En bloc-induced kiasu art

Singaporeans and heritage are just one big mass of cliches. “You never know what you have until it’s gone” is one particular one that’s stood out in recent years—with leases expiring, URA looming, en bloc fever and the like, suddenly everyone’s sitting up and paying attention to buildings and places in Singapore that were previously happily ignored. Sungei Road Thieves Market? Oh no! Rochor Centre? Never! And please, anything but that generic HDB wet market!

Kudos to you if you’ve ever actually visited these places out of genuine interest or function, before the media buzz brought the throngs of nostalgia seekers. But while we sit safely on our thrones of holier-than-thou condescension, we do admit that some good has come out of the heritage hunt. A deeper appreciation for the icons of our early landscape has surfaced, thanks to the keen eyes of photographers everywhere. Local architectural photographer Darren Soh, for one, has taken it upon himself to document some of Singapore’s most recognized buildings that are in danger of being demolished.

Before It All Goes: Architecture from Singapore’s Early Independence Years is his latest solo exhibition, amassing a long-term documentation of sites in Singapore slated to disappear, or that already have. Presented by Objectifs from Aug 23-Sep 29, the exhibition will feature 50 images capturing iconic buildings like Pearl Bank Apartments, People’s Park Complex and Rochor Centre, as well as lesser known sites like Queenstown Cinema, Tanglin Halt Estate, and the Bedok and Buona Vista Swimming Complex.

Rochor Centre

People's Park Complex

Tanglin Halt Estate

Queenstown Cinema

On how he chose which buildings to photograph, Soh said, “These are buildings that were erected in the early 1960s and largely designed by local architects, during a time when Singapore was embracing its newly found nationhood. Their disappearance will signify the loss of a large part of Singapore’s architectural history.” An architecture-focused documentary photographer, Soh will also be giving an artist talk and seminal on architectural photography on Sep 4 and Sep 8 respectively.

While you’re there, pick up one of the limited 1,000 copies of monographs, containing images from the show, additional photos of the sites and HDB estates in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and essays by local writers and architectural historians. It’ll be a nice souvenir once these buildings actually do disappear. Also, RIP Rochor Centre, as demolition finally begins today (Jun 26) to pave the way for the upcoming North-South Corridor.

Before It All Goes: Architecture from Singapore’s Early Independence Years happens Aug 23-Sep 29 at Objectifs, Chapel Gallery. More information here.