Monuments, Man!

Published on 5 January 2016

Singapore’s National Monuments reflect a timeline of our fascinating historic landscape.

BY MELANIE LEE

In December last year, The Fullerton Hotel (formerly, the Fullerton Building) became a National Monument in celebration of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee. Its place in our history as a former General Post Office, makeshift war hospital and government office, along with its stunning Neo-classical architecture, makes it an important heritage landmark. But what exactly makes something a National Monument?

DEFINING A MONUMENT

According to the National Heritage Board (NHB), when a building is gazetted as a National Monument, it is the highest form of recognition of its national, historical, architectural and social importance in Singapore’s built-heritage landscape.

The specific national authority identifying and overseeing these monuments is the Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM) division under NHB. Previously known as the Preservation and Monuments Board, it was set up in 1971 and its responsibilities include research, regulatory support, and public outreach programmes.

The current list of 71 National Monuments is a diverse mix of schools, hotels, government buildings and places of worship. In fact, the first few buildings gazetted as National Monuments in 1973 were St Andrew’s Cathedral, Thian Hock Keng temple, Lau Pa Sat, Sri Mariamman Temple, Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, and the former Thong Chai Medical Institution.

For last year’s Golden Jubilee, besides gazetting Fullerton Hotel, the Istana Kampong Gelam and Jurong Town Hall were also declared National Monuments as they showcase Singapore’s development through the years. Says PSM’s director Jean Wee, “We have made a conscious move to fill the gaps in our architectural heritage timelines — going beyond colonial structures, and including landmarks that reflect our historic landscape. After 50 years, what defines us is our heritage and our attitude towards wanting to discover it and preserve it.”

MONUMENTAL WALKING TOURS

PSM actively promotes Singapore’s National Monuments through lectures, talks and exhibitions. However, it is its popular Monumental Walking Tours that bring locals and tourists up close with these treasured sites or buildings. These themed tours are run by passionate volunteer guides who make history come alive with interesting anecdotes and archival materials that give more context to these National Monuments. For example, this month, PSM will be conducting a Sri Thendayuthapani Temple tour to coincide with Thaipusam. Participants will be told the stories behind the building’s decorative carvings, and also get an insight into devotees’ rituals at the temple (tickets are at $5 and available here).

These affordable weekend tours are the perfect opportunity to play ‘local tourist’ while picking up little-known facts about Singapore’s eventful past. More importantly, these monuments show that history is all around us, and that the past is very much part of our present.

For the full list of Singapore’s National Monuments, visit www.nhb.gov.sg/places/sites-and-monuments/national-monuments

The A-List Pick of Cool Monuments

THE OBSCURE ONE

Former Admiralty House

On a little hill opposite a Housing & Development Board residential estate in Sembawang, sits a colonial compound that resembles an elegant English manor. This was where key military officers lived with their families as the British had a naval base in Sembawang. The Former Admiralty House also includes blocks that once housed officers’ quarters and a bomb shelter.

THE HISTORY-CHANGING ONE

Former Sun Yat Sen Villa

(now Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall)

As its name suggests, modern China’s founding father Sun Yat-Sen had stayed intermittently in this villa during his travels. He garnered support for China’s revolutionary efforts from local Singaporean Chinese and planned three uprisings in China from here. These uprisings were a few of the key events that led to the Qing dynasty being overthrown in 1911.

THE ROYAL ONE

Istana Kampong Gelam

This 19th-century palace, with a fusion of European and Malay architectural features, housed Sultan Mohammed Ali Iskander Shah (the Sultan of Singapore) and his descendants till the 1990s. Today, the building is occupied by the Malay Heritage Centre.

THE TRAGIC ONE

MacDonald House

While this red-bricked building may look rather nondescript, it was the target of a bombing attack in 1965 during the Indonesian-Malaysian Konfrontasi (Confrontation). Three people died and 33 were injured. At that time, Indonesia opposed the formation of Malaysia and had launched a series of guerilla attacks around the region.

THE SURPRISING ONE 

Jurong Town Hall

It may look rather futuristic for a monument (it was built in the 1970s), but Jurong Town Hall is an iconic reminder of Singapore’s early years of industrialisation. It once housed the headquarters of the Jurong Town Corporation, the agency responsible for developing Singapore’s manufacturing sector.

Know Your Landmarks

What’s the difference between Conservation Buildings and National Monuments?

CONSERVATION BUILDINGS

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) identifies and evaluates buildings or sites that are important to Singapore’s architectural history, while also taking into consideration their national significance. Conservation Buildings can only be restored according to conservation guidelines set out by the URA. Examples include Dairy Farm, former Kallang Airport and Cavenagh Bridge.

NATIONAL MONUMENTS

Preservation of National Monuments provides a higher level of legal protection to retain a building for posterity, due to its historical importance to the nation. Each National Monument has tailored preservation guidelines so as to maintain its original architectural features and intrinsic historical value. National Monuments are managed by the Preservation of Sites and Monuments.

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