Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Cycle of Decay

One tends not to associate concrete, that most solid of building blocks, with decay.  It is after all inorganic, unlike nature which encroaches upon it.

My trips to Asia in the 1980's brought home to me that concrete was no different from wood or any organic element; each was subject to the cycle of erosion and decay, it is just a question of time.

A first trip to Europe a decade was equally fascinating as layers of civilisation were stacked one upon the other, each using as its base the remnants of what had come before.

One enduring image I have kept with me are the remains of a mansion gate in Singapore's Oxley Road (incidentally the section address is 2 Lloyd Road as it is on a corner), named after Dr Thomas Oxley,the colony's surgeon from 1827 and just a little further up the incline past Lee Kwan Yew's home.

Gate Post - Oxley Road near the corner of Lloyd Road
Roger Smith
I walked past this post regularly during our trips back to Singapore to see family; past the Gurkhas guarding the former PM's home. These treks took place from 1986 to 2006, after which time we were living in Singapore ourselves.

Each time I walked past it the post looked a little more decrepit and overgrown in its constant battle with creepers and vines of varying thicknesses. Singapore being a tropical country has a heavy rainfall and warm sunshine all year round which means that buildings weather rapidly. Rain, wind, solar radiation including ultra-violet light and atmospheric pollution all take their toll.

It turns our that these gates and and empty section are all that remains of the grand house, Villa Austerlitz. Singapore's National Archives has some very good images of the house at it was and the former owners.

One 1913 photograph clearly shows the same post at left of the picture. The National Archives are a wonderful resource and the staff there do a tremendous job in recording and preserving documents and images associated with Singapore's history. One can even send a historic post card of early Singapore to a friend using their resources.

Villa Austerlitz with the entrance post at left
Source: Singapore National Archives
It is the textural qualities of decay that makes it so appealing through the lens - layers peeled back like an onion to reveal something of interest underneath. This street poster from a visit to Malacca is another such example.

Posters - Malacca
Roger Smith

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