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Construction on the Founders’ Memorial has officially begun, marking a significant step in commemorating Singapore’s nation-building journey.

The memorial is planned as a combined gallery and garden experience to honor the values and principles demonstrated by Singapore’s pioneering leaders.

Located in the Bay East Garden of Gardens by the Bay, it will be situated on reclaimed land facing Marina Bay.

Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated the groundbreaking ceremony on 5 June, highlighting the importance of remembering and honouring the contributions of Singapore’s founding leaders.

He was accompanied at the ceremony by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, and Founders’ Memorial Committee co-chairs Lee Tzu Yang and Tan Tai Yong. Community representatives, including students, memorial volunteers, and donors, also attended.

But what is this “Founders’ Memorial”, and what exactly is so important about this?

No, it is not going to be just another place to take students to on a field trip.

Honoring Singapore’s Founding Leaders

Senior Minister Lee mentioned that the need for such a memorial arises from the fact that although Singapore has several memorials commemorating significant events in its modern history, like the Civilian War Memorial and Kranji War Memorial, there has not been one specifically dedicated to honouring the nation-building journey. 

“Now, almost 60 years after Separation, and 80 years after the Second World War, the time has come for us to build one,” he said.

According to Senior Minister Lee, the Founders’ Memorial aims to tell the story of how Singapore became what it is today and to celebrate the ideals, impulses, and spirit that drove its founding leaders.

At the groundbreaking ceremony of the Founders’ Memorial, Senior Minister Lee praised the founding leaders of Singapore for their pivotal roles in transforming the nation from a Third World to a First World country.

He reflected on milestones such as the separation from Malaysia, the establishment of Singapore’s defence forces, and the economic transformation. 

The memorial will focus on key leaders from the 1950s to the 1970s, including the first prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and his core team, as well as other significant figures in public, private, and community sectors.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) has emphasised that the memorial aims to inspire Singaporeans to commit to a better future by capturing the nation’s spirit.

As a living memorial, it will also honour the past and inspire the future, featuring plant species that were significant in Singapore’s early journey to becoming a green city.

Singapore’s journey from independence to nation-building is unique. Unlike many other post-colonial nations, Singapore successfully transitioned from the struggle for independence to the patient work of improving people’s lives.

“The founding leaders did not get everything right. But on the most important issues, they made the right choices, Singaporeans responded, and Singapore succeeded beyond their wildest dreams,” said Senior Minister Lee.

Out of shared experiences of crises and successes, a strong Singaporean identity and national ethos emerged. Singapore became a society open to the world, resilient, and united in the face of crises, and bold in its aspirations.

Features and their Symbolism

The idea for the memorial was first proposed in 2015 following the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, but construction was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An international architectural competition was held in 2019 to select the design, and the winning design by Kengo Kuma & Associates, in collaboration with K2LD Architects, was announced in March 2020.

Image: foundersmemorial.gov.sg

The design features a bold and imaginative memorial that rises out of the landscape, comprising two two-storey buildings and an outdoor amphitheatre.

Image: foundersmemorial.gov.sg

The buildings will house exhibition galleries, a viewing gallery with a city skyline view, and multipurpose rooms for workshops and programs.

The memorial’s design is symbolic of a journey, with multiple intertwining paths connecting the two buildings, representing the legacy of Singapore’s founding leaders and generation, according to NHB. It aims to inspire visitors by capturing the spirit of the nation and unifying Singaporeans.

Image: foundersmemorial.gov.sg

Participants in the groundbreaking ceremony planted saplings grafted from trees originally planted by Singapore’s leaders during the early years of the nation’s greening efforts.

These included the yellow flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum), a native species planted by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1971 at Tanjong Pagar Community Club; a sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), planted by Dr Goh Keng Swee in 1975 at Labrador Park; and a sea apple (Syzygium grande), planted by Mr S Rajaratnam in 1980 at Block 12 North Bridge Road.

Image: X (@leehsienloong)

NHB also revealed that the saplings planted on 5 June will be incorporated into the landscaping of the Founders’ Memorial in the future.

“Singaporeans wish to honour our founding leaders, tell the stories of those who lived through those turbulent times, and inspire future generations with the values that gave birth to independent Singapore and its development,” said Founders’ Memorial Committee co-chair Lee Tzu Yang.

“It remains important going forward to continue this engagement because the Founders’ Memorial is envisioned as a space owned by every generation, including future generations of Singaporeans.”

Recent Public Engagement

Public engagement has been a crucial part of the memorial’s development. About 200,000 Singaporeans contributed their views and ideas to the project.

Namely, a mural called “Our Memorial, Our Singapore” will be displayed at Gardens by the Bay for visitors to pen their well-wishes for the memorial. This mural will be exhibited between June and December 2024 near the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. 

Image: foundersmemorial.gov.sg

Additionally, more than 900 stories and artefacts have been collected following a public call for contributions, and over 140,000 people attended a pilot exhibition titled “Semangat Yang Baru: Forging A New Singapore Spirit”.

Launched from April to November 2023, the exhibition showcased the challenges and choices encountered by our founding leaders and generation during Singapore’s formative years from the 1950s to the 1970s.

According to their website, “Semangat yang Baru,” which translates to “new spirit” from the National Anthem, delved into how values like multiculturalism, integrity, and openness were established as the bedrock of independent Singapore.

Through this exhibition, Singaporeans were encouraged to contemplate how these principles continue to hold significance in today’s context.

The exhibition served as a trial run for the Memorial to assess how it will present its storyline in its future interpretive gallery.

To create this exhibition, the Memorial engaged in thorough conversations with nearly 200 individuals, ranging from academics and educators to community leaders, youth, and seniors. Together, they explored which stories should take centre stage and how these narratives could be conveyed in a genuine and impactful manner.

The memorial will not only honour the leaders but also the collective efforts of Singaporeans who united behind them during crises and milestones, such as the withdrawal of British forces and the development of the Singapore Armed Forces.

The founding leaders established fundamental values that set Singapore’s long-term direction: democracy, justice and equality, meritocracy and a drive for excellence, a commitment to honest and clean government, and above all, a multiracial society. 

These values are embodied in the national pledge and have guided Singapore’s development from a colonial outpost to a thriving modern nation.

Said Senior Minister Lee, “I hope this Founders’ Memorial will become a space where Singaporeans reflect on our ongoing nation-building journey; appreciate our precious inheritance from the founding generation; and resolve to continue building a harmonious and successful Singapore, based on our foundational values and ideals, for generations to come.”

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