Building Singapore is a design project by graphic designer Teo Yu Siang, born out of a desire to celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday in a manner that is less self-congratulatory.

Because we can - and should - celebrate what we've achieved thus far and at the same time be aware of our flaws and the alternative narratives that drive our histories. How else can progress be made?

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Building Singapore




Buildings build us.

Without them, we lose the settings in which many scenes in our lives appear in. Building Singapore explores 50 significant buildings in Singapore - some iconic, some historical, others forgotten - to observe the histories (quite literally) etched in stone.

This is an introspective celebration of our nation’s 50th birthday - in a way that’s much more honest, and a lot less masturbatory.

#01/50

Old Supreme Court

The Old Supreme Court building is a pretty reminder of our colonial past and its lasting impact on us. Just take Section 377A, an archaic law that criminalises sex between consenting males. It's still in force in Singapore today, even though our former colonial rulers have repealed the law since 1967. We’ve really made some crazy progress since our independence, haven’t we?

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#02/50

Raffles Statue

The declaration of Sir Stamford Raffles as Singapore’s founding father in 1965 is probably one of the more brilliant re-writes of our history. Here Raffles is immortalised, with the inscription attributing his genius for the transformation of the island from a “obscure fishing village” into a “modern metropolis”. Because only when we erase our pre-colonial past, where Singapore was already a thriving trading city before Raffles ever set foot on its shores, can we forge the “fishing village to metropolis” narrative that dominates the state’s ideology.

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#03/50

New Supreme Court

The New Supreme Court is an astonishing sight to behold, not so much because of its ultra-modern, space-agey style, but rather due to its strikingly panoptic disc sitting at the top of the building. Remember, people: Big Brother’s always watching us all - through an eerily UFO-looking, all-seeing panoptic tower. Bentham would have been proud.

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#04/50

"The Rainbow HDB"

Blk 316 of Hougang Ave 7, known affectionately as The Rainbow HDB Block, really has not much to offer in terms of historical significance, but it more than makes up for it with its pretty rainbow facade. And hey, what’s not to like about a building that stands up so readily for LGBT equality in this sunny island?

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#05/50

Bukit Brown Cemetery

What’s the value of our ancestors to us today? Well, not much, apparently. Bukit Brown Cemetery, the largest Chinese graveyard outside of China, gave up 4,000 out of its more than 100,000 graves to make way for a new 4-lane road. And in 40 years' time, the rest of the cemetery will be replaced with a new public housing estate. Out with the old, in with the new?

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#06/50

The Esplanade

In 2002 The Esplanade, the performing arts centre known locally as “The Durians”, was opened. It marked the government’s bold attempt to grow the nation’s arts scene - remarkably, not for art’s sake, but rather for the economic benefits a vibrant arts “industry” could bring. Naturally, The Esplanade became the place for international big-name acts, but not so much for local acts who couldn’t always draw the big crowds - and who therefore actually needed more help. But hey, economic gains trumps all other issues, right?

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#07/50

The Interlace

Designed by Dutch architecture firm OMA, The Interlace is a striking residential development that's an antithesis to the tried-and-tested high-rise condominium concept. It also looks like cargo containers (or kueh lapis sagu, aka 九层糕, if you’re feeling hungry) stacked haphazardly on top of one another.

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#08/50

Cinnamon College,
NUS University Town

This building was the site of an ugly tension relating to class and elitism in Singapore's education system. When NUS's University Scholar's Programme moved into University Town in 2011, it required all students in the program to stay for at least 2 years in Cinnamon College. The expensive hostel fees became a barrier to entry of sorts for students with poorer backgrounds. Keira Chan, then 3rd-year USP student, pointed this out in an online article, but was met with harsh backlash instead, mostly personal attacks targeted at her use of English. So much for a meritocratic education system with equal opportunities for all.

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#09/50

The Gateway

Imagine two giant blades from hell sticking out of the ground, and you'll get (the rather aptly named) The Gateway. It's no wonder, then, that the area around the twin buildings is mostly empty - feng shui masters have long argued that the sharp blades provide for a very bad feng shui. One question remains, though: what kinds of office furniture would fit into the crazy sharp corners of the building?

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#10/50

Changi Airport

For the millions of Singaporeans who travel abroad every year, Changi Airport's iconic control tower is the building that tells us we're back to the land of efficiency and sweltering heat. The airport is a legacy of LKY's remarkable foresight, when he pushed (against foreign experts' recommendations) for a new airport to be built in Changi instead of expanding the Paya Lebar airport - because the latter, located at the heart of the island, would eventually result in massive noise pollution to neighbouring housing estates.

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#11/50

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, now a gazetted national monument, was built in 1932 in hopes that it will be the start and end point of a rail network that would stretch west to Calais, France, north to Hankou, China, and onwards to the Trans-Siberian network. With a rich Art Deco style, the station has four reliefs of white marble, representing Agriculture, Industry, Commerce and Transport, and the accompanying letters “F M S R” stand for “Federated Malay States Railways”.

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#12/50

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands is not only a giant of a building that stands out in the Singapore skyline, it's also standing proof that even the legendary Mr. LKY gets to eat his own words. He initially said casinos would only be allowed "over [his] dead body” because of the social ills he thought they would bring to society. In 2007, however, with many casinos opening elsewhere in Asia, he allowed the potential economic benefits casinos bring to win his mind over, leading to the construction of MBS.

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#13/50

Red Dot Design Museum

Before this building was the Red Dot Design Museum, it housed the Singapore Traffic Police Headquarters. In fact, back in 1928 when it was first built, the building wasn’t even red - only in 2005, when Red Dot moved into the building, was it given its signature red coat. Today, besides its over 1,000 design exhibits, the Red Dot building is known for its monthly Friday night flea market MAAD, where one can find the quirky products of the Singapore maker movement.

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#14/50

"The Dragon Playground"

From the early 1970s to 1990s, HDB introduced locally designed playgrounds at the heart of housing estates. The most famous of them all, the dragon playground located at Blk 28 Toa Payoh Lorong 6, was erected in 1979 and designed by then HDB in-house designer Mr Khor Ean Ghee. Today, the Dragon is an almost extinct species, standing as one of the less than 20 remaining locally designed playgrounds.

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#15/50

Golden Mile Complex

Built in 1973, Golden Mile Complex is one of the pioneers of mixed-use developments in Singapore. Arguably the most visually striking building in the country, the complex has an avant-garde stepped-section design which offers occupants on the upper floors a panoramic view of the sea and sky. Perhaps an accidental reflection of the dog-eat-dog, individualised pursuit of economic progress pervasive in Singapore, the complex is now known as a vertical slum, with each occupant adding on their own extensions, zinc sheets and rooms to their units haphazardly and without regard to the building’s overall welfare.

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#16/50

The Pinnacle@Duxton

The Pinnacle@Duxton has got to be one of the most awkward buildings in Singapore. It stands on the site of the first 2 HDB blocks in the Tanjong Pagar area, and was developed to commemorate the historical significance of the previous blocks. The 7-tower building is truly a pinnacle of HDB housing, standing as the world’s tallest public housing at 50 storeys, with the world’s 2 longest sky gardens on the 26th and 50th floors. The prices of the flats, too, were the pinnacle of HDB housing, fetching up to a staggering $1.03m on resale. The Pinnacle is a remarkable public housing project, but it is also one awkwardly unlike any public housing project: toweringly tall, centrally located and extremely pricey.

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#17/50

Former National Stadium

The Former National Stadium holds a precious spot in the collective memories of this nation. It has held many events in its 44 years of history, but nothing - not even any of the 18 NDPs - could be more important than when it held the Malaysian Cup thrice during 1977, 1980 and 1994. For it was then when the Kallang Roar was created, when the Lions beat Malaysia to win the Cup and the football fans erupted in such a victorious celebration it became the epitome of sports in this little red dot.

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#18/50

Maxwell Food Centre

Built in the 1930s, this famous hawker centre was initially known as Maxwell Market and was a wet market that catered to the Chinatown area. In the 1980s, as part of the government’s initiative to eliminate unhygienic (and unsightly) street hawkers, it was turned into a temporary site to house hawkers that were displaced (and was renamed Maxwell Road Hawker Centre). It remained a hawker centre ever since, offering a staggering 100 plus stalls at low prices to hundreds office workers in the nearby CBD everyday.

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#19/50

Tiong Bahru SIT Flats

Guess what - mass public housing is not an HDB-created (and, by extension, PAP-created) idea. The SIT, or Singapore Improvement Trust, was established by the colonial government to convert slums into flats (sound familiar?), and in the 1930s built the first public housing flats in Tiong Bahru. These SIT flats are notable for their strong focus on aesthetics and lack of lifts, resulting in distinct and pretty staircases on their exteriors that are so hipster and Instagrammable today. What the SIT lacked and the HDB made up for, however, was efficiency - the former built only 23,000 units in 32 years, and the latter took over in 1960 to eventually cater for over 80% of the population's housing needs.

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#20/50

The Substation

Originally a power sub-station that became vacant, The Substation became Singapore's first independent contemporary arts centre in 1990 under the vision of its founder, playwright and theatre director Kuo Pao Kun. As a community-funded, non-profit arts centre with a focus on experimental arts, it quickly became a critical space for budding artists who lack money or influence to experiment and grow. In a results-driven country, The Substation is made more important because it takes an antithetical approach by valuing the process of creating and experimenting with art rather than the end product. As founder Kuo said, "a worthy failure is more valuable than a mediocre success."

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#21/50

Gardens by the Bay

Welcome to Pandora—I mean Singapore. Standing up to 50m tall, the Supertrees of Gardens by the Bay bring to mind the unnaturally massive trees in James Cameron’s Avatar. These incredible steel structures mimic the ecological functions of actual trees, with solar cells that harness solar energy and the collection of rainwater for irrigation and fountain display purposes. Next to Singapore Flyer (the world’s 2nd-largest ferris wheel) and Marina Bay Sands (which contains an infinity pool longer than the Eiffel Tower) the Supertrees of Gardens by the Bay fit right into the Marina Bay area. Seems like the new Singapore is about making everything bigger - except maybe our HDB flat sizes.

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#22/50

New National Stadium

In this small country obsessed with building the world's largest structures, it's not much of a surprise that the new National Stadium holds the record for having the largest dome structure in the world. What's surprising, however, is how the world-class retractable roof would lead to uneven sunlight and result in a pitch so sandy it could potentially cause injuries to players. The stadium is the first building constructed under a new Public-Private Partnership scheme with the government, which meant it was to be run as a commercially sound venture. This, along with other incidents, led local footballer Baihakki Khaizan to remark: "You’ve sold out, haven’t you? You’re more about money, moving in a direction I don’t understand. Honestly, I miss the old you."

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#23/50

The Concourse

In 1985, due to a backfired high-wage economic policy meant to boost labour productivity, Singapore entered its first recession since its independence. The recession hit and escalated quickly, with GDP growth falling to an alarming -3.5% by the third quarter of the year. But Singaporeans weren't the only ones affected by the recession; The Concourse, originally meant to be the Hong Fok Centre, commenced construction in 1981 but was halted when the recession struck. It was only 2 years later that construction started anew, with architect Paul Rudolph retaining what was already built but redesigning the rest of the building. Today, The Concourse forms a distinct silhouette of the Singapore skyline (especially when viewed from Changi Airport), with its unique aluminium curtain wall system reminiscent of dinner plates stacked on top of one another.

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#24/50

"The Queen"

There are many things that make “The Queen” (now Ascott Raffles Place, formerly Asia Insurance Building) one of the most special buildings in the country. For one, the Art Deco styled, L-shaped building was designed by Ng Keng Siang, a prominent local architect who was one of the first from Singapore to be a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Plus, when it was completed in 1955, it stood as the tallest building in SEA at 82m. To top it off (quite literally), during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, a stainless steel crown was erected at the top of the building (while it was still undergoing construction!) to mark the occasion. And thus, The Queen was born.

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#25/50

Parliament House

The Parliament House, opened in 1999, is a significant landmark that houses the Parliament of Singapore—which itself is significant for being the only one in the world with the controversial NCMP (Non-Constituency MP) and NMP (Nominated MP) schemes. The building's design is a contemporary expression of classical architecture, with the use of columns on its facade that harks back to the colonnade design often found in classical landmarks. Interestingly, the prism-shaped top is a modernist take on the traditional dome, and was designed by former (and first elected) president Ong Teng Cheong, who was an architect before he joined politics.

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#26/50

Old Changi Hospital

Old Changi Hospital is one of the most haunted places in the country—and for good reason. To begin with, Old Changi Hospital started as a military hospital in 1935, which meant it saw its fair share of military-related tragedies and deaths. The building took a much darker turn during WWII—and this is the main reason for its spookiness—when it was captured by the Japanese forces and used by the notorious Kempeitai (Japanese Secret Police) as a torture chamber. Many reckon that, when the hospital shifted to its new grounds in 1997, some things still lingered around the abandoned building till today.

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#27/50

Istana Woodneuk

Built some time in the late 19th century, Istana Woodneuk (or Woodneuk Palace) is the forgotten palace of Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor. Sultan Abu Bakar, also known as the "Father of Modern Johor", erected the magnificent building for his beloved 4th wife, Sultana Khadijah. Originally a grand mansion, Istana Woodneuk eventually fell into disrepair, and in 2006 its brilliant blue roof was destroyed by a fire. Today, the structurally unsafe building, still owned by the Sultan of Johor, lies largely forgotten (and enveloped in nature), a hint of the once inseparable ties between Singapore and Malaya.

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#28/50

Henderson Waves

Connecting Mount Faber Park and Telok Blangah Hill Park, the Henderson Waves is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore at 36m above ground. In a visually spectacular manner, the bridge has a wave-form (hence its name) that is made up of undulating curved steel ribs that rise up and fall below the deck of the bridge. Most importantly, these ribs form alcoves and hidden recesses, where people can sit and rest, observe the beauty of their surroundings and, of course, make out.

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#29/50

Lau Pa Sat

As with many other famous food centres in Singapore, Lau Pa Sat (former Telok Ayer Market) started as a wet market and was converted into a hawker centre when the needs of the people around the building changed. Originally made of timber and attap, the market was rebuilt and relocated to the Telok Ayer Basin, with the new building capturing the original octagonal design but redesigning the framework in Victorian-styled cast iron. In 1989 the food centre was given its new name Lau Pa Sat (or “Old Market”), derived from “lau” in Chinese/Hokkien, meaning “old”, and “pa-sat”, a Singaporean Hokkien term loaned from the Malay word “pasar”, meaning “market”.

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#30/50

The Fullerton Hotel

In its 87 years at the mouth of the Singapore River, The Fullerton Hotel was many buildings. In the beginning, it was The Fullerton Building, named after Robert Fullerton, the first Governor of Straits Settlements. The most popular tenant of the building then was the General Post Office (which occupied the two lower floors) and other tenants included the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Singapore Club. During WWII, the building was a hospital, with makeshift operation rooms for wounded soldiers. After the British surrendered, it became the headquarters of the Japanese Military Administration. And when Singapore gained independence, it housed many arms of the government, including the EDB and MOF. Today, as a natural result of the country’s economic-centric growth, the building is converted into a prestigious, 5-star hotel, offering an unparalleled view of the river—to those who could afford it.

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#31/50

Singapore Flyer

It might be the world’s tallest Ferris wheel (until it lost that title in 2014), but what’s most striking about Singapore Flyer is just how steeped in feng shui it is. For starters, the Flyer has 28 capsules, and each capsule is able to hold a maximum of 28 people—in Chinese, “28” is an auspicious number because it sounds like “easy prosperity”. And that’s just the beginning; barely months after its opening, the Flyer reversed its direction of rotation after warnings from feng shui masters. The masters noted that, in its initial direction, the wheel rotates into the open sea, the feng shui equivalent of dumping money into the sea. Perhaps ironically, all the feng shui wisdom didn’t do much to help the Flyer, which went into financial difficulties in 2010.

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#32/50

Former MICA Building

The shades of rainbow colours on the facade of this building suggest a progressive and liberal space, but what's contained within is far more sinister. Since 1983, the Board of Film Censors became one of the tenants of the building, and in 2000 it was joined by MICA (now MCI), MDA, NAC and NLB. These agencies, through their various means, control what enters the airwaves, screens and shelves of the country, protecting and preserving a narrow interpretation of our history and our social institutions. It's from here that decisions are made to snip off scenes from movies, cut out communities from conversations, and ban books from broadening the minds of our nation. So that what's left to see are the carefully painted colours on a pretty facade.

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#33/50

Pearl Bank Apartments

When it was completed in 1976, the Pearl Bank Apartments condominium was not only the densest, but also the tallest residential building in Singapore. But more than its height or density, the design of the condominium is what makes it stand out. The Pearl Bank Apartments is a ¾ cylindrical tower shaped like a horseshoe, with maze-like split-level units and staircases that lead to alternate level apartments inaccessible by lifts. The opening of the tower faces west to minimise direct sunlight, and the tower’s height and location offers a view stretching from Chinatown to Sentosa. If, by October this year, all owners of the building provide their consent, the Pearl Bank Apartments will be the first residential building to be granted conservation status.

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#34/50

Capitol Theatre

Built by Persian businessman Namazie, the Capitol Theatre was the country's first cinema, and could fit a staggering 1,686 people in its single-hall auditorium. Before it screened it's last film in 1998, the neo-classical Theatre was a prime paktor location, and couples would go to the nearby Magnolia Snack Bar to get snacks before watching performances or films. After a decade of taichi-ing by the STB and SLA, the Capitol Theatre opened this May, with a 900-seater single-screen theatre, the largest in SEA. The Theatre will also be Singapore's only dual-purpose one, hosting both arts performances and film screenings.

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#35/50

Merlion Park

The historical significance of the Merlion lies in its complete lack of historical significance. Originally designed in 1964 for the logo of STB, this imaginary beast has since become the de facto tourist attraction and national symbol. Its conception coincides nicely with the country’s independence and the need to concretise the state’s “fishing village to metropolis” Singapore story, since the beast is a literal visual imagination of a lion city emerging out of a fishing village. That an imaginary monster would become the personification of the nation might be inspiring, but perhaps it also points to our lack of national identity and the narrowness of the state’s official interpretation of our history.

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#36/50

Chinatown Shophouses

The pretty shophouses in Chinatown are the commercialised remnants of the Jackson Plan, an urban plan drawn by our colonial rulers that was based on ethnic segregation. Even after our independence, the spirit of the Jackson Plan remains, with the government adopting a policy of multiculturalism very much organised along racial lines. Today, our "CMIO" (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) ethnic differentiation model affects the public housing you're eligible to apply for, the language you study in school, and even the types of (and funding for) financial aid available for the lower income members of society.

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#37/50

CHIJMES

CHIJMES began as the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus more than 100 years ago, established by 4 French nuns who travelled from France to Penang in caravans, and then sailed to Singapore from Penang. The Gothic chapel was used as a Catholic convent for 132 years (as well as a school, orphanage and refuge for women), before it was deconsecrated on 1983. Today, the place is carefully restored, preserved, and renamed CHIJMES (pronounced with a silent "J", supposedly in reference to chiming bells from the chapel) and is a popular tourist trap filled with retail and F&B outlets.

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#38/50

Kampong Buangkok

Also called Selak Kain (meaning "to hitch up one's sarong", a reference to the frequent occurrence of flash floods in the area), Kampong Buangkok is the last remaining kampong (or village) in mainland Singapore. The land in Kampong Buangkok is private property owned by Ms Sng Mui Hong (handed down since 1956 from generation to generation), and residents rent their land from her and build their own houses. In our highly urbanised city-state buzzing with activity and steeped in individualistic pursuits of success, Kampong Buangkok is a surreal oasis of the older and slower days, where neighbours truly knew each other and trusted one another enough to leave their doors open.

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#39/50

Dakota Crescent

Another housing project built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (the predecessor of HDB), Dakota Crescent is also one of the oldest in the country. But by the end of 2016, Dakota Crescent will be no more; in 2014, the HDB announced that the area was earmarked for redevelopment, meaning that residents have until 31 Dec 2016 to move out of their flats. For most of the residents, some of whom have spent their entire lives in the estate, Dakota Crescent is a collection of childhood memories, the sound of familiar voices and morning greetings. In the eyes of the state, it is an old, low-rise housing estate, the demolition of which is an inevitability that would bring forth new flats, condominiums, or even malls. Is a housing estate older than our very own nation the right price to pay for progress and urban development?

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#40/50

Benjamin Sheares Bridge

Benjamin Sheares Bridge is Singapore’s longest bridge, stretching 1.8km long. The bridge is named in honour of our second president, who sadly passed away months before the bridge was opened to the public. Sheares, who was a medical doctor, is possibly the nation’s most interesting president, for he is linked inextricably to one of Singapore’s hidden histories. Dr Sheares’ legacy was the invention of vaginoplasty, a technique to create an artificial vagina, which is today still used for sex change operations. In fact, from the 1970s to 2000s, Singapore became one of the world leaders in sex reassignment surgery (SRS), with KK and Alexandra Hospitals offering SRS operations to transsexual individuals around the region. Today, most of the trans culture in Singapore is largely hidden, especially with the redevelopment of Bugis Street in the mid-1980s.

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#41/50

Masjid Sultan

The Masjid Sultan (or Sultan Mosque) is widely considered the national mosque of Singapore, and for good reason. The current mosque, completed in 1932, was a replacement of the original (smaller) mosque built in 1828 and a sign of Singapore's growing status as a centre of Islamic commerce, culture and arts in the 1990s. The mosque was designed with a Saracenic style, a blend of Indo-Islamic, Indian, Gothic revival and Neo-classical styles that is a fitting reflection of Singapore's history. But what's most remarkable about the mosque isn't its magnificent golden onion domes, or that its Mecca-facing orientation meant it defied the urban planning grid; rather, it's that the base of each dome is ornamented with glass bottle ends collected from poor Muslims, because the building committee wanted to ensure that all Muslims, not only the rich, could contribute to its construction.

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#42/50

Rochor Centre

When it was built in 1977, Rochor Centre was pure white. Only in the 1990s, when it went for an upgrading program, did it acquire its four bright colours that make it one of the most memorable landmarks in the country. The residential and commercial complex contains shophouses and offices in its first 3 levels, a unique picturesque void deck on the 4th floor, and apartments from the 5th floor upwards. 570 families and almost 190 retailers have been living, operating, and growing in the building for the past 30 years, but all that will soon come to an end by 2016. As with many other colourful buildings with rich histories located on prime land, Rochor Centre is slated to be demolished to make way for the future–in this case, an upcoming North-South Expressway that could cut traffic by up to 30 per cent. It’s official: expensive cars are more important than our heritage.

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#43/50

Red House Bakery

Located at 75 East Coast Road, the Red House Bakery was established in 1925 and officially called the Katong Bakery & Confectionery Company. The bakery got its name from the facade of its 2-storey shophouse, and was famous for its swiss rolls, amongst other cakes and pastries. In 1957, philanthropist Sherrifa Zain put the property in trust as a wakaf (religious bequest), and proceeds from rental income were used to fund her grandchildren’s education as well as maintain a free clinic for the needy. The Red House was a popular hangout for local bands in the 1960s, but closed in 2003 when the shophouse was deemed unsafe. Today, the Red House is undergoing restoration and will open in 2016 with a bakery that is run as a social enterprise.

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#44/50

Parkview Square

Parkview Square’s extravagant Art Deco style brings to mind Batman’s Gotham City (hence its unofficial name of “Gotham Building”)—or maybe the decadent setting of The Great Gatsby. For its historical stylistic influences, however, Parkview Square is a rather modern building, and was completed in 2002. The open plaza of the building is surrounded by bronze sculptures of famous figures in world history, including Sun Yat-sen, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton and Chopin. But the plaza isn’t the only place you can find sculptures in this building; near the top of the building, four gigantic statues of men holding a ball of light can be found on each broad side of the building. In the centre of the plaza lies a statue of a golden crane pointed towards China, with an accompanying Chinese poem that describes the bird’s eagerness to fly thousands of miles back home, depicting a sense of homesickness.

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#45/50

Civilian War Memorial

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945, the Japanese forces conducted a major massacre called “Operation Sook Ching” (which means “to purge”), where civilians, mostly Chinese, were rounded up and executed to eliminate anti-Japanese sentiments. An estimated 50,000 civilians died in the massacre. Two decades later in 1962, sand-washing operations in Siglap revealed mass war graves, and the remains of the civilian war victims were uncovered. Sparked by this uncovering of war graves, the Civilian War Memorial was conceptualised and built, to provide a place to commemorate the lives that were lost in the Occupation. The building, which sits on a burial chamber containing the ashes of the unknown civilian war victims, was designed with four tapering columns representing the shared experience and unity of the four races.

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#46/50

The Sail @ Marina Bay

The Sail @ Marina Bay, the country’s tallest condominium, is located on prime land in the heart of the New Downtown. In many ways, The Sail reflects the Singapore growth model. After our independence, the country’s GDP per capita skyrocketed to more than US$56,000, surpassing US and Japan levels. At the same time, however, our Gini coefficient, which measures income gap, rose to one of the widest amongst developed countries. But income inequality is only part of the problem; in fact, wealth inequality (referring to the accumulated income, property, stocks and inheritance over the years) in Singapore is even more alarming. A Credit Suisse report released in 2013 indicates that Singapore has the 3rd highest wealth gap in the world, where the top 1 per cent holds more than 25% of the country’s wealth. So while a significant portion of Singaporeans find it increasingly difficult to live a comfortable life on this sunny island, the top 1% fret over which unit in The Sail provides the best view of Marina Bay.

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#47/50

"The Coffin Market"

No, the Coffin Market is not where you go to buy caskets. Rather, it’s the only remaining wet market designed and built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (or SIT, i.e. the predecessor of HDB). Opened in 1960, the former Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market was built in Queenstown estate, the first satellite town for public housing in Singapore. The market’s bold parabolic-vaulted roof, however, looked amusingly (or morbidly) like a Chinese coffin, hence earning this building its curious name. The market closed in 2005 and was gazetted for conservation in 2013 amidst renewal projects in Queenstown estate. A museum would open in 2020 to showcase the estate’s 100 year history, and was originally planned to occupy the entire first floor. Sadly, the HDB allocated a mere 70 sq m of space – slightly smaller than a 3-room flat – for the proposed museum, in order to make way for 19 shops in the rest of the area. But of course, here in Singapore, it’s all about the money. Heritage belongs in a coffin buried away somewhere we can't see.

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#48/50

Japanese Cemetery Park

The Japanese Cemetery Park (located in Hougang) might be little known to locals, but it is the largest Japanese cemetery in Southeast Asia. In 1891, three Japanese brothel owners donated parts of their rubber estates to create a burial ground for Japanese prostitutes, also called Karayuki-san (meaning “Ms. Gone Abroad”). These prostitutes, seen plying their trade near Telok Ayer Market and present-day Bugis between the 1870s to 1920s, were often trafficked from poverty stricken prefectures in Japan, and their states of destitute meant they had no final resting places. Since then, the cemetery was used to bury Japanese residents in Singapore. Further expansion of the cemetery was disallowed in 1973, and in 1987 the cemetery became a memorial park. Today, the park contains 910 tombstones, including a number of famous figures, such as Japanese author Futabatei Shimei, whose work Ukigumo (Floating Clouds) is regarded as Japan’s first modern novel.

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#49/50

38 Oxley Road

For the past six decades, this pre-war building housed the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the most divisive figure in Singapore. He led the British settlement to its eventual independence with his brilliant statesmanship, but at the same time incarcerated his party’s co-founder, among other ex-allies, in chilling ruthlessness. His system of meritocracy brought the nation’s economy from third world to first, but also created a culture of elitism and growing class divide, made especially worse when most of his cabinet ministers possess the same elite educational and economic background. To foster harmony between the different races, he created a policy of multiculturalism very much based on heightened racial consciousness, which highlights the differences between different races. His policy of constantly appreciating public housing prices led to increasing costs of living and worrying housing bubbles that prompted counter-measures from the government. Even as he passed away, he had a last act of controversy: he asked for 38 Oxley Road’s demolition upon his death, even though many citizens felt that the 100 year old building should be preserved for its rich historical value.

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#50/50

Serangoon Gardens Workers' Dormitory

In 2008, the government’s plan to convert an abandoned school in Serangoon Gardens into a foreign workers’ dormitory sparked strong objection from residents in the middle class estate, who were concerned over safety and property value. A year later, when the dormitory opened, residents found that their fears were unfounded. But that’s partly because a fence (with tarpaulin draped over it) was built around it, and the entrance was sealed with hoarding. In other words, the foreign workers were kept out of sight, and thus out of mind. As at Dec 2014, there are 1.36 million foreign workers in Singapore – that’s roughly a quarter of our total population – a significant portion of which belongs to the construction industry. These foreign workers have directly built the buildings that have then built us, and are an inseparable part of the Singapore story. And yet, they face not only strong social stigma, but also exorbitant agency fees and inadequate protection against unpaid salaries, among other challenges. As we celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday, let us also thank and better protect the millions who have come to our shores to seek a better future, and who have in the process built a better future for us.

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Made with love by Teo Yu Siang