SINGAPORE: In 2013, the iconic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd closed its doors for an extensive three-year restoration, one that sought to revive and rejuvenate the national monument to its former glory.
Its efforts paid off.
The 170-year-old Catholic church along Queen Street, the oldest of its kind in Singapore, was one of two winners of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) annual Architectural Heritage Awards.
The award ceremony was held at the church’s Jean-Marie Beurel Centre on Tuesday (Oct 31).
In its 23th year and judged by an 11-member committee appointed by URA, the awards aim to promote public awareness and appreciation of quality restoration of national monuments and conserved buildings in Singapore.
Built by French missionaries in the 1840s, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, which won the Award for Restoration, has experienced many repair works across the decades, said head of its heritage ministry Ann Markley.
“In 1970s, there were reports that during the services, pieces of timber would fall down so the roof had to be replaced. There was an extensive restoration in 1958, it was probably restored after the WWII (as well),” the 66-year-old added.
The church’s sixth and most recent restoration, its most major to date, was an overall effort that enlisted the help of a team including a conservation specialist, an archaeologist, pipe organ and stained glass restorers.
Its trademark chequerboard pattern floor seen in old photographs was reinstated and restored, together with its stained glass windows, both of which were installed in the early 20th century.
Its pipe organ, the oldest of its kind in Singapore, first came with 850 pipes when it was installed in 1912. Now, it holds 1,850 pipes, having been dismantled and brought off-site for restoration.
The 14 Station of Crosses, bought in 1907 from Sisters of the Infant Jesus to grace the cathedral’s walls, have had grime accumulated over the years removed and its colours touched up.
The overall rejuvenation has left both the church’s congregation and the general public “overjoyed and overwhelmed” by its beauty, said its current rector, Monsignor Philip Heng, 62, who took over in 2015.
“We feel so proud that this restoration has taken place so well, and that it is a symbol for us, of how we have done a restoration that has successfully preserved … the richness of the history of the church in Singapore in the past and how it appeals to the present believers of the Catholic Church, that it does have a modern appeal to it (as well).
“More importantly, the restoration has provided a beautiful ambience for the place of worship. And people feel so proud that this is the mother church of the whole archdiocese of Singapore and that it is truly fitting,” he added.
The other winner – Warehouse Hotel – picked up the Award for Restoration and Innovation.
The 37-room hotel located along the Singapore River was converted from an old warehouse.
Built in 1895, the warehouse was left vacant and managed by Singapore Land Authority for eight years, until current owner Cheong Keng Hooi bought it in 2014. The newly-restored “100 per cent Singaporean” hotel, as he called it, opened its doors in January this year.
The 64-year-old, who recalled passing by the once dilapidated building on a few occasions 20 years ago, was piqued by its architecture and rich history.
“Earlier on, it was a warehouse for spice trading. After that, it became a spot for secret society activities and underground liquor distillery ... We can bring the history back for the future generation to understand,” he said.
Paying homage to an industrial look of “50 to 100 years ago”, the hotel has retained elements of its former self, including an elaborate art installation in the lobby inspired by the warehouse’s pulleys used to transport heavy items up to another level.
The warehouse’s red brick walls, metal roof trusses, jack roofs and vertical security window bars were also similarly conserved.
Since the launch of the Architectural Heritage Awards in 1995, 130 projects have been recognised for restoration efforts. Previous award recipients include Capitol Singapore, the Sultan Mosque, as well as Sri Temasek. Five projects have also been given Special Mentions.
This year’s Special Mention was conferred to the iconic Red House in East Coast for its efforts to resurrect the former Katong Bakery & Confectionary within its compound. The team had tracked down the youngest surviving staff of the old bakery operator who then shared with them his experiences.
“(The award) is even more meaningful because this development is an endowment property. An endowment or termed as “Wakaf” is an Islamic Charitable asset which has social objectives where its proceeds are meant for medical needs of the poor,” said Mr Zaini Osman, 40, chief executive officer of Warees Investments whose subsidiary is the development company of The Red House.
A month-long programme called the Architectural Heritage Session will be held in conjunction with this year’s awards, and will feature technical tours on restoration practices of heritage buildings, public heritage tours as well as seminars throughout November.