Loss of Architectural Identity in Singapore

Italy?
Renaissance Architecture.

What about England?
They have Colonial Architecture.

But when it comes to Singapore, people do not have a definite answer. Indeed, there are a few colonial buildings left like The National Gallery and Victoria Concert Hall. Caught in the mix, there are also traditional Peranakan Shophouses along Emerald Hill and Koon Seng Road. Bits of Islamic Architecture through Sultan Mosque and Modern Architecture exquisitely showcased through Moshe Safdie’s ArtScience Museum and Jewel Changi Airport. Truth be told, the architecture in Singapore resembles the local dish –rojak– a dish mixed with ingredients and condiments of your own choice. But looking back at Singapore’s history, maybe this might not be a bad thing after all.

To briefly summarise Singapore’s history, the British had colonised Singapore in 1810s and separated the villagers based on their race: Chinatown district for the Chinese, Arab Street for the Arabs and Geylang for the Malays. This gave birth to architecture that was specific to each culture, inadvertently providing Singapore with an array of architectural styles.

In the recent years, the construction of more high-rise residential buildings by the Housing Development Board (HDB) also came the gradual loss of Singapore’s Architectural identity. The need to maximise land use for public housing was obliviously compensated with homogenous designs repeatedly used project after project. Over time, the once rich architecture had been demolished and homogenous homes now occupy our landscape today. Even with regulations to ‘conserve’ traditional homes, these conservation efforts are mainly driven by the monetary value that they bring. It is clear that Singapore views monetary value above unique architecture when in fact, unique architecture brings monetary value while contributing to our national identity.

This is the reality Singaporeans are forced to face today. When asked about their own country’s Architectural Identity, people will speak highly of Marina Bay Sands or Jewel, both by Safdie Architects, led by the Israeli Moshe Safdie himself. Architectural Identity is a phrase that captures the uniqueness of a certain place. For a country that takes tremendous pride in a multiracial community, Singapore should in fact have one of the richest Architecture in the world as a reflection of these races.

“Singaporean Architects have to take charge and be the ones to redefine the architecture in their own country.”

Many critics and lecturers say it is too late to rebuild Singapore’s Architectural Identity. Nonetheless, we have to try. Singaporean Architects have to take charge and be the ones to redefine the architecture in their own country. Only then would other members in the design industry continue this path. As an incoming architecture undergraduate student, I can only hope that in 20 years time, we are surrounded by a vast presence of unique architecture with the multiracial influences that makes Singapore, Singapore. 

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