My Thoughts - One idea for preserving Bukit Brown heritage

ST 12 May 2012


One idea for preserving Bukit Brown heritage
By Alicia Ang

I HAD always wanted to design a columbarium.

In a country like Singapore where land is scarce, burial needs have evolved from cemeteries to columbaria. Inevitably, current facilities will run out of space and demand for well-designed columbaria will increase.

The recent brouhaha over the development of Bukit Brown cemetery inspired my final-year project.
Four months of project work - and visits to the cemetery - resulted in Bukit Brown Memoirs. My concept revolved around the idea of preserving the graves and designing a heritage centre-cum-columbarium to support the heritage and history represented by the graves in Bukit Brown.
For Bukit Brown was not what I had expected a cemetery to be: eerie and grim. Instead, it was filled with greenery that provided serenity. Walking down the concrete pavement and meandering through grass to get to tombstones, I found Bukit Brown filled with gems waiting to be discovered.
The intricate carvings found in Peranakan and Chinese culture are apparent on some tombstones; Sikh guards and Chinese sculptures are found on others. Each tombstone has its own character and story to tell. To completely demolish these would be a loss.

My hope is that Bukit Brown Memoirs would help Singaporeans preserve a piece of our heritage by collating and documenting information.

The chosen site is a vacant Command House located at 1 Fairy Point Hill, on the east side of Singapore, away from the city. The building is isolated on top of the hill, surrounded by lush greenery. It faces the Johor straits.

The peaceful environment creates an ideal location for a columbarium that aligns to the environment currently present in Bukit Brown. Here, I attempted to pay homage to the famous and the ordinary by symbolically honouring them as Singapore's pioneers.
The proposed spaces feature galleries to exhibit preserved artefacts, photography works, documented works, exhumed graves, and a miniature Bukit Brown cemetery model for one to see how it once was. LED screens will feature digital images and historical short film footages from the past.

My concept was inspired by the layers of history buried with Singapore's pioneers in the cemetery. The concept of layers is further enhanced with the play of artificial and natural lighting denoting the importance of the space.

The hardest part of the project was to create a sense of spirituality in the space, to evoke the emptiness that is prevalent with the loss of a dear one and a piece of history.
I was able to achieve the desired effect by playing with different volumetric expressions and natural elements such as light and water.

The achromatic colour scheme focuses on the different shades of warm grey to create a sombre mood, yet at the same time invites visitors to pay their respects to our pioneers.
Putting Bukit Brown Memoirs together has helped me learn how our forefathers built Singapore, and that we should give them due respect.

The project was a sensitive attempt to resolve the Bukit Brown issue close to Singaporeans' hearts.
The writer, 19, recently graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a diploma in interior architecture and design.