Saturday 29 September 2012

Shophouse can keep its graffiti artwork

Such graffiti allowed on selected conserved shophouses on case-by-case basis
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2012

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has clarified that graffiti art on the walls of selected conserved shophouses is allowed.

While it introduced stricter colour guidelines for historic shophouses in January this year, it is prepared to make room for exceptions, it said.

One such exception is a shophouse in Haji Lane which has artwork on its side wall commissioned by its tenant, Ms Aileen Tan, who runs Blu Jaz Cafe.

On Monday, The Straits Times reported that this shophouse had flouted URA's new conservation rules, which states that "traditional paint schemes and colours" are to be used on conserved shophouses.

This means that the base colour of shophouses are to be a pastel shade, with strong colours used only to highlight decorative details.

The rule was not specific about whether this applied just to the front of the shophouse or to the side walls as well.

A picture of the shophouse had accompanied the new guidelines, as an example of something that was not recommended in general.

Now, the URA has come out to say that it will allow graffiti art on the side walls of selected conserved shophouses on a case-by-case basis.

In this particular case, it decided to allow it after Kampong Glam Business Association approached it five months ago to clarify the new rules, and seek approval on the painting of murals on the side walls of nine other shophouses in the Haji Lane area.

Ms Tan, who is the association's secretary, said: "It's a positive thing that the URA supports us and shares our vision of taking art to the streets and enlivening the area."

She owns two other businesses there, Muzium Cafe and Piedra Negra.

They are also in shophouses with murals on the side walls.

However, Ms Tan added that it is likely to be months before new murals on the nine shophouses are painted.

"We need to get support from our neighbours and funding has to be worked out," she said, adding that a mural painted by an artist costs $10,000 to $15,000 a wall.

The design on each wall also has to be assessed separately by the URA.

In a letter to The Straits Times Forum today, Mr Ler Seng Ann, URA's group director of conservation and development services, said the guidelines are "by no means exhaustive and are certainly not intended to be a 'one-size fits all' approach to heritage and creativity".

URA can impose a fine of up to $200,000, a jail term of up to a year, or both, if the guidelines are breached.

From January to August this year, four letters were issued to inform owners to remove paint on their buildings that had flouted its new colour code. All have complied.

There are more than 7,000 conserved buildings in Singapore, including shophouses built between the 1820s and 1960s.

Archival photos show them in pastel shades of blue, green and pink.

When contacted, shophouse tenants in other areas of Singapore said the rules are unclear.

Mr Kervin Tay, 30, the owner of Katsuya restaurant located in a conserved shophouse in East Coast Road, said he painted the shophouse a medium shade of purple last year.

"I chose a neutral colour that wasn't too bright or too dark. I wasn't sure what colours are allowed," he said. "Maybe URA can come up with a colour palette for us to follow."

Conservation guide does not prescribe one-size-fits-all approach: URA
WE REFER to the article ("URA sees red over graffiti art on shophouse"; Monday) and the letter ("Lighten up, S'pore needs it" by Mr Michael Dee; Wednesday).

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) holds regular dialogues with stakeholders in our historic districts to better understand their views and needs.

The pro tem Kampong Glam business association and some local artists approached the URA a few months ago to help create a mural arts programme.

We see potential in this ground-up initiative and support the efforts to develop a framework for the introduction of mural artworks in Haji Lane.

What we have learnt at Haji Lane is that mural art can be created in an inclusive, collaborative manner to strike the right balance to respect the sensitivity of other stakeholders and the larger community.

When properly done, it can help shape the character of an area without obscuring its architectural and historical value.

The murals in Haji Lane were commissioned by the stakeholders there as a form of artistic expression, and have added unique charm and character to the place.

Haji Lane has seen a growing number of business outlets associated with the creative community in recent years.

The mural artworks are tastefully done and keep in character with the area. They are also supported and appreciated by the community.

Earlier this year, a URA guide recommending best practices for owners and tenants in maintaining their conservation buildings shared preferred painting schemes for front facades, so that historic architectural features are suitably enhanced.

The guidelines are by no means exhaustive and are certainly not intended to be a "one size fits all" approach to heritage and creativity.

We regret that the guidelines have caused confusion, and will work on making them clearer.

We will continue to collaborate with the community to enhance the character and charm of our built heritage for all to enjoy.
Ler Seng Ann
Group Director (Conservation & Development Services)

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