Brutalist architecture typically refers to modernist buildings whose primary feature is unfinished concrete. In Singapore, this kind of architecture includes landmarks such as Golden Mile Complex, which pioneered in Singapore in the 1970s. Generally, these buildings are not as aesthetically pleasing to the public as much as the glitzy glass towers concentrated in the financial district.

Recently, it has come into debate whether they are worth conserving or not as some of these landmarks are slated to be sold to private developers. Advocates are attempting to protect these buildings through conservation laws. Some argue that these brutalist buildings represent Singapore’s early “hopes and aspirations”, and also offer a different narrative for the global city amidst its polished appearance.

However, most of these buildings are in states of disrepair because no one in the shared ownership wants to pay for short-term maintenance. In the case of Golden Mile Complex, most of the owners are supportive of selling the building rather than conserving it as it does not make financial sense to them.

Read the full article on TODAY: Too ugly to be saved? Singapore weighs fate of its Brutalist buildings


There is a perennial tension in Singapore wanting to conserve old buildings of historical value and making way for new property more befitting of the city landscape. This is the classic case of balancing between relevance and identity.

Considering the scarcity of land that Singapore has, it is no wonder that preserving old buildings have to be weighed for its practicality from the government’s point of view. While it is important for Singapore to retain some form of history in physical places to remind us of stories from the past, these old buildings also have to serve their purpose in the economy’s development.

So the question is: who gets to decide what stays and what goes? One commentator thinks that there should be public consultation to give the public a platform to engage with authorities. Public consultations are time-consuming, but having different perspectives added in the decision-making process may lead to a more palatable outcome.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. What do you feel about the ever-changing physical landscape of Singapore?
  2. What are the interests of different segments of society in the discussion surrounding the conservation of buildings?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘pejorative’: expressing contempt or disapproval
  2. ‘vernacular’: (of architecture) concerned with domestic and functional rather than public or monumental buildings
  3. ‘veneer’: an attractive appearance that covers or disguises someone or something’s true nature or feelings

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