Truly sounds like great news. Once declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites, architectural changes to these sites will not be allowed and their historic beauty will be preserved forever.
The mesmerising, classic Padang Civic Ensemble, which include, the Padang and its surrounding civic architecture – has been added to Singapore’s Tentative List for UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
For people who are new to Singapore or tourists, the area has the majestic National Gallery, the very popular, Singapore Cricket Club, its cricket ground has hosted some big-ticket events, and Singapore Recreation Club, its beautiful grass tennis courts.
Deepak Gurnani, Chairman, High Street Centre Management Corporation, who likewise attended one of the focus group discussions, added: “I have worked in the area near the Padang for 34 years, and it is one of the most walkable spots in Singapore, with many landmarks and activities concentrated in a single area. While there may be opportunity costs brought on by development restrictions, the value of a World Heritage Site inscription would be worthwhile in the long term. I am fully supportive of this potential nomination and the global recognition it could bring for the Padang and its surrounding monuments.”
Other adjacent buildings such as the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, the Former Parliament House and Annex Building (now the Arts House), and various other National Monuments are not only of high historical significance but stand out as excellent examples of preservation of Singapore's rich heritage.
Singapore's National Heritage Board (NHB) will study the site further with the benefit of advice and guidance from the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies through the Preliminary Assessment (PA), a new mechanism in the World Heritage Site nomination process which will begin this year.
Submission of the tentative list is the first step in the potential nomination of The Padang Civic Ensemble as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Following the successful inscription of the Singapore Botanic Gardens as Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, NHB has been looking into the next possible candidate for Singapore’s second nomination.
Jean Wee, Director, the Preservation of Sites & Monuments division, NHB, said: “Set in the heart of the Civic District, The Padang Civic Ensemble bears national and historical significance. In particular, the Padang has been a mainstay in Singapore’s urban fabric from the colonial era till present. NHB’s research has also found that it has a good chance of demonstrating global significance and meeting the criteria for World Heritage. While a future nomination could be a possibility, these are early days yet. NHB will conduct more research and seek guidance from the World Heritage Centre through the Preliminary Assessment, before the decision to formally pursue the nomination is made.”
The Padang Civic Ensemble was identified as the best possible option as it stands a good chance of meeting the World Heritage criteria. The successful nomination of The Padang Civic Ensemble will provide greater recognition of Singapore’s heritage on the global stage, in particular of the Padang and the surrounding monuments, raise awareness of heritage preservation in Singapore, foster a stronger sense of national identity and pride for Singaporeans, and ensure the site’s preservation for future generations.
To be inscribed as a World Heritage Site, sites must be of Outstanding Universal Value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria.
Out of the six criteria for cultural properties, NHB considers that The Padang Civic Ensemble is most likely to meet and fulfill criterion (iv) – “To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”.
This is because The Padang Civic Ensemble is an outstanding example of a British colonial civic square in the tropics. The coalescence of colonial-era and post-independence civic institutions within a single municipal area bears testament to the historically widespread phenomenon of decolonisation and the globally significant transition of long-held British territories to newly independent nations in the decades following World War II.
Besides its high potential to meet the World Heritage criteria, The Padang Civic Ensemble bears national and historical significance. The Padang has a high level of preservation, having been gazetted as a National Monument on 9 August 2022.
Participation in the PA is one way that NHB will be able to better understand the feasibility of the potential nomination. The PA is a newly introduced upstream mechanism in the World Heritage Site nomination process, which provides State Parties with an opportunity to receive guidance from the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies on a specific site early on, prior to the submission of a full-scale nomination. It will also provide a longer runway for NHB to work with the relevant government agencies and stakeholders to address redevelopment concerns, informed by guidance from the Advisory Bodies, before submitting an official nomination. The submission of Singapore’s Tentative List is a necessary step for participation in the inaugural PA in September 2023.
In addition to the PA, NHB will be carrying out further research in 2023 to determine potential implications on the site and surrounding developments. The research findings will also allow NHB to assess the benefits and impact of the proposed nomination, and the exact timeline needed for a full-scale nomination to the World Heritage list.
The outcome of NHB’s research, as well as the results of the PA, will help guide the decision to be made at a later stage on whether Singapore will formally pursue the nomination. This is an important step as Singapore will have to study and balance long-term urban redevelopment carefully needs with the protection requirements of a World Heritage Site.
As part of its preparatory efforts, NHB has held focus group discussions in January and February 2023, comprising various groups of stakeholders such as local heritage experts and professionals, academics, government agencies, and monument and building owners. The sessions were attended by close to 60 participants, and while there were some concerns raised regarding the impact on redevelopment in the area, they were generally supportive of the submission of The Padang Civic Ensemble to be added to Singapore’s Tentative List. There are also plans for further public engagement at a later stage.
Dr Chang Jiat Hwee, Associate Professor at Asia Research Institute and the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore, who attended one of the focus group discussions, said: “The Padang and its surrounding civic architecture capture the many layers of Singapore’s history from the colonial to post-colonial era and continue to co-exist alongside our modern built heritage. Its inclusion on the Tentative List as a potential nomination would raise awareness of the importance of sensitively protecting buildings from the different historical periods in Singapore.”