In Singaporeans’ minds, when we talk about adaptive reuse for heritage buildings, it’s always been about colonial buildings: City Hall, the Supreme Court and shophouses.
But there’s also another part of this conversation – what we do with post-independence buildings built by local architects who understood local, historical contexts and were fuelled by that aspiration of nation-building.
These examples of Modernist and Postmodernist architecture were built in the ’60s and ’70s, such as Pearl Bank Apartments, Golden Mile Complex and Golden Mile Tower, which houses The Projector.
718: The total number of units housed within Golden Mile Complex’s 16 floors.
Today’s architecture lacks the same spirit as these buildings, and it’s not something you can ascribe monetary value to. What we’re coming up against is real estate market prices too steep for a developer to come in and risk adaptive reuse. Something of that scale has simply never been done.
And this is a regional issue. Many of the countries are post-colonial, and that’s very different from, say, Germany, which has long been conserving all of its Bauhaus and Brutalist architecture. Here, there’s a very distinct break between colonial and post-colonial architecture, and colonial architecture is more accepted as being precious.
This perspective first has to shift to include a celebration of local architects, followed by conservation legislation. Many successful, large-scale adaptive reuse projects have largely been top- down driven. But there’s an alternative way to approach adaptive reuse, and that is bottom-up.
That’s what we are trying to do at The Projector. It’s a cinema and a community conceived as a platform for all sorts of independent cultural endeavours. It was also an experiment to see if we could seed something in one of these old complexes and, over time, change the image of the building.
“In this part of the world, we still place a lot of value on the new and shiny. Fewer people want to live in a repurposed old building with slightly older architecture”
Take the Brunswick Centre in London, for example. It now has an arthouse cinema, restaurants and residences. For the longest time, it was seen as dodgy because it was run-down. When the developer made minor modifications, one of the biggest being repainting the whole thing from drab, dull grey-brown to white, it immediately lightened up the atmosphere. With some decent street furniture and landscaping, a new buzz enveloped the place. Now, it would be hard to find anyone willing to sell you a flat.
In this part of the world, we still place a lot of value on the new and shiny. Fewer people want to live in a repurposed old building with slightly older architecture. I don’t know if we’ve made a difference with The Projector, but every action is about forwarding a conversation.
Illustrations by Kouzou Sakai
This article was originally published in the September 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine