It’s impossible to talk about Singaporean architecture without recognising how this nation evolved from a country with a drastic shortage of housing and infrastructure to a thriving metropolis in the short span of just 50 years. The stringent planning behind this dramatic transformation remains distinct today – contemporary architecture embraces modernity, but is still pragmatic in its approach.
Older buildings such as People’s Park Complex and Golden Mile Complex stand as symbols of a young nation’s aspiration – an aspiration to environmental sustainability and economic development. It has to also take into account the site context, which includes the historical and cultural narratives of the buildings.
“Contemporary architecture embraces modernity, but is still pragmatic in its approach”
One of the approaches that can balance old and new is adaptive reuse. Conservation isn’t merely about turning a building in a prized district into a monument that prohibits commercial use or does not generate economic value – there can be many levels of intervention. Fullerton Bay Hotel is a great example of this, as it integrated a new building with the old by repurposing the historic Clifford Pier to become the hotel lobby.
Indeed, when done well, interventions increase land-use efficiency while effectively capturing the changing socio-economic constitution of our city. In this sense, architects can be advocates for conservation by proposing ways to adapt a building respectfully for contemporary use, and by acting as bridges between stakeholders to negotiate a solution acceptable to all. Today, changing societal needs mean that wellness and active ageing have become prime design intents. There is a focus on choreographing experiences that positively influence physical, emotional and spiritual health, and on creating spaces that encourage movement, social interaction and neighbourliness.
Looking ahead, we must keep exploring solutions that respond to needs in innovative ways. Architects will have to think like ecologists and environmentalists; we will have to be technologists, innovators, even programmers. The way we practise architecture will be very different from the way we do it now, but the basic design principle to improve the quality of life in a sustainable way will not change.
This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine