SINGAPORE: Four winners were honoured at this year's Architectural Heritage Awards organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), for going the extra mile to restore conserved buildings and national monuments.
One of them is the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. The bells of its century-old clock tower now chime regularly after its mechanism was dismantled and sent back to its London manufacturer to be repaired and automated, as part of its four-year-long S$158 million refurbishment.
Elements obscured during the last major renovation in the 1950s were also restored. These include the original central courtyard and adjacent passageway and the removal of structural pillars at the ground floor of the concert hall.
A stone's throw away is the National Gallery Singapore, a fellow award winner. It unites two historical monuments, City Hall and the former Supreme Court. The $532 million restoration process spanned almost 10 years from the planning stages, and the gallery will open on Nov 24.
Adapting the space to meet international gallery standards was a challenge.
"The existing floor slab is unsuitable to support the loading requirement of an art gallery," said Mr Tan Hooi Ong, vice president for architecture at CPG Consultants Pte Ltd. "In order to solve this problem, we have decided to replace the old floor slabs with the new ones. In doing so, the facade during construction has to be left free-standing and supported with shoring while the old slabs are being taken away.
"We definitely have to make sure that there is very little movement, to make sure there is no major damage sustained as a result of doing this exercise so it is a very massive engineering undertaking for the project.."
The grand historical entrances will not be used for public entry. Instead of cluttering them up with ticket booths, the gallery wants the public to enjoy the original feel of the spaces. New entrances have been opened up at the side of the building, while the ticketing booth is tucked away in the newly dug-out basement.
Another winner is the 80-plus-year-old Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque managed by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), which is the second mosque to receive the award.
The almost four-year restoration and expansion which saw a new wing added to the mosque cost a little more than S$3 million. Funds came from the Mosque Building and MENDAKI fund (MBMF) and donations from the public.
A tradesman from Malaysia was brought in to refabricate mild steel frames for the windows of the minaret and the main prayer hall was expanded to accommodate more worshippers. It can now hold 1,200 people, up from 850.
"Every cent, every dollar that we've raised comes from the people - it comes from the congregation and the community at large," said Mr Zaini Osman, MUIS' deputy director for asset investment. "So more importantly, it is to deliver a project that is value-for-money and at the same time, brings pride to the community and ultimately, when you look at the bigger picture, how a mosque continues to co-exist within the urban landscape of Singapore."
Last but not least, former residences of British soldiers in the 1940s were restored in a S$10 million facelift. The three colonial bungalows will be used as a training centre for a chemical company.
The project was lauded for conserving the surrounding gardens. A large number of trees including a rare native Vitex pinnata and a 150 year-old Tembusu tree, were retained and reinstating period features such as the original ceiling designs at the verandas.