Grand old dames remembered

Grand old dames remembered
The team behind the 120-page book called Building Memories: People. Architecture. Independence comprises (from left) writer Lai Chee Kien, researcher and editor Vikas Bhatt Kailankaje, artist Koh Hong Teng and graphic designer Yeo Yeok Chuan.

For decades, four grand old dames from Singapore's nation-building years stood tall as the city grew.

Of the red-brick National Library, the National Theatre with its cantilevered steel roof, the National Stadium and the tropical modernist Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House, only the last remains.

The 1965 conference hall was preserved in 2010. The 1960 library was demolished to make way for a tunnel, the 1963 theatre was razed for an MRT line and an expressway while the 1973 stadium was knocked down and replaced with a new one.

To capture the untold stories and memories of these buildings, an artist, a graphic designer and two writers have spent the past year researching their histories.

They have compiled their accounts in a 120-page book called Building Memories: People. Architecture. Independence. The project is supported by the National Library's irememberSG fund.

The team hosted a pre-launch of their book, which will feature hand-drawn comic strips by artist Koh Hong Teng, 46, on Saturday. The book is expected to be published in August.

The project leader, graphic designer Yeo Yeok Chuan, 49, said the team did not want it to be another "text-heavy academic book with black-and-white or sepia photos".

"We wanted to give readers the incentive to pick up the book and take a walk through Singapore's early buildings and life," he said.

For instance, the chapter on the former National Library features a comic strip on the institution's first chief librarian, Ms Hedwig Anuar, who explains how the library was often visited by residents from rural areas who could not afford books.

The team said the library marked a period of transition from a colonial institution to a Singaporean establishment, with the gradual incorporation of Chinese-, Malay- and Tamil-language books.

The team also interviewed former footballer Malek Awab, who played for the national team in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mr Malek, 54, started out as a snack seller at the stadium, where the euphoric atmosphere during matches inspired him to chase his dream of becoming a footballer.

Writer Lai Chee Kien, 50, an architectural historian, said: "It is the people's interactions with buildings that create collective memories of the place."

The team has also included a replica of the borrowing card sleeve system that was once used at the library, a pop-up of the National Theatre, and a replica of an invitation to the grand opening of the National Stadium.

Dr Lai added: "Each structure represented a facet of nation-building - the performing arts, sports culture, education, and labour and the economy. We put it together to help post-90s generation Singaporeans remember."

This article was first published on April 28, 2015.
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