Padang, surrounding buildings potential candidate for Singapore’s 2nd Unesco World Heritage Site

The Padang, sited in the heart of Singapore’s civic district, was gazetted as Singapore’s 75th national monument on Aug 9, 2022. - ST

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): The Padang Civic Ensemble – comprising the historical green, open space and its surrounding civic buildings – has been placed on Singapore’s tentative list of Unesco World Heritage Sites, paving the way for it to be nominated as the country’s second World Heritage Site after the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) on Thursday said the ensemble is most likely to fulfil one of 10 criteria for World Heritage Sites, as an “outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape” that illustrates a significant stage, or stages, in human history.

The Padang Civic Ensemble is “an outstanding example of a British colonial civic square in the tropics”, said NHB in a statement.

“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,” the statement added.

Besides its high potential to meet Unesco’s criteria, the Padang Civic Ensemble also has national and historical significance, NHB said.

The Padang, sited in the heart of Singapore’s civic district, was on Aug 9, 2022, gazetted as Singapore’s 75th national monument, according it the highest level of protection here.

NHB noted that adjacent buildings such as the former Supreme Court and City Hall – which now form the National Gallery – Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, Old Parliament House, and St Andrew’s Cathedral similarly have high historical significance.

A successful nomination will provide greater recognition of Singapore’s heritage on the world stage, raise awareness of heritage preservation here, foster a sense of national identity and pride, and ensure the site is preserved for future generations, the board said.

Unesco World Heritage Sites are cultural or natural sites considered to be of outstanding universal value. Unesco is a United Nations body that promotes international cooperation on education, science and culture.

The Padang (left) and National Gallery Singapore (right) on March 9, 2023. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

These sites must fulfil at least one of 10 criteria laid out in the World Heritage Convention, such as bearing a unique testimony to a cultural tradition or civilisation which is living or has disappeared, or representing “a masterpiece of human creative genius”. Singapore ratified the convention in June 2012.

According to the NHB’s heritage resource portal, the Padang is among Singapore’s oldest open spaces for public recreation. It is also a commemorative space for people to gather, and witness and participate in key milestones of the nation’s history.

During the colonial period, the space was used for official celebrations and festivities, such as royal birthdays and coronations.

On Sept 12, 1945, it was the venue for a victory parade that marked the end of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore.

The Padang also hosted many of Singapore’s National Day celebrations, including in the years from 1961 to 1963 when the state was self-governed as part of the British Empire, and in 2015, the golden jubilee of Singapore’s independence.

It has been a mainstay in Singapore’s urban and social fabric since the colonial era, said NHB, adding that the space was the focal point of a British colonial civic square that the post-independence government subsequently used.

The extent of the site that will be included in the planned nomination is still being studied.

NHB said it will take part in a preliminary assessment (PA) in September 2023 – a new mechanism in the World Heritage Site nomination process that allows states to receive guidance from the World Heritage Centre and advisory bodies such as the International Council on Monuments and Sites before the submission of an official nomination.

The board will also conduct further research in 2023 to assess the benefits and implications of the proposed nomination, and the exact timeline needed for a full-scale nomination, it added.

“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,” the board said.

“This is an important step as Singapore will have to carefully study and balance long-term urban redevelopment needs with the protection requirements of a World Heritage Site.”

The Padang Civic Ensemble’s planned nomination as Singapore’s second World Heritage Site follows the inscription of the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Unesco’s list in July 2015.

The Botanic Gardens was placed on the tentative list in December 2012, and Singapore submitted an official nomination in January 2014 to Unesco.

Singapore’s Botanic Gardens is valued for having two outstanding universal qualities – its role in the rubber trade which transformed the region in the 1900s and its unique tropical colonial garden landscape.

Unesco said states are encouraged to prepare their tentative lists “with the participation of a wide variety of stakeholders, including site managers, local and regional governments, local communities, non-governmental organisations and other interested parties and partners”.

Separately, hawker culture in Singapore was also inscribed on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December 2020.

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Singapore , Padang , Unesco


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