sale and after it occurs.

Before a strata-titled building is sold, we propose that the government can:
1. Tighten the criteria for collective sale of buildings;
2. Encourage better maintenance of older buildings;
3. Encourage representation of tenants and minority owners in the CSC;
while SHS can
1. Organize heritage awareness campaigns and encourage relevant stakeholders to prevent
the sale;
2. Promote and guide developers’ use of Heritage Impact Assessment, possibly through a

Should collective sale of a site occur, the government can pursue the following suggestions:
1. Encourage placemaking and adaptive reuse of a site by incentivising developers under the Strategic Development Incentive scheme, thereby conserving the site;
2. Mandate Heritage Impact Assessment for specific sites to mitigate the loss of heritage
while SHS can
1. Work with stakeholders of a site to highlight the heritage and cultural value and viability
of adaptive reuse and placemaking.

These recommendations emphasize the importance of the government’s collaboration with other stakeholders, such as developers and SHS, in improving the collective sales process. While there may be greater financial costs, this ensures a more holistic and equitable collective sales process that addresses the tangible as well as intangible value of a building and its interaction with its immediate community. Conservation through adaptive reuse is not a new concept in Singapore, but has mainly been limited to sites owned by the state or few owners. This project thus proposes changes to the collective sales process to encourage the conservation of strata-titled buildings.

Too Young to Die: Position Paper on Modernist Icons

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

SHS has released our Position Paper on the 3 Modernist Icons of Singapore: Pearl Bank Apartments, People’s Park Complex, and Golden Mile Complex. Download the paper here.


August Roots Newsletter

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Available online for reading

Policy Analysis Exercise: “Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in Chinatown: Threats & Strategies” (2017)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Singapore Heritage Society was the client organisation for this Policy Analysis Exercise by Masters in Public Policy students from the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Policy (LKYSPP). The report was completed in December 2017 and can be downloaded in full here.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Singapore Heritage Society.


Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in Chinatown: Threats & Strategies
by Alisa Toh Qian Wen, Chee Wei Jia, Lai Jian Qin, Norman Maswari Aziz-Boey, Chester Matthias Tan Han Feng, Vanessa Chiam Hui Ting (Master in Public Policy, 2018)

Executive Summary:

Chinatown, like other historical districts in Singapore such as Kampong Glam, Little India and Boat Quay, has a rich history and cultural identity. These districts have been the subject of conservation efforts by the Government, but they primarily extend to the physical conservation of buildings and structures. In recent times, there has been commentary from certain segments of the public that Chinatown has lost much of its social fabric and is increasingly catering to the tastes of tourists. Also, it has been reported that property investors have been buying up conservation shophouses such as those in Kreta Ayer due to their perceived potential to appreciate in value, resulting in tenancy changes. All of this has led to a sense that Chinatown is gradually losing the character and vibrancy that it once had. This raises the question of whether conservation policy should go further to also protect other intangible aspects of Chinatown’s heritage and culture, such as practices, trades, knowledge and cultural spaces.

In the course of our research, a refrain that often emerged was that the intangible cultural heritage of Chinatown was under threat due to 1) a perceived loss of community spirit, 2) a perceived loss of authenticity, and 3) a highly competitive real estate market in Chinatown which has resulted in the displacement of some traditional trades and businesses. With respect to the last factor, we were unable to obtain sufficiently representative quantitative data to make specific conclusions about the property market and the displacement of traditional trades in particular. Nevertheless, our qualitative research shows that this has been experienced at least by some business owners in Kreta Ayer. In addition, it has also been pointed out that interactions between government agencies and other stakeholders such as business owners need to be improved. To address these issues, there needs to be, in the long term, a revival of interest from the general Singaporean community in Chinatown not just as a space, but as a place. Without an interest in the heritage of Chinatown, there is no demand generated for the goods,services and experiences in Chinatown, which not only affects the level of community participation in Chinatown, but also the survivability and renewal of businesses there. In the shorter term, there is a need to help traditional businesses remain relevant so that they can enhance their competitiveness and continue to thrive in Chinatown.

To this end, we propose three broad policy measures to be taken by the relevant agencies:
1) Setting up a dedicated statutory heritage trust (by the Government, spearheaded by Chinatown’s lead agency, the Singapore Tourism Board);
2) Improving the commercial viability of traditional trades and businesses (by the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Heritage Board, with the involvement of business owners and the Chinatown Business Association);
3) Revitalising Chinatown to attract the interest of youths (by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee, or the statutory heritage trust proposed above, with the involvement of the Ministry of Education, private organisations and others).

While we consider that the setting up of a heritage trust would be the most comprehensive proposal, we recognise that its successful implementation would likely require extensive consultations and feasibility studies, making it the least likely option to be implemented within the short-term. Thus, our other proposals for improving the commercial viability of traditional businesses and making Chinatown more attractive to youths, are measures that the relevant agencies could embark on simultaneously or alternatively.

Policy Analysis Exercise: “Striking the balance between heritage conservation and urban renewal in Singapore: Advocating for a mandatory Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) Regime” (2015)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Singapore Heritage Society was the client organisation for this Policy Analysis Exercise of the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Policy (LKYSPP). The report was completed in December 2015, and can be downloaded in full here.
Striking the balance between heritage conservation and urban renewal in Singapore: Advocating for a mandatory Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) Regime

by Trent Ng (Master of Public Policy, 2016)

Executive Summary:

The rapid redevelopment of the urban landscape in Singapore since independence ha had a major impact on many sites of cultural and heritage value in Singapore. There is currently no regulatory or legal requirement for the government, private developers or individuals to conduct Heritage Impact Assessments (HIAs) on such sites before attempting to redevelop it or modify its land use. Consequently to date, many historical sites, buildings and monuments rich in culture and history have been razed in the name of modernisation and development without a proper assessment of the resulting loss of culture and heritage.

A mandatory HIA regime in Singapore would require an assessment of the impact on both tangible and intangible heritage whenever a site of heritage value is considered for redevelopment or change in land use. While this practice would lead to a greater awareness of objects of national heritage and enable better-informed decisions to be made regarding redevelopment, the corollary of a mandatory HIA regime would also mean higher public accountability and compromises, leading to potential delays, a drop in optimum economic efficiency, and potentially even sacrificing whole redevelopment projects in the protection of national heritage.

How can an autochthonous HIA regime be tailored for the Singapore context, such as to balance the need for heritage protection with Singapore’s insatiable obsession with urban renewal and redevelopment; a balancing act which has almost always been heavily tilted by national ideologies of pragmatism and economic rationalism?Surveying the standards and best practices of HIA as it is practiced around the world before focusing on the Hong Kong HIA model as one which Singapore can emulate, this PAE advocates the implementation of a mandatory HIA regime in Singapore, detailing recommendations for a comprehensive HIA.

Jalan-Jalan di Ubin – a guide to cultural heritage sites on Pulau Ubin

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Download our tour handbook for a brief introduction to the tour stops at Pesta Ubin 2017 (more…)

February Roots Newsletter

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Available online and in PDF for download

Bukit Brown Wayfinder and Self-Guided Tour

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Check out the microsite for our Bukit Brown Wayfinder, launched on 18 Nov 2017 (more…)

World War II @ Bukit Brown

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

This collection of stories, essays and poems looks at the impact of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore in the Second World War (1942-1945) from the perspective of those interred at Bukit Brown Cemetery. The highlights of the book are stories shared by descendants from family oral archives and albums of their ancestors, some of whom survived and others who perished, during the darkest chapters of Singapore’s history.

Bukit Brown remains the largest cemetery in Singapore for the war dead in situ, and buried with them are many untold stories of bravery, resilience, tragedy, survival and, amid the darkness, hope. The book offers new material and insights into the human tragedy of war as an act of commemoration, thereby adding another layer to the already vast literature available on WWII in Singapore.

“The stories have taken us to the Endau Settlement in Johor, to Taiping (Malaysia) and to the battlefields of Europe in ways so unexpected they took our breath away,” said Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, the co-editors of the book. “It is a slow and at times painful unraveling of family history, lost in memory but for the persistence of descendants. It has taken seven decades for some of these fragments to be pulled together, and we see this not as a one-off book but a first step in the difficult journey of “re-discovery” and “re-membering”. The narratives also re-affirm to us Singapore’s place in regional and global historical narratives. We hope it serves as a curtain raiser to 2017, the 75 Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.”

The stories are nested around essays— which provide context and background—written by the community of volunteers, who have come to be known as brownies under the banner of All Things Bukit Brown. They are neither historians nor academics but the editorial team conduct regular guided walks on site, which in themselves are learning journeys as they expand on their body of knowledge from engaging with descendants and a myriad web of networks including academics and historians.

“Bukit Brown has unexpectedly turned out to be a touchstone about the loss of heritage— tangible and intangible— in a Singapore eager to modernise and develop,” Chua Ai Lin, President of Singapore Heritage Society. “The book is an important evolution of the civil society movement to uphold Bukit Brown as a site of national significance, and illuminate one of its more fragile narrative threads. It brings together at once the strategic and personal importance of the site.”

About the Editors

Claire Leow, works in corporate communications with a background in journalism, both local and international. Claire was instrumental in co-curating with Jon Cooper—a war archaeologist who has been based in Singapore since 2011—“The Battlefield at Bukit Brown” guided walk, which has become a monthly staple in WW II history in Singapore. She has contributed chapters on the Railway Corridor and Bukit Brown in “Public Spaces in Urban Asia” (February 2014). Her CV includes more than two decades in journalism as correspondent and editor, principally at Business Times and Bloomberg news bureau chief for Bloomberg in Jakarta, and managing editor of the flagship Global-is-Asian magazine at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy where she edited a 12-chapter book as Associate Director of Research Dissemination.

Catherine Lim works freelance in broadcast media and the flexibility of her job allowed her to kickstart the blog with the first posts and function as the main editor. She co-ordinates requests for learning journeys for guided walks in Bukit Brown. In 2012, she produced, and was co-researcher and co-writer of an 8 part documentary series on Bukit Brown called “History from the Hills”. She is the co-ordinator for All Things Bukit Brown in a working committee representing civil society in discussions with the Ministry of National Development on curating artefacts from exhumed tombs within the grounds of Bukit Brown.

• • •

ISBN: 978-981-09-8370-3
Published: 2016
Dimension: 166mm x 240mm
Extent: 212 pages
Finish: Paperback

Published by Ethos Books and Singapore Heritage Society