World Heritage Site #1483 :: Singapore Botanic Gardens

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Singapore Botanic Gardens

State Party: Singapore

State, Province or Region: Singapore (Central Tanglin District), Southeast Asia

Name of Property: Singapore Botanic Gardens

Date of Inscription: 2015

GPS Coordinates:
Latitude: N 1° l 8′ 55”
Longitude: E 103° 48′ 58″

Local weather

Textual Description of the Boundaries of the Nominated Property

The Nominated Property is bounded by Holland Road to the south, Tyersall Avenue/Cluny Park Road to the west, the northern end of the Botanic Gardens to the north and the National University of Singapore’s Law Faculty/Evans Road and Cluny Road to the east.

Its boundaries have been drawn to include all those areas or attributes that are a direct and tangible expression of its Outstanding Universal Values as an outstanding example of a British tropical colonial botanic garden.

A Buffer Zone is proposed around the Nominated Property. It defines an area where additional planning guidance will be given to protect the immediate setting of the candidate World Heritage Site. Careful consideration will be given to development proposals within the Buffer Zone to determine whether they are likely to significantly detract from the Outstanding Universal Values, authenticity or integrity of the site.

Map of the Nominated Property, Showing Boundaries of the Nominated Property and Proposed Buffer Zone

Singapore Botanic Gardens Map 1

Criteria under which property is nominated

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List under Criteria (ii) and (iv) of the World Heritage Convention.

Draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value

Brief Synthesis

The Singapore Botanic Gardens, originally laid out in the 1860s, is a green lung in the midst of rapid and extensive urban development. In addition to its botanic excellence today, the continued presence of the Botanic Gardens has provided generations of Singaporeans and visitors alike with a sustained sense of place and anchor to the island’s local cultural history.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is an exceptional example of a ‘British tropical colonial botanic garden’ which emerged during the 19th century period of global expansion, exploration and colonisation in Southeast Asia. The Botanic Gardens assumed a pre-eminent role in the promotion of economic botany in the Malay Peninsula and Straits Settlements administration during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Today the landscape of the Botanic Gardens bears testimony to the history of British colonial botanic gardens, the 19th century colonial legacy of economic botany and the long lasting history of and unique contribution to the economic, social and scientific developments of the region.

In particular, the pioneering work on rubber cultivation and techniques for tapping carried out in the 1880s and 1890s set in place the foundation of the early 20th century rubber boom in Southeast Asia.

The Botanic Gardens has a well—defined cultural landscape which includes a rich variety of historic landscape features that demonstrate clearly its initial establishment as a pleasure garden in the 1860s and its subsequent evolution and continued role as a botanic garden. The extensive living collections include many veteran trees and unusually the site includes a six hectare tract of primary, lowland, equatorial rainforest within its boundaries. An ensemble of historic buildings including colonial style bungalows, built between the 1860s and 1920s for staff residences and administration, contributes to the cultural landscape of the Botanic Gardens.

Since its beginning, the Singapore Botanic Gardens has been a leading centre in plant science, research and conservation in Southeast Asia. Today it is internationally recognised as a leading institution of tropical botany and horticulture and its library and herbarium collections serve as an important reference centre for botanists all over the world.

The site represents the cradle of breeding science for orchids in Asia, a hybrid programme having first been initiated in the Botanic Gardens in the 1920s, with formal orchid breeding programmes continuing to the present.

The Botanic Gardens has played an integral role in the social history of Singapore, providing a backdrop for the lives of residents, both past and present and a continual sense of place and identity in an otherwise changing city. lt was and continues to be instrumental in the ‘greening’ and transformation of Singapore into a ‘City in a Garden’, successfully implementing the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for this in the 1960s.

The British South and Southeast Asian colonial botanic gardens were preeminent in terms of other colonial botanic gardens, as a direct consequence of their mutually advantageous role as outposts of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Singapore Botanic Gardens was part of a wide network of over 1O0 other British botanic gardens, which was many times bigger than that of other colonial empires.

All these sites to some degree contributed to 19th century developments in economic crop growing which established this region of Asia as an important economic power. However, Ridley’s late 19th/early 20th century extensive work on perfecting rubber cultivation and extraction, undertaken at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, combined with his relentless promotion of the crop, can be singled out as perhaps the most significant contribution to Malaya becoming the biggest rubber producer in the world and creating an entirely new and booming economy with global influence. As stated by Brockway (1979) ‘between the two world wors, Singapore was the rubber capital of the world‘.

Other remaining British tropical colonial botanic gardens that have survived fully or in part in South and Southeast Asia include Penang (Malaysia), Peradeniya (Sri Lanka), Calcutta (India) and Hong Kong. Only Peradeniya and Calcutta continue as significant botanic gardens today with a degree of scientific and recreation functions. The combination of Singapore Botanic Gardens‘ rich and diverse historic cultural landscape; long-established scientific, educational and recreational world-class functions; remarkable contribution to economic and ornamental plant research (particularly in relation to rubber production and orchid hybridisation); high level of authenticity and integrity; role in the greening of Singapore and the shaping of the island’s identity; along with the presence of a tract of primary lowland rainforest make it stand out when compared to other similar properties.

Criteria under which Inscription is Proposed (and Justification)

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List under Criteria (ii) and (iv) of the World Heritage Convention.

Criterion (ii) — “Exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design”.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens has been a prominent centre for plant research in Southeast Asia since the 19th century. It continues to play a leading role in the interchange of ideas, knowledge and expertise in tropical botany, agricultural economy and horticulture and represents an important reference centre for botanists all over the world. The Botanic Gardens has gained international recognition for starting and maintaining traditions in plantation agriculture, natural history, biodiversity science and conservation in the region and has also played a pivotal role in the greening of Singapore, which influenced town planning in other cities in Southeast Asia.

Criterion (iv) — “Be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is an outstanding example of a British tropical colonial botanic garden and the best preserved of its kind. This cultural landscape demonstrates its different stages of development since 1859 through its layout, extant historic landscape and built features and its uses and functions. The evolution and sustained preservation of the Botanic Gardens reflects the changing shift in attitudes regarding the role and functions of botanic gardens worldwide and throughout Southeast Asia. The assemblage of historic landscape features and buildings and conserved lowland primary rainforest in combination, richly illustrate the development and mixed role of the Botanic Gardens during the period of British colonisation. These, together with more recent interventions since Singapore’s independence, which respect the cultural heritage of the Gardens, continue to support the very significant scientific, educational, cultural and recreational role and offer of the Botanic Gardens in the modern city-state of Singapore.