I am writing regarding the house at 23 Amber Road
I first 'discovered' this little villa 2 years ago, while strolling in the area. Located admidst new condominiums and near a busy roundabout, stands this grand little beauty. My attention was caught by the unique crescent shape. Althought the facade is not something spectacular, I would like to appeal for the full preservation of the house. I'm an architecture student and a photography enthusiast, and I find this house very interesting.
Singapore had been protecting heritage buildings since the 1970s as National Monuments and from the 1980s with the zoning of conservation areas. But in the urbanisation drive of the 1970s and massive land acquisition in the city area, much of the cityscape had been changed beyond recognition.
Preservation of built heritage in Singapore, I feel, is leaning towards commercialism, the focus should be towards heritage protection. A building is not only brick and motar, a house is not just 4 concrete walls. It's part of our cityscape, part of our history and the area's unique feel. More than protecting the building, the 'feeling' of the place had to be preserved as well. Commercialization tends to take away the feel of the areas. Chinatown had lost its traditional charm, Kampong Glam's charm is at risk too, both due to over commercialization. Katong, a former seaside residential area, does not have many former seafront houses left. Although I had not seen Katong's past, but from the old photographs I can imagine how it must had been like. With the beach now lost to land reclamation and buildings lost to redevelopment, only a handful are left now.
23 Amber, with it's unusual crescent must be preserved. The new addition must respect the old, and priority has to be given to the old house. Take the Cathay Building, only the facade is preserved, which is useless. The whole facade now looks like a cheap decoration and a forced compromised with the new building. The new Cathay does not respect the old wall. The tower block, and cinema hall the most important parts of the building are sadly not protected. Being modified and recladded beyond recognition is no excuse for not conserving a heritage building for serious and sensitive restoration can revert the building to as it was. Another example of disrespect of the heritage building, the old Fairfield Methodist Girls' School at Niel Road. It had it's windows and verendahs all blocked out, and a grille across the entrance. A heritage building should not just be preserved, but also respected. The current case is the tenant altering the building for usage. I believe for heritage buildings of importance, the tenant should choose a heritage building and not modify it too much, exterior or interior. Another example is the Changi Prison which was torn down despite worldwide protests from former POWs. The excuse given was not viable to sustain the old prison. More could had been done, like finding an alternative location for a prison, or demolishing prisons newer than Changi Prison to redevelope into a brand new prison complex. The old CID at Cecil Street was also lost, when it could had been prserved, like the Hearst Tower in New York City, but with more of the interior intact. Tan Chin Tuan Mansion is the best example of how a new development can be built on a small plot of land without much alteration to the existing mansion, by building above the old building. Although looking monstrous, it might just be the best way to save a heritage building.
23 Amber Road has a unique crescent shape, a very rare shape for a house of that period. The crescent wings are the most important part of the house, the spirit of design lies in the wings. The house could be used as an entrance to the new condo, by building the condo above the house, with a glass lift coming down from the condo tower into the circular 'laza' between the two wings of the house. The house and plaza would be used as a transition space into the new condo tower. Think a triangular pr semicircular floorplate, with the apex just after the 'laza' and the base along Amber Road. Columns will be placed at the corners of this triangle. Using this floorplate, the condo tower will be built around 1-2 storeys above the roofline of the house. Parking will be by car lifts, lifting the cars to the parking spaces in the tower block. This would reduce GFA of the new tower, but I believe exceptions should be made for plots with heritage buildings, by giving leeway on the plot setbacks and GFA. Another suggestion I have in worst case scenario is to dismantle the house, build the condo in the same way I mentioned above, this time with basement parking and reassembling the house below the tower. Another idea I have is making the condo tower cylindrical, like the crescent of 23 Amber but protecting the house below it.
Preservation of the house should be given prioty instead of priority given to new development. I was appalled to see the renderings of the new Cathay few years ago, and of the proposed condo at 23 Amber Road now. The heritage building is being treated like a decoration, like a toy with priority given to the new development. I stress that priority should always be given to the heritage building. Views on preserving buildings should be changed, not just by aesthetical architectural design, but by the design intention, the concept, the significance of the building to the area, to history, the community, and to the art of architecture. The spirit of the building should not be lost. It is like preserving the Villa Savoye but removing all interior rooms and the ramp, or our Supreme Court minus the great columns. Architectural preservation, not just preserving the facade, but prserving the spirit of the building, preserving the feel of the area, without compromise is the best. Understandably, 23 Amber's plot is very small, but being a building of unique design and importance to the area and one of the last of it's kind present in Singapore, the building should be given priority in the case of redevelopment and renewal. Heritage is priceless, and should not be taken away by commercialization.
Meanwhile I would like to bring attention to the old Istana Woodneuk, at 766 Tyersall Avenue. The former Singapore home of the Sultan of Johore, it had been abandoned for decades now, and was razed by arsonists in July 2006. Still no action had been taken to protect the mansion from further damage. I hope something could be done soon, as it certainlly deserves National Monument status. Heritage is in our hands, we should treasure and protect it.
I hereby appeal for the complete preservation of 23 Amber Road and Istana Woodneuk.