Architectural Heritage Awards - 20 Years of Restoration Excellence

Urban Redevelopment Authority

By Urban Redevelopment Authority

Changing mindsets on conservation
Over two decades ago, after the successful gazette of Singapore's Historic Districts, it was felt that best-practices adopted in Government restoration projects would not be sufficient to bring about a positive change in the wider heritage environment. The community also needed to come on board the journey to carry out best-practices in private sector restoration projects. To recognise those who had taken this step to contribute to the well-being of Singapore's built heritage,the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) presented the very first "Good Effort" Award for well restored buildings in 1994.  Inspired by the response, the next year saw an even stronger participation in the first URA's Architectural Heritage Awards. 
The first year of URA's Architectural Heritage Awards saw seven winners. One of the winners was 149 Neil Road (right) where close attention was paid to respecting the historical integrity of the building during the restoration process. The cut porcelain pieces adorning the front facade of the house were stripped of paint to recover their original finish and colour while the scroll plaques above the 1st storey windows were masterfully restored to return the house to its former glory. 

Another winner was a cluster of shophouses at 143-163 Lavender Street. Though the cluster is located far from the city centre, the owners still took up the task to restore them to their former glory.

Part of the restoration works to the shophouses involved the fabrication of new majolica wall tiles similar to the original Belgium-made ones to replace the missing pieces. Overall, the project demonstrates a sensitive approach to preserving the architectural heritage of the shophouses.

The Little India Arcade (42-54 Serangoon Road, 1-8 Hastings Road & 2-22 Campbell Lane) was one of the recipients of the Award in 1996.                                                                         

The original structures were in a state of disrepair and needed extensive strengthening to withstand the anticipated loading for future use. All existing architectural features were carefully restored and missing elements reinstated. The overall works retain the spirit and character of the place whilst making it a commercially viable and efficient project.

(Left) 54 Serangoon Road before restoration.

54 Serangoon Road after restoration

One of the winners was the Former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. The project involved the restoration of two monuments, the Former CHIJ Chapel and Caldwell House, conservation of other existing buildings, the sensitive introduction of new extensions and the adaptive reuse of the existing old buildings. The Former CHIJ Chapel, built in 1902-1904, was designed by Father Nain and the Caldwell House, built in 1842, was designed by G. D. Coleman. The project was conferred the Award of Merit for UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards (Merit) for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2002.  

In-depth and extensive research were carried out prior to restoration works. Conservation specialists and skilled craftsmen from as far as France and Italy were engaged to undertake the project. To read more about the project, click here

Formerly the Tao Nan School, this three-storey building, designed in the Eclectic Classical style, was converted into the first wing of the Asian Civilisations Museum. The classroom spaces were converted to galleries and the triple-volume atrium in the main lobby was retained. A new three-storey rear extension block with basement was added to cater to the additional needs of the museum. The result is the transformation of an old Chinese school into a museum with exhibition and storage facilities of international standard. The building was gazetted as a national monument in February 1998 and currently houses The Peranakan Museum. 
19 Koon Seng Road was one of the first projects in Joo Chiat area to win the Award. As the shophouse is located within Joo Chiat Secondary Settlement, the owner had the option of conserving the entire building or to conserve the main building with a new rear extension up to four storeys. Here, the owner chose to have a rear extension of up to three-storeys and also retained the timber floor of the conserved part of the building.

The main facade of the building featuring segmental arches with timber-framed coloured glazed panelled fanlights, casement windows with polychromatic tiles below and fluted brickwork plasters were restored. To read more about the restoration project, click here.

The Rendezvous building, now known as the Hotel Rendezvous, at 9 Bras Basah Road was one of the winners in 2000. 

Fibrewrap was used to strengthen and increase the load-bearing capacity of existing structural elements. This advanced technique is both non-intrusive and faster than conventional strengthening methods.

The winning project of House of Tan Yeok Nee (101 Penang Road) involved the restoration of the house and the creation of an auditorium within one of the buildings. A special team consisting of an expert in traditional Chinese-Teochew architecture, a material specialist, acoustics consultants and skilled craftsmen from China, were engaged to carry out the works. 
One of the award winners for 2002 was a pair of Edwardian-Era semi-detached houses, built in the late 1910s on what used to be a part of Thomas Oxley’s (1805 - 1886) 173-acre nutmeg estate. The buildings were part of a URA land sales site and the developer had an option to conserve or demolish the building. The developer chose to conserve the two buildings and incorporated the buildings into the overall development of Winsland House II. 

The decorative timber windows and doors of half of the building had been changed to modern ones over the years while the other half remained largely intact. During restoration, the altered half of the building was replicated with reference from the original half. Read more about the restoration project here

The Abdul Gafoor Mosque was built in 1907 to replace the Masjid Al-Abrar which was constructed half a century earlier in 1859. The restoration project commenced after many years of hard work by the community to raise the necessary funds. During the restoration project of this National Monument, close attention was paid to repair and replicate the intricate plaster details. Previously painted over glass decorations on the columns were also uncovered and restored. Of particular note is the restored intricate plaster 'sun dial' on the main pediment. 

In 2003, the Architectural Heritage Awards was expanded into two categories. Category A for national monuments and fully conserved buildings. They are assessed on the extent of quality restoration practices such as the "3R" principles and the "Top-Down" approach. Category B for integrated "old" and "new" developments. They are recognitions of old buildings with new, innovative and sensitive interventions.

64-1 Spottiswoode Park Road was one of the first Category B winners in this new scheme.

With this change in the award scheme, it removes the perception that a good conservation project is only about the 'old and archaic'. It brings conservation up-to-date as being daring, exciting and current. It acknowledges works that show how old buildings can be made contemporary, and that they have lessons to inspire today's architects in the sensitive conversion of heritage buildings for today's needs.

733 Mountbatten Road was painstakingly restored and integrated with a new two-storey extension to its rear and sides. The restoration project was awarded in 2004 for its sensitive restoration and seamless integration with the new extension. It also garnered international acclaim when it was conferred the UNESCO-Asia Pacific (Jury Commendation for Innovation) Award for Culture Heritage Conservation.

The 3R principle and "Top-Down" approach were used and all external and internal elements of the bungalow were retained and restored. For example, the original roof tiles were fully kept with only damaged ones selectively replaced. Also of note is that all the original hand-made glass of the windows were kept. Read more on the project here.

In 2005, 85 Jalan Sultan was one of the restoration projects awarded. The restored two-storey Istana Kampong Glam is now put to adaptive re-use as Taman Warisan Melayu - The Malay Heritage Centre.

The original building suffered from neglect and careless repair. Meticulous research was carried out by the architects. The doors and windows were replicated with design and details found in archival drawings. The timber roof trusses which were infested with termites, were removed in parts and replaced with a similar roof system. Some of the existing timber members were salvaged, treated and made into benches. For more details on the project, click here

The Art-Deco Waterboat House was also awarded in 2005. The architect discovered the original colouration of the plaster finish under years of overlays and this same shade of grey was reinstated to strengthen the Waterboat House's visual linkage with the former General Post Office (now the Fullerton Hotel). Also notable are the original marble panelling and brass door handles at the main entrance. Find out more about the other buildings along Singapore's historic waterfront here.

2006 saw a pair of buildings within the St Andrew's School grounds being awarded. One of them was the Church of the Ascension, a Modern-style building.

Originally naturally ventilated, the church's perforated walls, verandahs and extensive openings at the side facades helped the reinforced concrete building adapt well to the tropical climate. Conservation work was aimed at retaining most of its key features as well as allowing sensitive additions to cater to the growing congregation.

The second building awarded in 2006 was this Spanish Mission Revival style building designed by Frank Brewer in 1939.

Restoration works were carried out between 2002 and 2005. There was a wealth of archival records available and special effort was taken to maintain the original spirit of the former school building. This included the retention of the concrete line running down the centre of the tiled corridors, that was used to organise students into queues. This restoration project also received international attention when it was conferred the UNESCO-Asia Pacific Award (Honorable Mention) for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

One of the winning projects in 2007 was 1 Pulau Ubin, a holiday residence that is now repurposed as the Chek Jawa Visitor Centre.

The stone and brickwork that were painted/plastered over time were stripped to reinstate original finishes. The original interior layout was kept. For more photographs, click here

43 Amber Road was one of the seven projects to be awarded in 2008. This pre-war bungalow was adapted into a clubhouse for a condominium development. Special effort was put in to retain and restore most of its original features such as the timber staircase and timber panelled interior walls of the second storey lounge. 

Another winning project was the restoration of 42 Cairnhill Road. Detailed research was done to uncover the original design of the mansion. It was discovered from the archive plans that a mansard roof had not actually been built.

Most of the original detailing and ornaments were repaired and sensitively reconstructed.

Built in 1933 by the then Public Works Department, the former Victoria School is a rare architectural treasure among school buildings built, from both the pre- and post-war periods. Today, its venerated halls welcome a revitalised look, a refreshed purpose and a striking new five-storey addition. 

The original Shanghai plaster walls of the main building was meticulously restored and rare original pale green window glass were also kept. Much effort was put into updating the building in various aspects to fit its modern purpose without losing the patina of heritage in the public areas. The project demonstrated outstanding skills in using natural ventilation and natural lighting to enhance the internal spaces.

A highlight of the 2009 Awards and of Singapore's conservation journey was the Former Asia Insurance Building. This is the first Modern-era skyscraper to be gazetted for conservation.

The Art Deco style building features a stainless steel crown to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. This and other distinctive features such as some 20,000 pieces of travertine cladding on the building facade and all the original steel Crittal windows were sensitively restored to recapture the building's former glory.

25 Chapel Road, a rare surviving example of a family bungalow that used to dot the East Coast area, was one of the eight winning projects in 2010. 

In the restoration of this house, effort was made to retain most of its original fabric. Its traditional character was also enhanced through several strategies, such as keeping the verandah area un-enclosed, retaining original flooring materials, using a traditional colour palette for the walls and structure, as well as the installation of intricately carved timber window screens as well as a half-length timber door, known as a pintu-pagar at the first storey.

There were seven winning projects in 2011. One of them was at 2 Dickson Road, the former Hong Wen School. 

Most of the architectural elements, such as the intricately painted ceramic tiles on its front facade and at the upper storeys have been restored by professionals. The ground floor facade retains original granite panels carved in traditional Chinese style. The building is also painted in subtle colour and its architectural features are strategically lighted up.

This winning project consists of nine Late Style shophouses and a former printing house which were converted into a hotel. 

The original internal spatial character was kept. Fine plaster and timber details on the facades have been restored and traditional patterned flooring was reintroduced in the five foot way. This project enhances the historic ambience of Jalan Sultan.

This unique restoration project comprising eight shophouses in the Geylang Secondary Settlement area won an award in 2013. To introduce diversity in treatment of the interior spaces, the owner engaged different architects for each shophouse on the same fixed and modest budget. While original architectural features such as the windows as well as wall tiles from Belgium were retained and restored, each shophouse showcases a distinctive and refreshing internal character. 
The Yueh Hai Ching Temple was awarded in 2014 for its meticulous and faithful restoration. It was also awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards (Merit) for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2014. 

The methodology for restoration was well thought through and executed. A team of craftsmen seasoned in a wide range of trades, from ceramics to timber structures, frescoes and gold gilding, were engaged from Guangzhou, China. Using authentic materials, every part of the temple was faithfully restored. To read more about the project, click here.

Another winning project in 2014 was 145 Neil Road. The building was originally painted in a dark shade of grey, obscuring the architectural features of the building. 

Rich and unique detailing on its facade – Chinese inscriptions and friezes adorned with ceramic chips, timber doors, windows and shutters, green Chinese tiles for the awning and glazed majolica wall tiles, as well as the red cement flooring along the five-foot way – were painstakingly repaired and restored.

The process to determine the original colour used for the house’s facade also demonstrates good conservation practice. Layer upon layer, the old paint was gradually stripped off to reveal the authentic and striking blue tone that was eventually used. This is a similar colour to the NUS-Baba House at 157 Neil Road. The delicate plaster relief below the second storey windows were also revealed after being hidden by decades of over-painting.

For more photos of the building and its interior, visit here.

The winning projects over two decades reflect how conservation efforts in Singapore have progressed tremendously since URA's pilot restoration project at 9 Neil Road. We hope that more owners and professionals will come on board to bring the standard of restoration to even higher levels.
Architecture Heritage Awards - 20 Years of Restoration Excellence
Credits: Story

Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)

Learn more about other conservation buildings at URA's My Conservation Portal.

View our other exhibit on The Story of Telok Ayer here.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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