Before it’s gone

Rochor Centre is a place I’d only been to twice before, to visit the bank and post office because I happened to be in the area. Next thing I knew, a friend informed that the place was up for demolishing in the near future to make way for a new expressway. I’d always only heard of such projects when it’s days from happening (the demolishing), but this time I had many months. So I took the chance to attempt to capture the beauty of a landmark that would soon be gone from the map.

It’s not a particularly pretty place – Rochor Centre is simply a set of old HDB blocks that were built together in 1977, conjoined at the first four storeys with a base block made up of shops and amenities (take a look at the embedded Google Map above, switch it to Earth view to see a 3D model). You could say it was an early sample of a self-sustainable concrete skyrise village, with a supermarket, banks, a post office, coffee shops, other regular local shops, and also a simplistic park with a playground.

First shot: Taken from the 3rd storey. 'Slow' really strikes the same chord with the pace of life in this sleepy estate

First shot: Taken from the 3rd storey. ‘Slow’ really strikes the same chord with the pace of life in this sleepy estate

Holed wall intended to cover up the unsightly parts of the buildings yet still promote cross-ventilation. Just a whole load of air conditioning compressors, pipes, ducts and wet laundry behind this wall, but the holes unintentionally provide an artistic framing to these otherwise-dull necessities

Holed wall intended to cover up the unsightly parts of the buildings yet still promote cross-ventilation. Just a whole load of air conditioning compressors, pipes, ducts and wet laundry behind this wall, but the holes unintentionally provide an artistic framing to these otherwise-dull necessities

Looking down at the large atrium on the 1st storey. Shops like these have to set up and pack up every single day. I'm not sure if they're licenced but their wares are arranged ever so neatly.

Looking down at the large atrium on the 1st storey. Shops like these have to set up and pack up every single day. I’m not sure if they’re licensed but their wares are arranged ever so neatly.

A particularly quaint shop unit. Appears to be disused; the owners ave probably moved out ahead of mandatory relocation notice from the government.

A particularly quaint shop unit. Appears to be disused; the owner has probably moved out ahead of mandatory relocation notice from the government.

Said quaint shop unit even comes with an interesting detail at its door - two small lion heads, like a second line of defence should intruders get past the lock and antiquated gates.

Said quaint shop unit even comes with an interesting detail at its door – two small lion heads, like a second line of defence should intruders get past the lock and antiquated gates.

I had to finally whip out my tripod for the lock-gates shot above. The environment was really too dim to allow sharp images on handheld. I’m so glad I did bring my Manfrotto; when I got home to review, this particular shot turned out to be so unnaturally sharp compared to all my other photos on this outing. Required extremely little post-processing.

Despite a rather normal ground floor – open shops, people in and about the place – it was pretty quiet and lonely on the second and third storeys. I imagine it’d even be a little creepy in the dark of the night, with so many abandoned shops, while those that are still in business look just as old and slightly unwelcoming. Like a place that has grudgingly resigned to its due fate of being gone forever.

I was glad to finally move up to the fourth storey, the real void deck of the residential apartment blocks. To my non-Singaporean readers, void decks are communal spaces on the lowest storey of a public housing apartment block (called HDB, after the authority that builds these houses), which is typically the ground floor. But in the case of a ‘self-sustaining concrete village’ like Rochor Centre (another example would be Bras Basah Complex), the void deck would be on top of the commercial base block, where the residential area begins. Rochor’s fourth storey is where you start to really appreciate the colourful blocks it has come to be known for as a landmark; it’s even possible that the colours are the reason Rochor Centre is a landmark; before I learnt what this place was called, I used to call it “the colourful HDB blocks near Sim Lim”, which I’m sure many others did too.

Fellow female photographer Jeslin trying an interesting angle. She makes a good photography model!

Fellow female photographer Jeslin trying an interesting angle. She makes a good photography model!

I believe Blk 1 is green, Blk 2 is red, Blk 3 is yellow and Blk 4 is blue.  This is an attempt at a symmetrical shot. With the slightly overcast skies, the lighting was a challenge I was game for. Post-processing did the job of bringing out the true vibrancy of what I witnessed with my own eyes.

I believe Blk 1 is green, Blk 2 is red, Blk 3 is yellow and Blk 4 is blue. This is an attempt at a symmetrical shot. With the slightly overcast skies, the lighting was a challenge I was game for. Post-processing did the job of bringing out the true vibrancy of what I witnessed with my own eyes.

Void decks are also where you can find certain social amenities - in this case, an elderly care home.  To protect the identity of that uncle reclined over the chair, I took this shot at a safe distance and angle. I was aware that as photographers, we may be intruding on the residents' privacy and peaceful quietness, so I didn't want to make anything sour.

Void decks are also where you can find certain social amenities – in this case, an elderly care home. To protect the identity of that uncle reclined over the chair, I took this shot at a safe distance and angle. I was aware that as photographers, we may be intruding on the residents’ privacy and peaceful quietness, so I didn’t want to make anything sour.

A non-post-processed shot. This was an attempt at using the palm's fronds to frame the shot. I guess it didn't turn out too good, but I still love it!

A non-post-processed shot. This was an attempt at using the palm’s fronds to frame the shot. I guess it didn’t turn out too good, but I still love it!

Blk 1 & 4

Blks 4 & 1

Blk 2 & 3

Blks 2 & 3

Just before packing up, a fellow photographer pointed out a fat cat perched on the kitchen window of one of the apartment units! If you follow my blog, you'd know I absolutely love cats. I couldn't have asked for a better last-shot of the outing.

Just before packing up, a fellow photographer pointed out a fat cat perched on the kitchen window of one of the apartment units! If you follow my blog, you’d know I absolutely love cats. I couldn’t have asked for a better last-shot of the outing.

So that was it! It took up around 1.5 hours on a gentle Saturday morning. I’m glad I’ve gone there to document the place; too many places are slowly being forced to give way to newer developments, and Rochor Centre will soon be just a part of local public housing history. I hope my photographs do the to-be-memories of the estate some justice.

As usual, thanks for dropping by! Any general comments, feel free to leave them below, or if you have any specific photography or post-processing technique comments/critiques, do click on the individual photos to leave a comment there :)

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4 responses to “Before it’s gone

    • I prefer the train station, but its now private property. I might try the bridge next year, if its still there by then.
      That’s a nice natural nook you got there! Might be a haven for the bug-and-birds photographer :)

  1. very refreshing to see Singapore being photograph in such an artistic way :D love the black and white, it did remind me of how many good old things are being phased out in singapore :/.
    thanks for sharing!

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