& # 39; I'm afraid that one day he will disappear & # 39 ;: save the old buildings of Singapore one by one

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SINGAPORE: Since 2006 photographer Darren Soh regularly visits a certain HDB block on the west side of Singapore. There is nothing fancy about 82 Commonwealth Close, but the 42-year-old always keeps taking pictures of it.

Darren Soh 82 Commonwealth Close built 1963

82 Commonwealth Close, which was built in 1963, was the place where photographer Darren Soh lived until he was five. (Photo: Darren Soh)

"It's where I lived from when I was born until the age of 5. It was built in 1963 and is on the top of a hill with two other blocks and the view is amazing", he told CNA Lifestyle.

"Every time I receive a new camera, I'd go over there and take the same picture, I keep going because I'm afraid they will one day announce that it will go."

Darren Soh 406 Clementi Ave 1 built in 1977 demolished 2017

406 Clementi Ave 1, built in 1977 and demolished in 2017. (Photo: Darren Soh)

Soh's children's home is part of a wall installation of 48 HDB block facades that he has taken over over the years, which is currently being found at the end of the room in the Objectifs gallery.

Considered as a whole, it is an enchanting image of grids and angles that flow into each other anonymously – until it begins to select them.

Darren Soh Rochor Center

Rochor Center, built in 1977 and demolished in 2018. The distinctive rainbow colors only came in 1994. (Photo: Darren Soh)

"This one on Havelock Road was built in & # 39; 67; this comes from Redhill, also" 67. This is from Commonwealth Drive, which is from Geylang Lorong 3, "he said before he paused." Both have been demolished.

Then he pointed to yet another image that looked vaguely familiar. "This is Rochor Center and if you go outside you can see that it is being aborted. & # 39;


The montage is part of the latest exhibition of Soh, Before It All Goes, with photographs of buildings that were built during the early years of independence of Singapore from the sixties and seventies.

Darren Soh Golden Mile Tower 2

Golden Mile Tower was built in 1974. It was designed by Malaysian architect Goh Hock Guan, who also designed the Kallang Theater. (Photo: Darren Soh)

It is not just HDB façades. The show also includes eight iconic sites, both commercial and public, many of which have recently been in the news.

In addition to Rochor Center, there are also photo's from Pearl Bank Apartments, People's Park Complex, Golden Mile Complex, Golden Mile Tower, Queenstown Cinema, Tanglin Halt Estate and the swimming complexes in Bedok and Buona Vista.

Swimming complex Darren Soh Bedok

Bedok Swimming Complex, built in 1981, is now being demolished, with new universal hubs such as Heartbeat @ Bedok that take over their functions. (Photo: Darren Soh)

Like the houses, some of these monuments have disappeared while the fate of others is in the air.

And Soh – who also published a book and a collaborative documentary – hopes that his images will help people talk about it.

Darren Soh Pearl Bank Apartments

Pearl Bank Apartments, which was built in 1976. After previous unsuccessful attempts in one en bloc, it finally came over this year. (Photo: Darren Soh)

Darren Soh Pearl Bank Apartments 2

Pearl Bank Apartments, which was built in 1976. (Photo: Darren Soh)

"There are 7000 preserved buildings in Singapore, but the fact remains that only 15 of them were built after independence, we have many conserved buildings from the beginning of the 20th century, but the message I get is that everything that arose after 1965 is not that important, "he said.

"We have to talk about this whole idea of ​​urban renewal and if there is another way out, just continue to demolish and build new ones, and if some of them can be saved because of more conversations, that would be great."


Soh's love of architectural photography, a professional lens man of the last two decades, began in 2006 when he was commissioned to write a series about Marina Bay for the international magazine Monocle. After the transformation of the site into the future, Marina Bay Sands made him aware of the value of making these photos.

Darren Soh Queenstown Cinema

Cinema Queenstown, built in 1977 and demolished in 2013. (Photo: Darren Soh)

On the side Soh started his personal project to easily document the old buildings of Singapore. But, he said, things took a more serious turn a few years ago. In 2013 the cinema in Queenstown was demolished and a year later the news came that Tanglin Halt Estate would be demolished under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) from HDB.

"It was the biggest SERS project to date, the government had never announced the demolition of 31 blocks at once – it really was a big estate and for them to move everyone, was it really? & # 39. The decision-making process felt very one-sided, "he said.

Darren Soh Tanglin Halt

Tanglin Halt, built in 1962, was HDB's largest Selective En-block redevelopment program (SERS), which was announced in 2014. (Photo: Darren Soh)

The two developments led him to speed up his documentation process – especially when it concerned residential buildings.

"I would quickly start to photograph places that go into a block, no matter how weak they may seem, and I always tell my friends to let me know when their apartments are in a block so that I can photograph them," he said.

Darren Soh People & # 39; s Park Complex

People & # 39; s Park Complex in Chinatown, built in 1970. (Photo: Darren Soh)

Darren Soh Peoples Park Complex 2

People & # 39; s Park Complex in Chinatown, built in 1970. (Photo: Darren Soh)

Soh would also search the newspapers for announcements from and blocs and websites and visit old HDB annual reports for more information about buildings.


Soh recognizes how complicated things are. It is a complicated web of problems, he said, from the perspective of inheritance to commercial considerations, issues of space and investment of people.

Responding to the recent National Day Rally speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, where the situation at Tanglin Halt was mentioned, Soh said: "He actually gave a very good context why this is – that it was built at a time when it was land use was not optimal so it has to go in. I think that in a certain sense he does not think he could have offered much more in the light of what is already moving. & # 39;

Swimming pool Darren Soh Buona Vista

Buona Vista swimming complex, which was built in 1976 and demolished in 2014. (Photo: Darren Soh)

He added: "It may not be our problem now, but by the time it comes to our children, everything will be erased My son is six years old By the time he gets married or will have children, Tanglin Halt) are a memory, and as you get new, longer, more modern flats to live in, it is a very sobering thought that there is no physical remnant (of the old flats). "

But if you want to save old buildings, everything is not completely lost. Soh cites Dakota Crescent as an example of a success story.

"Six of the blocks have been preserved and that is a big win for me because it is unprecedented." There has never been a case where the government says "we are going to demolish this", a group of people came to to say, can not you please? & # 39; And they changed their minds, "he said. "And also, because the MP in the area, Mr. Lim Biow Chuan, believed in saving part of it and was actively speaking in Parliament."


Of course, Soh said he had no illusions that mere photographs would change things just like that. But for him, every single image of these buildings is important, including those on Instagram.

Darren Soh 19 Jalan Sultan built in 1978

19 Jalan Sultan, built in 1978. (Photo: Darren Soh)

"In one way or another many Instagrammers go to many of these places, perhaps because of the aesthetics, but it remains a fact that these photos exist and are part of an archive. as a good thing, "he said.

Whatever happens after the independence buildings, Soh said he will continue to photograph whatever is possible – even if the HDB block does not look special, like his parental home.

Darren Soh 20 Upper Boon Keng Road built 1975 demolished 2013

20 Upper Boon Keng Road, built in 1975 and demolished in 2013. (Photo: Darren Soh)

"It looks the same for you and me, but someone who lived there will be able to tell it, as long as the images are special for even one person, it's enough." "I have people who write," thank you for photographing this place that nobody wants, it was my home and now it's gone. "And that keeps me going."

Before It All Goes: Architecture From Singapore's Early Independence Years runs until September 29 in Objectifs, 155 Middle Road. Free entrance.

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