Most Singaporeans work in tall, gleaming buildings of steel and concrete. Think office building or megamall. Their office neighbourhoods consist of similar superstructures, clustered together like teeth in a giant’s mouth. But there are some of us whose offices are located in heritage buildings. My office building, which is located in Chinatown, is only three storeys tall. It is also over 80 years old! The building is part of Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) list of more than 7,000 buildings to be conserved.
It’s certainly an experience to work in place where so many souls have visited, slept and dreamt. For your information, this Neo-Classical style building was used to house all manner of policemen since 1934. Here is a list of good and bad things about working in a building that’s literally older than my parents. (Yes, my grandmother, who is nearly a centenarian, is actually older.)
Let’s start with The Bad.
There are no lifts. Good things there are only three storeys. Though, we do have a rather steep staircase to climb on the way up to the actual building itself. True story, I have a colleague who complains about this every day.
The condition of the building overall is in fairly good shape although there are signs of age everywhere. For example, some steps on stairs that are chipped.
Animals occasionally take shelter in the building, which means the occasional smell and sight of poo in the corridor. At least, I think it’s animals.
As with all buildings of a certain age, the building changes drastically at night. It feels different. The corridors become really dark and your mind is liable to start wandering as you make your way to the washrooms, alone.
And now, The Good.
It is a really interesting space, not just because it’s a heritage building but because of the people that inhabit it. There are potters, yoga people, travel agencies, creative agencies, a jamming studio and even a café albeit one that isn’t exactly great…
As I mentioned, the office building is in Chinatown, which makes it quite a central location. It’s moments from the Central Business District and from town. It’s at once a hipster place but also historic.
The animals. Yes, I know I mentioned the poo earlier. But I do appreciate our wildlife.
I’m quite certain that generations of little brown squirrels have lived here, since the British first arrived. Nearly every week I see one in the towering trees outside, munching on something. There are also the community cats, in particular, the one that sleeps on the stairway up to the building itself. Though its face often bears the signs of perhaps a tussle or a self-inflicted scratch, it also has the gentlest meow. It has become a familiar and endearing sight.
My final point again touches on the aesthetic of the place. There’s something to be said about working in a building so old it seems to have a soul.
There’s something special about having trees so old outside that their green fingers nearly touch your windows. There’s something about small offices side by side, their individual characters accentuated by eccentric signboards or the potted plants they let sit outside their doors. There’s something special about working in a building where nobody wears a tie.
As Singaporeans, we spend a lot of time at work. Where do you work? What are some things you like your work neighbourhood and some things you dislike?