Under the guise of land shortage and the rising demand for developments to fulfil the needs of a growing population, many historical landmarks around Singapore that are reminiscent of our shared local heritage have been swept aside ruthlessly to make way for new projects that will continually urbanise our garden city. Yet, the last of these monuments that signify the era that has long passed are not spared a thought for in this crazed pursuit of modernisation. Admittedly, Singapore has to continue developing its scarce lands to flourish and maintain its much admired global status as a highly liveable city in this competitive 21st century.However, it pains me to see how historically significant places in Singapore are disregarded despite their rich heritage, and realising that I cannot prevent the demolitions.
For instance, Rochor Centre, an iconic rainbow-coloured HDB estate, was slated to be demolished in September 2016 to make way for the 21.5 km long North-South Expressway. Residents bid a heartfelt farewell around the end of last year to the estate they have lived in for most of their lives and closely identified with. Uniquely constructed, Rochor Centre has a common courtyard-like space right in the middle of the centre that is towered by a few housing blocks, which has allowed residents to interact freely with one another over the years and forge a strong sense of camaraderie and kampong spirit amongst their neighbours. Being one of the oldest public housing estates in the city district, it is no surprise that old coffee shops and shops selling pots, pans, plates and other knick-knacks are located on the first storey to serve the residents’ needs.
Rochor Centre is merely one of Singapore’s vanishing spaces – one more crushed building block that had melded Singapore’s identity, and one more rip in the fabric of our history. Others like the Old National Library, with its distinct brick-red British infrastructure, the Van Cleef Aquarium and the National Theatre have been demolished eons ago, and the lack of sentimentality the younger generation who have never heard of these places possess only demonstrates clearly how the demolition has almost entirely erased them from our shared memories. Nonetheless, conservation efforts have been made by the government, albeit only in certain cases, specifically the Capitol Building and Cathay Cinema. They may not have been wholly preserved, but at least relics of some semblance has been left behind in remembrance of their historical quality, and for these little mercies, I am hopeful that all hope is not lost.
Chloe Kho (3T)