Friday, May 25, 2012

Empty, not forgotten

FOR nearly 80 years, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station echoed with the piercing sounds of trains pulling into the station or leaving for Malaysia.
When it closed last July, the building was left empty - and silent - until one night last month when 400 guests packed its foyer to watch models sashay down an aisle for a fashion show.
It is back to stillness again at the station, which has been gazetted a national monument. It is protected by the Government and, under conservation rules, changes cannot be made. Other buildings that stand empty include the old Changi Hospital, the former headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and old Kallang Airport.
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station:This national monument was built in the 1930s. It has a main waiting hall that spans three storeys. Operations at the station, which opened in 1932, ended on June 30 last year. Last month, the Government announced that both the Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah railway stations could be rented out. Suggested new use: 'The station can be the centrepiece of a large mixed development with hotels, and exhibition and convention facilities.' - Dr Kevin Tan, past president of the Singapore Heritage Society
Former CID headquarters in Eu Tong Sen Street: Built in the 1930s, the cluster of five buildings once housed unmarried policemen. They later served as the police headquarters and housed the Criminal Investigation Department. The CID moved out in 2001 to the Police Cantonment Complex in New Bridge Road. Suggested new use: 'Tours of the place can be conducted. This can be the Alcatraz of Singapore.' - Mr Theodore Chan, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, referring to Alcatraz Island in the United States which once housed a prison
Old Changi Hospital: The three buildings built in the 1930s started off as the Royal Air Force Hospital. During the Japanese occupation, they were a prison camp. In 1975, it was handed over to the Singapore Government. A year later, it was renamed Changi Hospital. In 1997, it merged with Toa Payoh Hospital to form a new hospital in Simei called Changi General Hospital. In 2006, a tender for a commercial lease was awarded, but the three-year lease expired without any development. Suggested new use: 'Its high floor-to-floor height, high-point location and getaway location make it a good candidate for a resort or wellness farm.' - Mr Jeremy Tan, a senior associate director at DP Architects
Queenstown/Queensway cinema: An iconic building in Queenstown, the cinema was built in 1977 and closed in 1999. The building also housed a bowling centre, fast-food restaurants and karaoke lounges. It is privately owned and zoned for commercial use under URA's 2008 Master Plan. Suggested new use: 'There's no reason why it cannot be converted into a modern cineplex given the revival of Queenstown as a residential area. Alternatively, it can be used as part of an arts performance centre.' - The Singapore Heritage Society's past president Kevin Tan
Old Kallang Airport: Singapore's first civil airport opened in 1937. The Art Deco-style building was once hailed as the gem of the British empire. The airport closed in 1955. From 1960 to 2009, the People's Association used the main building as its headquarters.
Under URA's 2008 Master Plan, the building will be adapted to new uses. Suggested new use: 'Its remake should be in sync with the upcoming Sports Hub - perhaps a new St James Power Station-type venue. Sports spectators need a place to unwind and party after an event.' - DP Architects' Mr Jeremy Tan
Neo Tiew estate: Built in 1979, this housing estate comprises three three-storey blocks. In 1998, it was announced that they were slated for a Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme. The occupants moved out in 2002. The estate is currently used for training by the Singapore Armed Forces. Suggested new use: 'A new artists' village in the suburbs.' -DP Architects' Mr Jeremy Tan
How vacant buildings will be adapted for use depends on the zoning status of the land they sit on under the Master Plan of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) over the next 10 to 15 years. The latest plan was released in 2008. A URA spokesman said land not immediately needed for development is put to interim uses - for example, as parks.
The URA also works closely with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to 'retain state-owned properties which are structurally sound' and lease them out for suitable interim uses.
The former CID headquarters in Eu Tong Sen Street, a conservation building, sits on land zoned for commercial use in the 2008 Master Plan. It has been vacant since 2001 and URA would only say that 'the timeframe for redevelopment' of the site is under study. The old Changi Hospital sits on land targeted for sports and recreation but there are no immediate development plans, said URA.
While it takes time for vacant buildings to find new uses, industry experts said there is a price to pay.'Unoccupied buildings tend to fall into dilapidation. As such, interim usage, or even any type of compatible use, would be most welcome,' said Mr Jeremy Tan, a senior associate director at DP Architects. 'As long as buildings are occupied, they are passively being 'cared for'.'
SLA, which manages state- owned buildings, said it is working with various agencies on possible interim uses for buildings such as the former CID building and the old Changi Hospital.
'If approved, they will be made available for public tender,' said its spokesman.
While the URA is still engaging public and interest groups on the future use of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, the SLA said this building and the former Bukit Timah Railway Station are now open to individuals and organisations for ad-hoc activities.
Dr Yeo Kang Shua, Singapore Heritage Society's honorary secretary, said: 'We cannot keep and will not be able to keep all old buildings.' But once it is decided that they hold value for society, every effort should be made to give them a new identity, he said.
The former St James Power Station, for example, is now a lifestyle hub while the former Tao Nan School in Armenian Street is now the Peranakan Museum.
Over in Punggol, Matilda House, a conservation bungalow which has been in disuse for 20 years, is also getting a new lease of life. Property developer Sim Lian will be restoring the 110-year-old home into a clubhouse for its condo project Treasure Trove.
Mr Theodore Chan, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, said certain old buildings are worth keeping for their unique architecture, historical significance and the memories they hold. He cites the examples of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the old Kallang Airport as 'not just places of transport, but places where people see each other for the first time, or say their goodbyes'.
Lawyer Kevin Tan, past president of the Singapore Heritage Society, said buildings acquire a character of their own over time.
'Unless it is absolutely necessary, we should try not to tear down our old buildings.'