Keep 37 Emerald Hill
The Keep 37 Emerald Hill campaign was an initiative by former students of the school to seek official conservation status for the old SCGS campus at Emerald Hill. In October 2019, just over a year after the campaign was launched, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) granted conservation status to three former SCGS buildings – the Primary School block, Principal’s House and Song Ong Siang Block.
Home to the school for close to 70 years, the Emerald Hill campus still stands today and is occupied by the Chatsworth International School. However, with no official conservation status, the buildings were at risk of being lost as and when the land was needed for other developments. The Keep 37 Emerald Hill Road campaign – a community-based , volunteer-run effort – was motivated by the need to retain a critical part of the school’s history, and also to consider ways in which the site could be adaptively re-used in future.
An undated photograph showing school girls outside the original SCGS building at 37 Emerald Hill. (Image: SCGS)
The Emerald Hill campus is a critical part of our school’s history and identity. SCGS moved to 37 Emerald Hill in 1926, after several years of uncertainty in different buildings on Hill Street. For the first time, the school now had its own purpose-built structure – a 2-storey building with 12 classrooms, a staff room, teachers’ office and an assembly hall. As the school’s enrolment grew, more buildings were added to the site, each with their own distinctive architecture. These included the Song Ong Siang Block fronting Emerald Hill Road in 1955, and the Lee Kong Chian Block in the early 1970s. 37 Emerald Hill bore witness to many key events that were significant both for Singapore and the school, including the Japanese occupation from 1942 – 1945 (which saw the school used as a quarters for “comfort women”), a brief period of admitting male students, the opening of enrolment to girls of all races, as well as the achievement of independent school status.
Images uncovered as part of the campaign’s research into the school’s history. Clockwise from Left: Architectural drawings of the Principal’s House (National Archives of Singapore); Prefects seated outside the Principal’s House (SCGS); A teacher with students perched on an old well (SCGS); an Emerald Hill resident poses for a photograph outside the Primary School block, which had been painted in camouflage colours during World War II (Eddie Teo).
In many ways, the school found its footing at Emerald Hill. It was home to generations of SCGS girls and is an embodiment of experiences and memories of their collective school-going years. Who can forget the tall trees in front of the Primary School, the mysterious Principal’s House, walking to Orchard Road after school or buying a first bowl of meepok? Buildings around us often tell stories of who we are and where we came from, and this is no different with 37 Emerald Hill.
The campaign built support from a broad community of stakeholders to retain the buildings and re-imagine a future for the site, including current and former SCGS students and staff, residents of the surrounding Emerald Hill neighbourhood, heritage enthusiasts and business-owners on nearby Orchard Road. After several months of public consultations and workshops, the Keep 37 Emerald Hill team submitted a conservation proposal to URA, building on the memories and ideas generously shared with us by members of the public, and highlighting the significance of the site from historical, social and architectural angles.
The Keep 37 Emerald Hill public workshops – a key part of the campaign – were organised to gather memories and ideas from members of the public. (Images: Joan Leong)