What’s Next for Conservation?

Calendar 5 April 2019
Time 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm. Registration from 3.30pm, seated by 4.00pm 
Location  Chamber at The Art House, 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429
cpd 2 BOA-SIA CPD pts, 2 SIP CPD pts, 1 SILA CPD pts  


Lecture Video and Photos



Since 1970 we have gazetted over 7000 buildings and our historic districts have put Singapore on the map. This year also marks 30 years since URA became conservation authority. Singapore has adopted an integrated planning approach to conservation, which has emphasised the importance of weaving conservation into the living urban fabric of the modern city. The pragmatic approach to work with markets and the emphasis on adaptive re-use has also made conservation an economically viable project. Throughout the years conservation has also moved from a government-led effort to a community-driven approach with an important emphasis on the social and historic memory of places and buildings.

Given this trajectory what more can we do for conservation? We’ve focused on conserving the bulk of our historic districts and areas and iconic buildings across the island, and we’ve moved into conserving our post-independence heritage, but there are still challenges and opportunities to be dealt with both for current historic districts and new modernist icons marking Singapore’s development. The panel will bring together a range of voices from planners, academics and civil society to discuss this important question.

Lecture Report

(On post-independence buildings in Singapore): “We need to come up with a conservation master plan that presents the significant post-independence modern buildings that are important to keep as landmarks. We have to work with the private sector collectively…(offer) practical incentives to make each and every building economically viable for multi-strata stakeholders or for a deep-pocketed developer to buy the entire block but not redevelop


"(Perhaps) we could have a major exhibition for these buildings that we feel merit conservation, and follow up with forums, seminars or debates so that it is all open and transparent. So everybody is involved and then, I think we can begin the journey.”
- Koh-Lim Wen Gin


Conserving post-independence buildings, raising restoration standards and collaborating more closely with communities. These are some ways conservation in Singapore could develop in the coming years, according to local heritage professionals, architects, academics and civil society.


Speaking at the launch of the CLC’s latest Urban Systems Studies publication on conserving Singapore’s built heritage in April, the panel discussed challenges for its future and also reflected how conservation has evolved since the nation began doing so in the 1980s. The success of this policy over the last 30 years was due to eight key factors, said Koh-Lim Wen Gin, the former chief planner of the city-state’s Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA).


Besides the availability of alternative land in Marina Bay and other areas for development, previous planners before Koh-Lim had delayed encroachment to the historic districts amidst Singapore’s then massive urban renewal. This gave her team the opportunity to quickly formulate, implement and complete a conservation master plan for Singapore between 1989 and 1992. Their efforts were supported by interest from the public and a firm commitment from the government, which funded infrastructure works and pilot projects to rehabilitate what were then rundown shophouses. Finally, the creation of pragmatic and affordable incentives also attracted private sector contributions to conservation and they were aided by dedicated professionals.


“So to me, the Singapore conservation journey was really a labour of love,” added Koh-Lim.


The coming together of different stakeholders remains important for the future, said URA’s chief planner today, Hwang Yu-Ning. She added that such engagement not only makes conservation possible, but also helps maintain the vibrancy of heritage places.


“It’s about getting the community to love and make use of the buildings that we have,” said Hwang. “In recent years, we’ve placed a lot more emphasis on the programming and getting the community involved in discussing conservation topics and works.”


URA has also partnered international agencies and experts to raise the standards of conservation. For instance, the agency worked with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to develop technical guidelines, and also has panels of heritage and conservation experts to advice on sensitive restoration and ensuring buildings are adapted and reused appropriately.


The government’s efforts in engaging and collaborating with the community will become even more important as more Singaporeans show an interest in heritage, said panellists outside of the government.


In an era of transparency, Dr Johannes Widodo from the National University of Singapore said it was key for the government to share information so as to be accountable and involve the community in a “strategic alliance”. He proposed creating applications for mapping historic landscapes in order to bring different stakeholders together and to help them play a more proactive role.


“If communities can identify significant sites, or sites that are vulnerable to climate change or the stress of economic development… we can superimpose planning, see things in totality… and immediately identify possible tensions and conflicts,” he said. “Conservation is about managing change, not about freezing things.”


Similarly, the practice of conservation has changed over time in Singapore said architect Mok Wei Wei. Noting that the URA has successfully nearly 7,000 shophouses, he said many of them have been conserved with cookie-cutter solutions. He also wondered if conservation can look beyond the shophouse such as “modern buildings” that are now vintage.


“Have we conserved too may shophouses? Is it time to stop? How about moving on to other buildings of other periods because time never stand(s) still,” he said.


Beyond conserving buildings, it is also important to include what is inside them too, said Dr Chua Ai Lin. The vice president of the Singapore Heritage Society cited the examples of religious institutions such as the Seng Wong Beo Temple in Tanjong Pagar and the kampong communities of Pulau Ubin. They ensure the places they are in continue to have links to the past and that conserved buildings are not just shells.


“That continuity leads to resilience for community,” said Dr Chua. “It’s not just about the bonds that we have between different communities and groups, but (also) the bonds across generations and our sense of yourself in time, that you are part of something that’s been going on for decades or over a hundred years.”


This report first appeared in the May 2019 Better Cities newsletter.

About the Speakers


Hwang Yu Ning

Deputy Chief Executive Officer & Chief Planner
Urban Redevelopment Authority


Ms Hwang Yu-Ning is the current Acting Deputy CEO and Chief Planner for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Having served in URA, Ministry of National Development and Strategy Group in the Prime Minister’s Office, Ms Hwang’s experiences include long term strategic planning, local urban design, master planning, policy development and coordination across government. She currently guides URA’s land use planning to enhance liveability, economic development and future physical capacity.


Koh-Lim Wen Gin

Board of Directors
Keppel Land
Former Chief Planner Deputy CEO
Urban Redevelopment Authority


Mrs Koh played a key role in shaping Singapore's cityscape through her career with the Urban Redevelopment Authority ("URA"). She was URA's Chief Planner and Deputy Chief Executive Officer between 2001 and 2008. She was involved in a variety of high quality landmark developments which have contributed to Singapore's growth as a global city. She was also instrumental in spearheading the nation's building conservation programme covering more than 6,800 heritage buildings. The programme was awarded the prestigious Global Award for Excellence by the Urban Land Institute in 2006.


Dr Johannes Widodo

Associate Professor, School of Design & Environment, 
National University of Singapore


Dr Widodo received his first professional degree in Architecture from Parahyangan Catholic University (Ir., Bandung, Indonesia, 1984), Master of Architectural Engineering degree from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (M.Arch.Eng., Belgium, 1988), and Doctor in Architecture from the University of Tokyo (PhD, Japan, 1996). He is the director of the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage in Melaka (Malaysia), and Executive Editor of JSEAA (Journal of Southeast Asian Architecture) at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore.


Dr Chua Ai Lin

Singapore Heritage Society


Chua Ai Lin is the Executive Director of the Singapore Heritage Society, as well as and an independent researcher and consultant with substantial experience in academia, the public sector, private consultancy and civil society. She currently holds appointments as Vice President of the Singapore Heritage Society; as a member of the National Library Advisory Committee, the National Heritage Board Project Grant external evaluation panel, the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Design Advisory Panel (Conservation), and Vice Chairperson of the selection committee of the Tan Kah Kee Foundation Postgraduate Scholarship.


Mok Wei Wei

Managing Director, 
W Architects Pte Ltd


Mok Wei Wei is presently Managing Director of W Architects Pte Ltd. He graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture (Honours) in 1982 from the National University of Singapore. Mok’s numerous architectural projects have received critical acclaim both locally and internationally. His works have been featured in numerous regional and international publications. In recognition of his contributions to Singapore’s architectural scene, he was conferred the President’s Design Award in 2007, the nation’s highest honour for design. Mok was a committee member of the Singapore Heritage society from 1995 to 2001. He is a member of the Preservation of Monuments Board from 1999 and subsequently the Deputy Chairman of the Board until December 2016. He is a board member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority since 2006, and is a board member of the Singapore Land Authority from 2015. In recognition of his contributions to public service, he was conferred the Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2014.


Kelvin Ang

Director, Conservation Department (Conservation Management), 
Urban Redevelopment Authority


Mr Kelvin Ang has over a decade of experience in architecture and conservation at the URA. URA is Singapore’s national planning, land use and building conservation authority. He has led a multidisciplinary team to deliver several conservation projects including the gazette of over 700 buildings since 2003. His portfolio includes public education and partnership programmes, overseeing Place Management efforts and enforcement work.