2 historical blocks in Alexandra Hospital could be integrated into new nursing home

Alexandra Hospital’s Block 18 was formerly the residence of the military hospital’s commanding officer, and later the chief ward master.
ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

MOH said Block 19 represents architectural elements of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and has a historical relationship with the Rail Corridor. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE – Two historical buildings that stand on a site earmarked for a new nursing home in Alexandra Hospital could be retained as part of the facility.

The former British Military Hospital dating to the late 1930s is set to be redeveloped into an integrated health campus, with the first phase of redevelopment slated for completion by 2030.

On Saturday (June 25), the Ministry of Health (MOH), Alexandra Hospital and the National Heritage Board (NHB) told The Sunday Times that a heritage study has been ongoing since last year, prior to the redevelopment of the hospital.

“This ongoing study covers the entire campus, and its scope of study includes asset identification and documentation of buildings,” they said.

“So far, the heritage study has found that Blocks 18 and 19 may have some historical significance.”

Both the blocks are inside a 5,500 sq m site that has been marked out for the construction of a new nursing home, which will have an estimated 458 beds.

MOH published a tender last month for the design of the nursing home.

The three agencies said on Saturday that MOH is inviting those participating in the tender to provide consultancy services to develop the nursing home.

“The successful tenderer will need to assess opportunities to design the nursing home with respect to the heritage value of Blocks 18 and 19,” they said, adding that the consultants “may carry out documentation and heritage interpretation” to see how elements of the two blocks may be incorporated in the nursing home’s design.

The first block – Block 18 – was built on the highest point of the former military hospital’s compound in 1938.

According to a video by Alexandra Hospital, it was formerly the residence of the military hospital’s commanding officer, and later the chief ward master.

The bungalow’s first resident was Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Wilfrid Craven, who was taken as a prisoner-of-war during the Japanese Occupation. A sign on the block indicates it currently houses biomedical engineering functions.

Block 19 – the other block on the nursing home site – comprises two wings that were both built after the war.

The block formerly housed nurses of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps.

MOH said in its tender documents that Block 19 represents architectural elements of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and has a historical relationship with the Rail Corridor. The block is currently used for support operations.

Heritage blogger and author Jerome Lim said he was concerned about the criteria that will be used to assess if the two blocks will be kept.

“The buildings themselves are the markers of history. If they are demolished, I don’t believe that incorporation of design or architectural elements add any value in this respect – their significance will be lost,” he said.

Currently, only three blocks of the hospital – 1, 2 and 6 – are legally protected after being gazetted for conservation in 2014.

A master plan for the redeveloped Alexandra Health Campus shows that other structures that formed part of the British Military Hospital could be impacted by future works.

For instance, the L-shaped Blocks 4 and 7, which are connected to the conserved blocks, could be impacted by a future road network, while a water tower built in the 1960s, as well as a former sergeants’ mess, are within one of the land parcels that could be redeveloped.

Noting that the impact of redevelopment works on the hospital’s historical buildings has yet to be shared, Singapore Heritage Society president Jack Lee said: “We strongly encourage government agencies and private parties to conserve built structures from all eras of Singapore’s history, particularly those reflecting modernist architectural styles, which are often overlooked.”

Experts have said that modernist architecture, which spans roughly the 1930s to the 1980s and is associated with functionalism, is ubiquitous in Singapore, making it harder for people to appreciate the beauty of such designs.

For the hospital, such structures are a tangible reminder of the experiences and memories of the hospital’s staff, patients and visitors over many decades, Mr Lee said.

Associate Professor Fung John Chye, deputy director at NUS’ Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities, said the multiple heritage buildings within the hospital could be adapted for new uses, for the benefit of the forthcoming nursing home’s residents and other users.

Meanwhile, the three agencies also gave an update on an archaeological survey that had been conducted within the hospital grounds by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

“Some objects of interest dating to the World War II period were recovered and these objects are currently being cleaned, catalogued and stored at ISEAS’ facilities, and more research will be carried out on them,” they said.

An NHB spokesman added that while the archaeological investigation has concluded, contractors appointed for the hospital’s redevelopment will be briefed on the site’s heritage, and that the hospital “will coordinate with NHB and ISEAS, should there be further archaeological materials discovered during the redevelopment works”.

No details on the artefacts recovered were given.

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