Sunday 13 October 2013

URA conservation portal on heritage buildings proves a hit

Site shares wealth of info like archive photos, significance of buildings
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2013

THE first public database detailing the history, architecture and stories behind more than 7,100 of Singapore's heritage buildings is proving a hit with users.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) launched the portal on its website last week.

Properties such as conserved shophouses, structures and national monuments are tagged on an interactive map according to, for example, location and historical district.

A pop-out menu allows users to pull up exterior and interior shots, conservation guidelines and procedures as well as past and present publications and photos of the properties. Never-before-seen URA archive photos from the 1960s also feature, including one of 13 Keong Saik Road in Chinatown where a 1928 Nanyang-style temple stands.

The My Conservation Portal is part of the authority's effort to help the public, building professionals and property owners gain access to the wealth of information it possesses.

It also caters to the growing community interest in heritage, said Ms Yeo Su Fen, 34, a senior architect from the URA's conservation department and the project's team leader. "Apart from conserving buildings, the portal also helps to educate the public on what already has been conserved," she said.

In a speech at the URA Architectural Heritage Awards last Thursday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin also encouraged Singaporeans to "appreciate what we already have" in a rapidly developing country.

Not many, he said, are aware of the significance of buildings we walk or drive past every day.

Most of the 7,100 properties have been gazetted since 1989.

Heritage buff Yeo Hock Yew, 65, said he envisions himself spending a lot of time using the portal and mapping out his own heritage trail from there.

"The visualisation will appeal to the growing number of heritage enthusiasts," he said. "It will help to raise awareness about our built heritage and support research work on the subject."

Architects such as Mr Randy Chan, principal architect at Zarch Collaboratives, told The Straits Times that he and his colleagues liked the way the information has been organised and displayed.

"Usually we have to make an actual trip down to the URA to find out if a building is conserved," said the 42-year-old. "Especially if it's not located in clear-cut historic districts such as Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. Now we have all the information at our fingertips."

Architect Lim Kam Wing, 60, who worked on the restoration of Hong San See Temple, a national monument in River Valley, was also impressed. But he said: "I hope the authorities and the community can help to add on to the information we already have and that even more comprehensive data can be uploaded over time."

The portal, which took eight months to create, is still a work in progress, added Ms Yeo. The agency hopes members of the public will contribute their own stories and photos through a sharing function on the portal.

"If they have lived in a particular shophouse or if they owned a stall or shop there, these are stories that we want them to share," she said.

Mr Low Seow Juan, a businessman in his late 50s who owns several shophouses in Geylang, Emerald Hill and Blair Road, said the portal has been a long time coming. "It can help you decide if you should buy or invest in a conservation building like a shophouse, based on how complex conservation guidelines might be according to the district and cluster."

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