Archive for the ‘Newspaper Articles’ Category


Tiong Bahru Post War Flats

April 26, 2008

The Straits Times
April 26, 2008

Industrial’s strength

The beauty of this apartment’s raw look is found in the exposed wiring and unfinished walls. CALL it a case of more of the same.

STARK APPEAL: The living room is lit using 3D energy-saving bulbs, which are divided into groups of five to ensure greater lighting control. It is separated from the kitchen by a mosaic-tiled bar counter. The raw look is balanced with a homely touch from items such as slippers and a birdcage from Egg3, and cushions from Pluck. PHOTOS: DARREN CHANG; ART DIRECTION: NONIE CHEN; TEXT: REBECKKA WONG

When media professional Fenfei moved from her first home, a private apartment in Tiong Bahru, to her second, her new place was just a stone’s throw away.

‘We are used to the area,’ she says of the pre-war three-room HDB flat she and her husband bought.

At 947 sq ft, it is smaller than their previous 1,300 sq ft apartment and, therefore, easier for the couple to finance it – the reason for their move.

It is, however, no less a platform for the couple’s favoured theme. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, this new place not only retains the similar raw look of their first home, but it has also improved on the couple’s earlier renovation decisions.

A REEL INSPIRATION: The custom-made iron grille divider replicates a pattern from a movie the home owner once saw. The design is also repeated on the grille at the flat’s main entrance. Folding doors close up space for privacy when needed.

Instead of using one of the bedrooms as a storeroom, which was what they did at their first home, the couple combined it with the living space to make the living room bigger.

SAME TILE STORY: The new, bigger bathroom is the result of combining the original two back-to-back bathrooms, and it features the same mosiac tiles used for the bar counter in the living room.

Ms Fenfei adds: ‘Before, we had things that weren’t practical, such as white mosaic floors that were difficult to maintain. Now, our entire living space is covered with dark homogenous tiles, which are a breeze to upkeep.’

It also helped that the couple got the same interior designer, Kelvin Giam of Intent, who did their first home. He not only enhanced the original raw, industrial theme, but also came up with new ideas, one of which involved a support beam in the dining area.

He says: ‘If we followed the line of the beam, the living space would be pretty small, so I used it as a support for the dining table instead.’

He also drew on the surrounds and architecture of Tiong Bahru, an area rich with heritage, for the home.

As a result, exposed wiring and bulbs on bare wires hang from the ceiling – recalling the austere times of the 1960s and 1970s – while cement walls have been deliberately left unfinished for a raw feel.

The three portholes in the newly built master bedroom wall also echo the motif along the stairwells of the apartment block’s structure.

That’s not all. A false ceiling clad with white aluminium strips – a look commonly seen in old shop fittings – hides the overhead beam above the bed while giving a retro feel to the master bedroom.
CEILING THE LOOK: White aluminium strips, reminiscent of old-school shop fittings, hide the overhead beam in the master bedroom and add texture to the space’s industrial feel.

Yet, despite the use of materials such as cement screed and metal, the home feels far from cold, thanks to the couple’s collection of posters, kitschy movie memorabilia and colourful accessories bought overseas.

Also adding character and warmth are some treasures they salvaged from the trash, such as a two-seater sofa, which has since been reupholstered, and an old television set from the 1980s.

ALL HOLED UP: Cubbyholes in the study display the couple’s vintage collection.

All of which goes to show, having more of the same can be a good thing after all.

This spread first appeared in April’s issue of Home & Decor, published by SPH Magazines.


Unwanted child of S’pore conservation?

April 20, 2008

I hope the relevant authorities would come up with a more long term plan for Tiong Bahru Estate as well. Everyone is left wondering what’s next. Will they let the lease run out and turn this place into some commercial place or they will keep tossing this project around until it lands on someone’s lap. Shudders……

The Straits Times
April 20, 2008

By Warren Fernandez

Will recent reports of fresh plans for the Capitol Theatre finally happen – after almost two decades? I’m not holding my breath…

For too long, the once-lovely Capitol Theatre has stood forlorn and forgotten, the unwanted child of Singapore conservation.

Newspaper reports once held out hope of it being transformed into a performing arts centre for musicals, plays and ballets.

That, alas, was in January 1996.

Even then, the report quoted government officials as saying that the plans were ‘still being studied’.

Never mind that the site had been earmarked for development in 1984, and acquired by the state in 1987, nearly a decade earlier.

More delays followed. In 1998, Capitol screened its last movie and the cinema was shut down amid much sadness and hopeful talk of plans to put it to better use.

The project was handed over to the Singapore Tourism Board to pursue in 2000. But in 2006, it decided not to proceed and handed it back to the Singapore Land Authority. Last year, it was finally declared a conservation area.

Sadly, over the years, nobody seemed either to own the project or to care all that much about it.

So, pardon me, but I could not help being more than a little sceptical when I read a report earlier this month which talked of fresh plans for the Capitol Theatre and the structures around it – Capitol Building, Capitol Centre and Stamford House.

The report raised as many questions as it answered: Just what do the authorities now envisage for the site, which they say will be sold as an ‘integrated one’ next year? So far, officials have said only that the area has not been ‘fully maximised to its development potential’ – indeed! – and the ‘timing and details’ of their plans ‘are being finalised’.

Why has it taken decades for any progress to be made on conserving this area? What is the cost of leaving Capitol idle all these years, allowing it to crumble away to a dusty death? And just who will ensure that the plans are realised this time?

These are legitimate questions, not least since the buildings concerned are very much part of Singapore’s architectural heritage.

Capitol Theatre turns 80 next year. The neo-classical style building was built in 1929 by M.A. Namazie, an early Singapore pioneer of Persian origin. The accompanying four-storey building, where the popular Magnolia Snack Bar once stood, was completed in 1933 and called the Namazie Mansions back then.

The cinema was Singapore’s very first, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks performed to promote their silent movies. In the 1960s, the Capitol hosted variety shows featuring performers like Sakura Teng and Rita Chao.

The adjacent Stamford House has an even longer history. It was designed for commercial use in 1904 by R.A.J. Bidwell, the man behind other outstanding buildings such as the Raffles Hotel and Goodwood Park Hotel.

Few seem to recall the furious debate that broke out in 1991 over whether Stamford House should be saved instead of Eu Court, built in the 1930s, across the street.

Then National Development minister S. Dhanabalan declared that Stamford House would be preserved as it had a ‘more outstanding architectural style’.

I was prepared then to give the minister the benefit of the doubt, and wait to see if the ramshackle Stamford House of those days would indeed be transformed into the conservation gem he envisioned.

So, when the Victorian facade of the building was unveiled three years and $13 million later, I had to concede that it did look splendid, as the minister had said.

But sadly, it never quite lived up to his promise of becoming ‘an active and successful commercial centre’, given its motley collection of furniture shops, galleries and eateries, several of which came and went.

The wider issue here is this: Just how does Singapore go about conserving its architectural heritage, saving grand old buildings and giving new life to them?

Of course, given the space constraints on this tiny island, I have never believed in keeping buildings as museum pieces, or standing in the way of development.

But, in these days of globalisation and rapid change, a sense of place and continuity is needed if Singaporeans are to remain rooted to this country.

Indeed, at the moment, Singapore is undergoing another spurt of redevelopment. Just as in the 1980s and 1990s, when familiar sites like the modest C.K. Tang store or the huge open field where Ngee Ann City now stands gave way to skyscrapers, the Ion Orchard and Orchard Central are rising rapidly from the ground in Orchard Road. These, and the redevelopment of the Asia Hotel site in Scotts Road, as well as the new St Regis Hotel in Tanglin Road are transforming the face of the downtown area as we know it.

So how to ensure continuity in the face of such change?

Well, to be fair, there have been quite a few success stories in conservation over the years, such as the Fullerton Hotel, Raffles Hotel, the National Museum, the old Parliament House, and the old St Joseph’s Institution building.

In these cases, the buildings’ structures were painstakingly conserved, even as their interiors were retrofitted to allow for new uses, commercial or otherwise. Sure, the purists moaned, but the conservation purpose was served.

There have been some bad misses too. Orchard cinema and the National Library were both razed to the ground despite fervent public protests.

Or ponder this: Just what is the difference between the ghastly named Orchard Cineleisure and the supposedly conserved Cathay building?

Precious little, actually. The former was built after tearing the old cinema down completely, while the latter was simply erected around a sliver of the facade of what was Singapore’s first skyscraper, as a sop to the conservationist lobby.

Clearly, there are lessons to be learnt from these hits and misses over the decades to help ensure that the re-development of the Capitol area turns out right.

To do so, the authorities need to:
Spell out their Capitol conservation plans in much greater detail.

While they are at it, they should consider redeveloping the SMRT HQ building across the street. Why a public transport operator needs such a large prime site, all walled up and uninviting, has always been a mystery to me.

There is much potential to liven up the entire area on both sides of Stamford Road, with an array of streetwalk dining, retail and entertainment options.

Engage the public, both to get ideas and foster a sense of ownership of this historic district.

Surely, Singaporeans should not wait until plans are announced to demolish an old building before taking an interest? Nor should they be left to bemoan conservation efforts gone awry after the fact.

Announce a timeline to make clear how and when the authorities will ensure that the area’s ‘development potential is fully maximised’, at long last.

It would be a pity if Singaporeans have to wait another decade to read the next report on new plans ‘being studied’ for Capitol.


Do more to end historical illiteracy

April 18, 2008

This title of this contribution in the Straits Time’s Online Forum hits the nail in the head about the need to do more about knowing our past. The relentless destruction of “old” things may be the reason why the young has a disconnection with the past. When we are unaware of our roots, calling anywhere home in any parts of the world will not make any difference.

The Straits Times
Online Forum

April 18, 2008

I WRITE in support of Dr Irving Chan Johnson’s letter on Tuesday, ‘Cemetery closure means loss of Singapore heritage’.

Against the backdrop of globalisation, industrialisation and modernisation, Singapore’s continuous development and redevelopment of our landscapes have undeniably caused Singaporeans to be (what I shall term here as) ‘self-culturally raped’. We have moved to a modern era whereby dollars and cents make sense more than anything else and that is a pity as humanised factors such as understanding of our ancestors has to take a back seat. While I understand that this is an inevitable process in a land-scarce country like Singapore, it is imperative for the state to be well aware of the adverse intangible effects of changing Singapore’s landscape at such a rapid rate.

History entails the understanding of not just the past but also the present and gives a glimpse of our future. While the state has always been taking a very pragmatic approach of investing in science and technology, social sciences such as history has its inherent value. History cultivates analytical and critical thinking and serves as a nation-building tool to galvanise the fragmented present generation of Singaporeans of diverse ethnicity, religion, likes and tastes. An understanding of events and landscapes of the past will help Singaporeans of present and future generations to forge a sense of common identity and remain rooted in Singapore. Hence, I urge the Government to bring history beyond classrooms and to do more to end historical illiteracy in Singapore.

Jonathan Lim Wen Zhi


Cemetery closure means loss of Singapore heritage

April 17, 2008

I’m copying this Straits Times Contribution onto this blog in case SPH deletes the original post.

The Straits Times
April 15, 2008

I REFER to last Friday’s article, ‘Teochew cemetery’s last Qing Ming’. It was about one of Singapore’s oldest Teochew cemeteries which will be cleared in October to make way for the Downtown Line depot.

This is indeed sad and regrettable as, with the destruction of the cemetery, goes a slice of the nation’s history. Since independence, Singapore and its people have been on a constant quest to define a national identity. An integral part of any national identity is historical awareness.

History is not merely about preservation of impressive buildings such as architecturally rich churches and temples. Rather, for most people, it emerges from everyday experiences – the jobs they do, the places they visit and the many rites and ceremonies that mark one’s life and ultimately, death.

Unfortunately, in Singapore, many of these everyday histories are not well documented and are therefore forced to surrender to the consuming jaws of modernisation.

Hence, the historically rich and very beautiful Bidadari cemetery was cleared recently. With its regrettable destruction went not only the tombstones of generations of Singapore men and women but also the culture of a time past, and a small part of our national heritage.

Cemeteries provide a rich window on the past. By looking at the arrangement of tombstones, the aesthetics of headstone carvings and the people they envelop (both living and dead), we get a better picture of what Singapore society was like. Cemeteries also reflect religious and ritual life.

The old tombs at Kwong Hou Sua Teochew cemetery still attract a large number of families who come to pay their respects to the departed during Qing Ming every year. The cemetery is thus a living place. It tells an important story, not only of Singapore’s Teochew community but also of changing concepts of family life, wealth, power and class.

Times have changed. It is undeniable that the past will have to surrender to the present in land- scarce Singapore. Yet, if Singapore hopes to instil in its citizens a sense of nationhood, it will need to consider the importance of everyday histories. I therefore urge the Land Transport Authority to reconsider the clearance of Kwong Hou Sua which, despite its age, is a treasure trove of Singapore’s cultural and historical legacy.

Dr Irving Chan Johnson


Could this happen to Tiong Bahru?

April 8, 2008
Straits Times
April 8, 2008
An ambitious plan to convert one of the few remaining colonial buildings in skyscraper-dominated Hong Kong has rekindled a fierce debate about how the former colony deals with its heritage. — PHOTO: AFP
Spiky design sparks debate over Hong Kong’s heritage

HONG KONG – AN AMBITIOUS plan to convert one of the few remaining colonial buildings in skyscraper-dominated Hong Kong has rekindled a fierce debate about how the former colony deals with its heritage.

In the past year, fierce protests over the removal of the city’s Star Ferry terminal and the destruction of Queen’s Pier, where Britain’s royalty used to step onto the territory, has altered the city’s laissez-faire attitude to development, activists say.

Now, a HK$1.8 billion (S$318 million) plan to convert the old police station, jail and magistrates court into a gleaming commercial, arts and public space has become a testing ground for the city’s ability to reconcile historical and profit concerns.

The scheme, with a distinctive set of giant spikes in a prime residential and commercial area, has divided opinion.

‘The proposal of building a 50-storey glass tower inside the complex is unbelievable. And to me, it definitely will dominate the whole heritage site and actually won’t do any good to it,’ said Ms Katty Law, an activist.

Mr William Yiu, executive director of charities at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, whose gambling monolopoly has allowed it to become both the city’s biggest taxpayer and philanthropic giver, said their scheme is an attempt to do something new.

‘We want this to set an example of conservation,’ said Mr Yiu, who is running the scheme that sits on one of the few remains of the British colonial era to survive in the city’s Central district dominated by gleaming office blocks.

‘The idea is that we can do a new building at an historical site with facilities that we very much need in Hong Kong.’

The site was chosen by the British navy as the centre for law and order when it took over the island, then little more than an obscure rock, in 1841, and it flourished as the city expanded.

New design The new design – by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who are behind the Birds Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing and the conversion of the Tate Modern in London – will put galleries, boutiques and restaurants within the shells of the existing listed buildings.

It will then create a new structure behind the buildings that will include a theatre, a cinema and two elevated public gardens, bordered by the collection of spikes which will have plants growing around them.

The spikes, inspired by the distinctive pattern of the bamboo scaffolding seen across the city, have drawn ire from residents nearby and also concern that it will upset the city’s feng shui, or energy system, which is rumoured to have been a factor in several other major building designs in Hong Kong.

Mr Yiu said he is not expecting a repeat of the protests at Queen’s Pier last summer, when conservationists tied themselves to the structure to try and stop its removal, as the buildings will be left in place.

He said the Jockey Club has been involved in a lengthy public consultation, despite being given pre-approval by Chief Executive Donald Tsang in his annual policy speech last year and that parts of the design, including the spikes, were being reconsidered as a result.

Public pressure Campaigners say that public pressure in recent years has transformed the government’s attitude to conservation, where commercial considerations have steamrollered any concerns in the past.

‘I think the government is now realising that there are opportunities and that it is nice to have some diversity,’ said Mr Paul Zimmerman, founding member of pressure group Designing Hong Kong.

‘(They see) it is wrong to have just a monotony of podium-style buildings with no street level interface and just big towers on top. I think that they’re recognising that that is not necessarily good for building a community.’

Mr John Batten, whose campaigns have enjoyed success in stopping several developments – including on the site of the former residential quarters for married police officers where Mr Tsang grew up – said the change in attitude among authorities has been marked.

‘Government has changed dramatically. They are now pointing the finger at the property developers. Before they would not have looked for the faults,’ he said.

Mr Batten said the change has come about because of a series of strong targeted campaigns, ranging from the Queen’s Pier demonstration to efforts to stop the destruction of traditional wet markets.

‘I think these cases come down to a very grassroots approach. It is built on community support for the ideas,’ he said.

However Mr Batten is frustrated at the way the new Jockey Club scheme was presented as a fait accompli before consultation.

‘The way they have approached it is muddly and murky. They came up with a bright and breezy plan and they thought everyone would think it was great, but it is not very practical,’ he said. — AFP

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access


Guess who came to market…

March 20, 2008
The Straits Times
March 20, 2008
IT WAS not the usual request of visiting VIPs. But Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej asked to see the Tiong Bahru wet market and dropped in yesterday morning.

Here on an official visit, he is an accomplished chef and used to host a popular TV cooking show. And he clearly knew his stuff.
‘Oh yes, this one, it is also the most expensive fish in Thailand,’ he said, pointing to the giant ikan kurau, or threadfin.

He spent an hour touring the market and chatting with stallholders, accompanied by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say and National Environment Agency chief executive Lee Yuen Hee.
Fruitseller Yao Caiping, 38, said he gave her some tips on storing mangoes. ‘He is very friendly, not as serious as we see him on TV,’ she said.

TBone Steakhouse Cafe

March 12, 2008

The Business Times

Wine, Dine & Unwind
Dec 01, 2007
By Geoffrey Eu

It may be the new kid on the block, but it looks like it’s ready to stay awhile.
A trendy steakhouse in sleepy Tiong Bahru may not be the most outrageous culinary concept in the world – but it comes close. And that’s not all – if you haven’t heard of the One-Concepts group, chances are you might be visiting, uh, one of their outlets sometime soon. In addition to the recently opened Tbone, which takes up two shop lots just down the road from Tiong Bahru market, One-Concepts is planning a virtual onslaught of outlets in the near future.

Next up is Riverone bar and restaurant by Robertson Quay, followed next year by Unopuro, an Italian trattoria-style place, and Soi One, both also along the river. There will also be sister restaurants, cafes and bars in Bali and a catering company, One Private Dining. The entire brand exercise will be capped off by the arrival of a 60-metre luxury schooner that is being built in Kalimantan.

The man behind One-Concepts is Adrian Hobbs, a Bali- and Hong Kong-based concert promoter who has big plans to grab a slice of the burgeoning lifestyle market, or as he calls it, the luxury market. ‘I’ve been doing entertainment for years and I’ve also had a passion for food,’ says Hobbs. ‘When I looked at places like St James (Power Station) and Ministry of Sound, I decided to get into the lifestyle business, but I wanted to take it one step further and get into the luxury business.’

Hobbs has kept a low profile here since 2004, when he was involved in a dispute involving a cancelled Jose Carreras concert at The Padang. He looks to be making a comeback of sorts in a related field. ‘Tiong Bahru is the last location in Singapore that is Central Downtown,’ he says. ‘I wanted a British-style steakhouse that could serve the locals and the expat community as well. Tbone is very casual – we’re trying to do a total fresh food style, very much like what you would get in Australia.’

He adds: ‘It’s a two- or three-year market sentiment play – I just felt that this is the right time and I didn’t want to miss the boat.’

The menu at Tbone runs the gamut from a 520g T-bone wagyu steak ($110) and a more moderate Black Angus tenderloin ($45) to burger, fish & chip and steak & cheese pie options. There’s also a beef rendang dish, courtesy of the Indonesian-born chef who came here by way of New Zealand. Tbone may be the new kid on the block, but it looks like it’s ready to stay awhile.

TBone Steakhouse Cafe
42 Eng Hoon Street
Tel: 6220-2927
Copyright ©2007
Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.