S'pore skyline should reflect our hopes and dreams

S'pore skyline should reflect our hopes and dreams
Marina Bay Sands (left), in a Stonehenge-like silhouette with kites soaring over it, has remade the city skyline. Vanishing from the scene is this house (right) at Wilkie Terrace, built in 1935. Such changes are creating an emotional minefield that can be set off by the heavy tread of urban renewal in Singapore.

SINGAPORE - Squinting at Marina Bay Sands with its three assertive towers, I cannot decide whether it is giving the finger (well, fingers) to older, threatened Singapore buildings, or whether we have stacked our own awesome Stonehenge to stand for our moneyed civilisation years after the flesh-and-blood part of us has turned to dust.

Lots of news stories about demolishing older structures of Singapore seem to read this way: Someone would say it has to make way for something better, chuck it - it is underused and it is an eyesore. Then someone else would say it has a lot of history and memories, love it - it has a few good years left.

The torn-down Queenstown cinema, the disappearing retro mosaic playgrounds, the old Woodlands Town Centre due to be redeveloped - our island is an emotional minefield waiting for the pressure and heavy tread of urban renewal to trigger an argument.

My arms and hands are stretched taut between wanting to hang on to lovely old things and wanting to reach out for the shiny and new. There is a constant tension between the old and the new in our built-up little country.

If we lived in a dream landscape with an infinite amount of space like in the science-fiction movie Inception, I would want to conserve the buildings like we do in the Asian Civilisations Museum with some ancient building structures. A life-size freeze-frame of the way we once lived.

Very old buildings are special. Not everything is plumb straight. Besides the hand-hammered and hewn elements, everywhere are signs of hard stone and wood yielding to the soft flesh of the human foot and hand after many, many years of use.

We usually have to take a plane out of the country to get that sense of being architecturally cocooned by the past. Inside darkened centuries-old temples and churches, we ooh, aah and wonder if they prayed for or cursed the same things as we do today.

I felt rather pleased that last month all I needed to take was a bus to cocoon myself in a 77-year-old house in Wilkie Terrace in the Mount Sophia/Selegie area.

The house was built in 1935 by the Chias and three generations of at least 100 family members called it home.

But that concrete cocoon will be transforming into a condo and the family was saying goodbye to it with a community arts project.

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