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Speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, at the 2018 Architectural Heritage Awards

  Published: 09 November 2018

Good afternoon. I am very happy to be here with all of you at the 24th Architectural Heritage Awards (AHA).

Each year, I look forward to see who the award winners are, because we see the vibrance brought back in the heritage of our old buildings. The AHA celebrates projects that have demonstrated the highest standards of restoration of our heritage buildings.

2018 Winners

First, allow me to congratulate our four winners for 2018, and one Special Mention:

a. Jurong Town Hall – one of our national monuments, and an icon of Singapore’s industrialisation journey;

b. The Great Madras – a boutique hotel nestled in the Little India Historic District, once a block of pre-war Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats;

c. The Khong Guan Building – the headquarters of a home-grown brand well-known by Singaporeans, young and old; and lastly

d. Where we stand, the Kwek Hong Png and Riverfront Wings of the Asian Civilisations Museum – inaugural winners of a new award category that recognises well-designed new buildings that enhance the broader historical setting they are in. 

We are also giving one Special Mention award to three conserved buildings at the Sophia Hills residential development, namely, the Former Trinity Theological College Chapel, Former Nan Hwa Girls’ High School, and The Olson Building of the former Methodist Girls’ School.

Significance of our Built Heritage

Buildings are not just functional or infrastructural. They have cultural and social meaning, and tell stories about the societies that designed, built and used them.

Each of this year’s winners were built for different reasons, and have served Singaporeans differently over the years. We relate to them in distinct and personal ways. But collectively, our winners tell the Singapore story. They are enduring and visible reminders of what we have been through as a young nation.

So, it is inspiring to see the careful and painstaking work that each of the teams has put into your projects to give these precious landmarks new leases of life.

Firstly, each restoration project has enhanced each building’s distinctive architectural features. Secondly, each project has considered how the building is integrated with its surroundings. Thirdly, each project has innovatively adapted each building for contemporary use. 

A Broad Base of Support to Sustain our Built Heritage 

But the work of restoration and conservation is not solely in the hands of our architects, engineers, and conservation specialists. It takes an active, vibrant and committed community to make a project successful. For privately-owned buildings, support from owners themselves is also important.

This year’s AHA winners are good examples of what I have just articulated. For example, the owner of the Great Madras, Mr Shaik Mohamed, was deeply involved in the project from the beginning. He believes that buildings are important repositories for memories from the days gone by. This allowed the project team to see through the sensitive restoration of the SIT flats.

The owners and employees of Khong Guan wanted to share the many memories they had of their iconic building. Some of you may remember the storefront on the first floor where their quintessential biscuits were sold. The project team lovingly restored the building’s key features, such as the Main Gate and the distinctive mosaic tiles.

Mr Chew Ban Chye, a Khong Guan employee of over 50 years, is here with us today. Over his many years coming to work at this building, he has seen the business and the neighbourhood change. I hear that he is delighted by these efforts to honour the business’ heritage, while creating new room for the company to grow. 

Our Work in Shaping the Heritage Landscape

Certainly, our architects, engineers, conservation specialists and other technical experts continue to have a major role to play to ensure quality restoration practices in Singapore.

That is why URA continues its work with practitioners to encourage excellence in this field. Today, in collaboration with the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS SG), URA has launched the second and third volumes of a series of Conservation Technical Handbooks. We launched the first set last year.

These Handbooks are a resource for building professionals and owners to better understand how to care for and restore heritage buildings.

Beyond working with technical experts, we continue to broaden our partnerships with different stakeholders. Volunteers from The Friends of the Museums have been leading public tours in Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Pasoh, for instance.

URA has also been reaching out to young people to excite them about our built heritage. Last year, URA worked with students from Teck Whye Primary School to produce two children’s storybooks about the Joo Chiat estate. I remember meeting them and the teachers, it was very exciting.

I am happy that another group of students have put together a second book this year, about the adventures of Billie, our conservation mascot, in the Kampong Glam area.

Our friends in the heritage community also continue to be important collaborators. Just last year, we reviewed future plans for the Dakota Crescent estate together with the Save Dakota Crescent group. We decided to retain some apartment blocks, to be integrated with the new residential development planned there. We are looking forward to the result, a juxtaposition of old and new, but nonetheless, a continuum of past, the present, and future.

2nd Architectural Heritage Season

Finally, I am pleased to share that the Architectural Heritage Season is back again. This month-long festival is put together by colleagues from URA, together with our community partners. The festival aims to excite people about our rich and multifaceted built heritage.

We have a great line-up of activities, including exhibitions, seminars, and tours, including architecture tours of this year’s AHA winners. Do seize this opportunity and visit our distinct heritage buildings.

This year’s highlight is the first-ever Kampong Glam Day Out. Participants can join in on talks and tours at Kampong Glam to discover the secrets of this iconic district, or they can lay back and soak up the atmosphere under the stars at a special outdoor movie screening. 


Finally, I would like to thank all our partners for being here today, and for your year-long contributions to shaping Singapore’s heritage landscape.

Congratulations once again to all our winners once again. Have a great afternoon ahead.