Singapore

Heritage, history experts in favour of preserving 38 Oxley Road

Heritage and history experts are generally in favour of preserving 38, Oxley Road, given its historical significance.

But they are split on whether the "intermediate" option proposed by the ministerial committee - to preserve just the basement dining room and tear down the rest of the property - is ideal.

The other two options it suggested are to retain the property in its entirety, or to demolish it.

Yesterday, Singapore University of Technology and Design architecture professor Yeo Kang Shua and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute sociologist Terence Chong told The Straits Times that preserving just the basement "would be a 'neither here nor there' approach".

In a joint response, they explained there are two main considerations when it comes to the heritage status of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's old house.

The first is its architectural merit, and the second is its role as a site of many political decisions and events.

"We also believe that historical meanings are intertwined with tangible spaces. In this case, both considerations above cannot be properly respected with Option 2 as it would decontextualise the dining room from the house," they said, referring to the suggestion of retaining just the dining room.

Thus, they said, they prefer the option of retaining the property, followed by the option of demolition.

Yale-NUS historian Tan Tai Yong, however, said that as someone who thinks that it is important to have physical markers of the country's historical evolution, he feels "it is necessary to preserve the house, if not fully then at least a carefully chosen portion that has actual historical significance".

NATIONAL TRUST?

National University of Singapore architecture professor Johannes Widodo said ideally, the best way to find the best option is through national consensus, perhaps by setting up a National Trust.

This would operate as a non-profit organisation that dedicates itself to preserving the cultural and natural heritage of a country and could become a "middle platform" to mediate various interests, looking for consensus and mobilising resources, he said.  - ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY YUEN SIN

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