Monday, August 17, 2009

Dhoby Ghaut District


'Dhoby' is an Anglo-Indian word refers to laundrymen and 'Ghaut' means 'beside the river'. In our early history, it was a place where laundries were done and dried in a big field by the Indians who immigrated to Singapore. Dhoby Ghaut is today a name for a major Mass Rapid Transit Station in a fascinating district located at the end of the famous Orchard Road, our major retail and entertainment hub like the Rodeo Drive in LA, Ginza in Tokyo and Oxford Street in London.

This is the row of old buildings opposite the Dhoby Ghuat MRT station, on the left, the red brick building is MacDonald House which was built as the largest office building in 1949 of a Neo-Georgian style during the post-war era. The building was named after Malcolm MacDonald who was the British Governor-General for Southeast Asia from 1948 to 1955. A bomb exploded and killed 3 people and injured 33 others in 1965 during the Indonesia confrontation period. The 'spiky' building on the extreme right used to be the big car assembly factory called Malayan Motors till late 70s and it is now occupied by a private commerical school.

The buildings in between are of different colonial styles with great characters. I was the architect for the renovation work in one of the buildings in the 80s. I had fond memories of the place when bats were found all over the deserted building during my first site visit. However, I was also intrigued by the various spaces and beautiful detailings within.

Other than MacDonald House which is gazetted as a national monument, the other buildings are not. I really hope they will be there as long as they can as we are seeing too many ugly, fussy glass and steel modern buildings sprouting everywhere with the wrong proportion and scale not to mention total disregard of environmental design.