Sunday, September 27, 2009

Heritage houses in Malacca restored

NUS-owned building is just next door to where The Little Nyonya was filmed

The building in Malacca is next door to where hit Chinese drama serial The Little Nyonya was filmed.

Dating back to 150 years ago, it is now owned by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and has been restored.

The building - two linked heritage townhouses at 54 and 56 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock - was opened yesterday by the Governor of Malacca.

NUS received $1.5 million from Ms Agnes Tan, the last surviving child of Straits Chinese community leader Tan Cheng Lock, to buy and restore the two houses in 2004.

That enabled a team of six academics and undergraduates from the university's Department of Architecture of the School of Design and Environment to work with a Malacca-based conservation architect.

The team retained many interior features.

'For students, this shows them that we can reuse a building, while being sensitive to its history and respecting its original function,' said NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan.

The building, which will be used as a field school and resource centre, has been through many incarnations, including as a maternity clinic and a resthouse.

Said department head Wong Yunn Chii: 'When we first started work on the houses, they were in a state of disrepair. The roof had given way, as had some floorboards.'

Materials such as old wood beams and bricks were reused to restore the houses and retain their heritage.

Associate Professor Johannes Widodo, also from the Department of Architecture, noted that there are only two air-conditioned rooms. The idea was to make the houses as naturally cool as possible.

'When we had a recent workshop, it was only 28 deg C inside on a 33-degree day,' he said.

Ms Tan's donation will also fund up to four scholarships in architecture worth up to $20,000 every year, to support research and education. They are open to students from NUS and universities in South-east Asia.

The 89-year-old attributed childhood memories of a seaside villa in Klebang, north of Malacca town, to her wish to share Asian architecture and culture with others.

She said: 'I and two of my sisters, Alice and Nellie, never got married, and Alice always encouraged us to have a worthy plan with the inheritance we received from our father.

'Baba House and the Malacca townhouses came about just when I was considering a gift to NUS in memory of my father. It's actually a joint effort between my dear, late sister Alice and me.'

She donated $4 million to help NUS buy and restore Baba House here to showcase Peranakan heritage in 2005

Source: Sunday Times, 27 Sep 2009

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