Old buildings in a new light

Published on 23 August 2018

By Huang Lijie

Photos: Darren Soh
Rochor Centre, before it was demolished in June.

You may have come across Darren Soh’s widely shared photos online, of buildings and HDB blocks from the 1960s and 1970s, and felt them tug at your heartstrings.

A picture of the since demolished Rochor Centre reminds you of bygone weekend rituals in that housing estate. An image of Golden Mile Tower takes you back to when you first stole a kiss in a cinema. An unfamiliar view of the iconic Pearl Bank Apartments surprises you.

The Queenstown cinema and bowling centre, before it was demolished in 2013.

Now, never-before-seen pictures by the photographer, of well-loved buildings from Singapore’s post-independence years, are on display in his new exhibition. They include buildings that no longer exist (Queenstown cinema and bowling centre) and others whose fates hang in the balance (Golden Mile Complex).

The show, Before It All Goes: Architecture From Singapore’s Early Independence, is held at Objectifs, a centre for photography and film in Middle Road, until 29 Sep.

The show, Before It All Goes: Architecture From Singapore’s Early Independence, at Objectifs.

Soh, 42, who specialises in architecture and landscape photography, says: “In Singapore, we build and demolish so quickly that our architects consistently outlive their buildings. This state of impermanence is frightening, but it is also what fuels my work.”

He has been documenting buildings from Singapore’s early independence years for more than a decade, and it is the en bloc sale in February of Pearl Bank Apartments that compels him to open up his photo archive, and to put on this show.

A view of the iconic Pearl Bank Apartments, which sold en bloc in February.

“I hope that when people step into the show, they will realise that in 10 years’ time, none of these buildings might be around,” he says. “So what are you going to do about it? Do we want a brand-new looking Singapore every 50 years?”

The show, though, is more than an elegy to fading buildings, landscapes and memories in Singapore. It is also a celebration of urban beauty, nature and serendipity.

Soh explains that when he photographs these buildings, he relies on natural light conditions, which cannot be recreated or predicted, as well as the chance of discovering new vantage points and views.

A view of People’s Park Complex on an overcast and windy day.

For example, a photo with a spotlight effect on People’s Park Complex came about on an overcast and windy day, when there was a sudden clearing of clouds above the building. He spotted the sight whilst he was driving and rushed to park his car to capture the moment.

In another photo, he chanced upon a view of Golden Mile Tower before new buildings went up around it, so he was able to photograph the building unobstructed, a view that has since disappeared.

“That feeling of discovering a new vantage point, or a view of a building or landscape that no one has seen before – it never gets old.”

For more information on the exhibition, click here.

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