The following is a press release by the Singapore Heritage Society.
The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) is deeply disappointed with the decision to demolish a substantial part of Ellison Building. A substantial part of the building will be demolished to make way for the North South Highway and will be reconstructed when the Highway is completed. It is located at the junction of Selegie Road and Rochor Canal Road and was built in 1924.
Ellison Building was gazetted under the Planning Act in 2003 because it has been judged to have “special architectural, historic, traditional or aesthetic interest” (Planning Act, section 9).
What will be demolished?
Three units of the building will be demolished. They are Unit Nos 235, 237, and 239. These units make up a significant portion of the building.
Why is Ellison Building important?
Ellison Building was built in 1924 by Isaac Ellison, a Romanian Jew. The building may have been built for his wife, Flora, a Baghdadi Jewess from Rangoon. Ellison Building is at the heart of the Mount Sophia Conservation Area.
This area connects the Civic District and the Little India Historic District. Ellison Building is at the foot of Mount Sophia in the midst of historic buildings that bear deep social importance to communities there.
Ellison Building is on Selegie Road which used to mark the limits of the Singapore Municipality. Hence, the junction of Selegie Road, Serangoon Road, Bukit Timah Road and Rochor Canal Road has always been an important historical and visual landmark.
Meanwhile Ellison Building’s two lantern cupolas on its edges still serve as a significant marker for many older Singaporeans.
What is reconstruction and why is it not a good option?
The reconstruction of heritage buildings is the replication and fabrication of these buildings to recreate its historical significance.
Reconstruction is only accepted by the international heritage community for heritage destroyed by war. Even then, there is immense debate over whether reconstruction should be allowed – see, for example, the case of the Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, where UNESCO has announced that reconstruction is no longer being considered. In the rare case where reconstruction has been carried out, for example, the Stari Most (Old Bridge) of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina which was destroyed during the 1993 Croat–Bosniak War, anastylosis – a process of reusing as many historic fragments as possible with minimal new building materials – was adopted to safeguard the material authenticity of the structure.
The 1976 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas has also noted that “reconstruction work is causing serious damage to … historic heritage”.
Reconstruction is not a good option because it is the falsification of historical artefacts. Too often it is taken as the easy option instead of exploring other means and techniques for preservation and conservation. After all, destroying and reconstructing a building is usually cheaper and more time-saving than planning and working around such a building. Furthermore, in the case of a reconstruction, there is a high likelihood that modern construction methods will be used in place of traditional ones. Reconstruction will also typically result in the simplification of original architectural features.
SHS believes that heritage and development can be reconciled if there is political will and commitment to the search for innovative solutions. SHS would like:
a. plans to demolish and reconstruct Ellison Building to be reconsidered;
b. to know if there was any heritage impact assessment carried out to inform decisions pertaining to Ellison Building; and if so, would the report be disclosed for public viewing and consultation?;
c. the relevant authorities to provide platforms for stakeholders and experts to come together and explore viable alternatives to current plans.
Singapore Heritage Society
- 南北廊道工程浩大 沿途一些建筑得“让路”，《联合早报》, 7 August 2016.
- “Bamiyan Buddhas: Should They be Rebuilt?”, BBC World Service, 13 August 2012.
- “Mr. I. Ellison Dead”, The Singapore Free Press And Mercantile Advertiser, 7 July 1928, page 10.
- “Tender Notice”, The Straits Times, 28 March 1975, page 21.
- UNESCO, Recommendation concerning the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas, 26 November 1976.