Kampong Glam is embodied with the old and new. With Singapore rapidly transforming in tourism, economics, education and culture, Singaporeans are becoming aware of the inevitable changes occurring within their country. The changes happening in Kampong Glam under the act to refurbish the neighbourhood can be described as ‘tense’ with architectural juxtapositions seen between Kampong Glam and its surrounding buildings.  The purpose of reconditioning the location was to bring life back into a forgotten past. Kampong Glam has undergone a few makeovers including the renovation of the Sultan Mosque (Eveland 2015), the transformation of Haji Lane (Hee 2015), the Malay Heritage Centre to name a few.

Image by :Joanne 

The Sultan Mosque, originally constructed in 1824, was in ruins by 1924c. which caused the government to act and with the design skill of Denis Santry (Eveland 2015), the religious building was given a new look. The mosque is important to the culture of Kampong Glam as it is a part of the Islamic culture that is majorly present in the neighbourhood. And although Kampong Glam is often associated with Malay Culture, many Malays tend to consider Geylang Serei as the “cultural heart of the Malay community”, whereas Kampong Glam is often just a geographical and historical reference of the Malay community’s past (Tantow 2012).

Despite being officially selected as the Malay-Muslim heritage district for conservation, due to its former association with Malay communalism, the Singapore government made no plans for refurbishment until 2000s, as they found it to be an inadequate symbol for multicultural harmony and there was no active support to revitalize it by the Malay community. When revitalization of Kampong Glam took place, Arab heritage and Muslim culture was emphasized and highlighted compared to Malay heritage. In terms of the history presented, more focus on the port settlement, trading and immigrants, rather than the Malay communalism. Additionally, according to Tantow (2012), due to this separation of the Malay and Muslim heritage, some Malays believe their community “unfit to be part of Singapore’s cosmopolitan legacy”. 

Continuing these sentiments, as stated in the book Historic District: Kampong Glam when young locals say:

“Singapore is too small. We can’t afford to keep the entire city in its original state as it will impede [our] progress.” -15-year-old-student

“So of course the economy comes first. If we really need to tear the old buildings down to build, I think we have to let go. I think with certain things, we have no choice, [they] really have to go.” -15-year-old student

Others, however, are positive about the situation of reconditioning the neighbourhood, as stated in the book Historic District: Kampong Glam when young locals say:

“It’s important. To know where we’re going to, we must remember where we came from.” – 16-year-old student

“It gives one a sense of history it keeps things about our culture that we enjoy.. we feel like we have something to hold to, or combe back when we think about our homeland. [It] feeds into national identity.” – 18-year-old student

“We need some things with a little bit of age to give us the feeling that it’s home, that home is a little older than we are.” -20-year-old-graduate

To briefly sum up our project, we are aiming to create a campaign which informs and emphasizes Malay heritage and culture, outside of Haji Lane and Bali Lane. After the refurbishment, it can be said that heritage has been lost within the gentrification of Kampong Glam. The only evidence of heritage and history left in Kampong Glam is through the architecture of shophouses, and the local businesses that still exist such as fishing shops. Furthermore, aside from the refurbishment made 6 years ago, there has been no further announcement made to continue the process.

Thus, our solution is to create a proposal to the government to refurbish 5 blocks. Within these 5 blocks, an interactive installation will be created that will inform local youths and newcomers of Kampong Glam’s heritage and culture through an artificial ceiling, workshops, light shows, puppet shows, and it will utilize the shop houses as blank canvases to create artworks on.

Reference List:

Eveland, J. 2015, Top 10 Singapore, DK Eyewitness Travels, United States

David Tantow, 2012. ‘Politics of Heritage in Singapore’, Indonesia and the Malay World, pp.332-353, DOI: 10.1080/13639811.2012.725553

Hee, J. 2015, Haji Lane: An Unofficial Shopping Guide, & A Look At Its History And Conservation, weblog, Vulcan Post, viewed 9 February 2017, <>

Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore) 1995, Historic District: Kampong Glam, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Michigan


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