Butterfly House escapes wrecker’s ball

A petition by a group of heritage enthusiasts to save the distinctive “Butterfly House” at 23 Amber Road from being demolished has met with some measure of success.

Instead of razing the 95-year-old crescent-shaped two-storey bungalow, its developer, Goodland Group, has agreed to conserve the entrance porch and stair hall and integrate them into the facade of the new 18-storey condo.

This came after a petition was launched in January this year by the 40-strong Historic Architecture Rescue Plan (Harp) — which counts Katong residents among its members — against the demolition.

The bungalow, the only residential property in Singapore with curved wings, was the work of Regent Alfred John Bidwell, the same architect who designed the Raffles Hotel, Goodwood Park and Hotel Victoria Memorial Hall.

So, Harp wrote to the Government and started a website, which garnered even the acknowledgment of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Calling the petition “well-organised”, the URA stepped in, taking four to five months to negotiate with various parties to save the house.

“We had to work very hard with the developer to keep part of the bungalow as it is a very tight site,” Mrs Teh Lai Yip, URA’s deputy director of Conservation and Development Services, said at a media briefing yesterday.

The bungalow takes up most of the 1,095-square-metre site, making it impossible to keep the building in its entirety, unlike other developments (see box), she added.

Various concessions and waivers were granted to include part of the original bungalow. To incorporate both the old and the new, URA allowed a “set-back” — or the space between the building itself and the land boundary — of 4.5m, instead of the 7.2m required for a building of that height.

NParks also reduced the 2m greenery buffer allowance to 1.5m.

“The Land Transport Authority had to be convinced to allow the original porch, which goes right to the road, to be untouched. Usually, new developments are set back from the road,” said Mrs Teh.

Additionally, some state land behind the property may also be freed up if more space is needed for the driveway into the car park.

“We believe that the redesign will give the developer’s marketing an edge, as it integrates history and unique features that cannot be replicated,” said Mrs Teh.

Construction will start soon, with the condo slated to be completed within three years.

For Harp, which has been trying to save the bungalow for the last six months, the outcome is bittersweet.

Although it is glad that the complete destruction of the bungalow was prevented, one member, Mr Terrence Hong, is “quite upset” that only the porch will be retained and not the signature curved wings.

“I’m not denying that it is a win-win solution, but we’d rather that they kept the circular wings,” he said. He said that Harp will be making further recommendations to the URA in a bid to save more of the site, such as reusing the floor tiles and grilles.

The outcry also raises the question of why a signature building like 23 Amber Road could have fallen short of protective legislation, said Mr Hong. “In the future, we would like to see more legislation to protect heritage buildings, and for developers to consider joint ventures when they redevelop heritage buildings.”

Plans for 23 Amber Road are currently on display at the URA Centre and are open for public feedback until July 7. 
Source: Today, 19 June 2007

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