By: Nessa Anwar
These whimsical shophouses, terraces and their surroundings are painted in vibrant hues. The street names are not in English and the architecture hints at our intriguing past. And perhaps the most distinct quality about them are the unique doors. Some are lovingly restored and maintained, while others look worse for wear. You run your fingers over them and think about the people that have passed through these doors over the years. And after taking a step back, you appreciate the beauty of these historic portals.
There’s a growing trend of social media hashtags that include “doors”. If you’re a frequent Instagram user, you might have noticed #doorsofinstagram, #doorsoftheworld and even #doorsofasia. The striking doors along the conservation estates of Bukit Pasoh and Joo Chiat come up frequently in #doorsofsingapore, so InstaScram rides there to check them out.
Bukit Pasoh is a stellar example of a revamp without denying its past. It lies within the largest planning district in Singapore - Chinatown, which includes Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Kreta Ayer.
Back in the 1820s, when the area was hilly, Bukit Pasoh was home to a handful of settlers and migrants, mostly of Chinese descent. Fast-forward 80 years later, living conditions deteriorated as the population reached about 164,000. Barely a century later, the street degenerated into a hotbed for all sorts of vice, earning a seedy reputation.
Bukit Pasoh was conferred conservation status on July 7, 1989. It subsequently blossomed into a beautiful and peaceful estate that stays true to its roots. Most of the buildings that lie within its boundaries are conserved. And characteristic of buildings that have been around for more than a century, they have intriguing stories.
Like the Ea Hoe Hean Club, a millionaire’s club that was founded in 1895, and situated along Bukit Pasoh Road since 1925. Notable figures from Singapore’s history co-founded the club, such as Lim Chwee Chian, Gan Eng Seng and Lim Boon Keng. Besides operating as a social and business club, it was not uncommon for members to engage in politics and community work.
However, it’s the doors of Bukit Pasoh that attract the most attention nowadays. The houses were designed in pre-war architectural styles of Singapore, deriving its influences from Malay, Chinese, Portuguese and even Art Deco.
Next, we ride to the estate that’s most famous for the diversity and availability of scrumptious food. The search for cute and quirky doors in Joo Chiat leads us to understand a little bit more about its fascinating history.
Named after Chew Joo Chiat, who owned most of the land in the area, it was known as Confederate Estate Road before 1917. It was renamed because it was the only private road that was maintained by Joo Chiat himself. Now, it is no longer home to plantations, but colourful traditional Peranakan shophouses that have been around since the 1920s!
A walk along the streets of Joo Chiat is never boring. There’s history, excellent food, and a whole lot of shopping to be done. It has been a conservation district since 1993, maintaining the pre-war style that has kept locals and tourists coming back for more. The houses in the area primarily showcase the spirit of Peranakan architecture, with its bright colours and eye-catching motifs. It’s not surprising that the doors of Joo Chiat are “Insta-famous”.
The relevance of conservation is evergreen and imperative, especially with the establishment of newer developments in our city-state. The Urban Redevelopment Authority continues to retain and enhance the beauty of places that have played an integral part of our history and unique Singaporean identity.
Today, more than 6,500 buildings have been awarded conservation status, providing constant reminders of our heritage. Thanks to these initiatives, these buildings will not just be mere novelties, but inextricable from the Singapore landscape.