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Death returns to Mount Vernon

From 1962 to 2018, Mount Vernon in the Upper Aljunied area was synonymous with death. It was home to Mount Vernon Crematorium, Singapore’s first and only public crematorium until Mandai was constructed in the 1980s, and Mount Vernon Columbarium, which opened in 1976.

Mount Vernon Crematorium in 2018. Credit: TODAY.
Mount Vernon Columbarium in 2018. Credit: TODAY.

Alas, in land-scarce Singapore, the dead make way for the living. The crematorium closed in 2004, while the columbarium closed in 2018; both have been torn down for Bidadari town. However, death will be making a comeback to the area:


An eco-friendly burning chamber for paper offerings that will reduce the unpleasant effects of open-air burning and wake halls designed to offer families privacy from public view will be among key features of a new funeral parlour complex in Bidadari estate.

An artist's impression of the funeral parlour complex. Credit: Housing & Development Board.

The Housing Board said yesterday that it has awarded the design consultancy tender for the project to a team led by Laud Architects.


The new funeral parlour complex to replace Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex was first announced in January 2018 in a bid to meet growing demand for after-death facilities and services as the population ages.


Back then, HDB and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the future complex will be modern and “integrated with the topography and surrounding landscape”.


The new funeral parlour complex will occupy 1.1ha of the 7.1ha previously occupied by Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex.


Slated to be completed in 2025, it will be located near an existing Gurkha cantonment, a proposed Chinese temple and proposed residential areas.


A memorial garden will sit next to the site and the new Bidadari Park will be located directly opposite the funeral complex across Sang Nila Utama Road.


Mr Ang Zisheng, president of the Association of Funeral Directors Singapore, said: “The new complex minimises disamenities arising from funerals held at void decks and available open spaces in public estates. It may also set a benchmark for the funeral profession.”


There will not be a columbarium and crematorium in the low-rise complex. Instead, a centralised eco-friendly burning chamber will be built inside for paper offerings as open-air burning will not be permitted.


Apart from 12 funeral wake halls, there will be shops selling flowers as well as funerary goods and paraphernalia, a seminar room and a food and beverage outlet for the public.


Entrances to wake halls and funeral trade shops will be designed to face inwards toward the complex’s internal courtyards.


Funerary activities and processions will be blocked from public view, through the building layout and design elements such as screens.


Mr Ang hopes the bidders for the tender for another funeral parlour complex in Woodlands, which is closing tomorrow, will “do more than just provide functional spaces for funerals”.


“They must also make sure to provide a conducive environment for grieving,” he said.


The funeral parlour complex in Woodlands Industrial Park E8 is the first of four such sites that the NEA will roll out over the next decade to cope with the demands of the ageing population.


The 5,002.8 sq m parcel will house 10 to 14 wake halls, embalming facilities, as well as florist shops, a food and beverage outlet, and shops selling funerary goods and paraphernalia.


The site is expected to be operational about four years after the award of the tender.


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What caught my eye too was that the funeral parlour complex would be located along a new road, Sang Nila Utama Road.

Credit: The Straits Times.

Finally, more than 700 years after the prince from Palembang founded the ancient kingdom of Singapura, he would finally have a road in Singapura’s modern successor bearing his name.


However, I believe the road is taking its name after the school that once existed nearby - Sang Nila Utama Secondary School. It officially opened in 1961 as Singapore’s first Malay-medium secondary school, but closed just 27 years later, in 1988. Like Mount Vernon Crematorium and Columbarium, the school has also been demolished; an HDB development, ParkView @ Bidadari, is currently being built on the site.

Sang Nila Utama Secondary School in 1968. Credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

Sang Nila Utama Road will be the latest in a series of road changes in the area. In the development of Bidadari town, the northern end of Upper Aljunied Road has been shifted south; part of the original road will be conserved and converted into a heritage walk. As for Sang Nila Utama Road, it will cut through the former Mount Vernon Columbarium complex, connecting Mount Vernon Road and a relatively new road, Alkaff Crescent.

The area in 1975.
The area in 2020. Credit: Streetdirectory.com.

Currently, the road called Vernon Park looks rather redundant on the map; once the funeral parlour complex opens, it is possible that the road may be expunged.


A new road, an ancient name, hosting a complex on death. Fitting.

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