The National University of Singapore (NUS) received the generous gift of S$1.5m from Tun Tan Cheng Lock’s daughter Ms Agnes Tan, to purchase and restore two heritage townhouses in Malacca, Malaysia. The contiguous units, 54 and 56 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, will be officially opened by Guest-of-Honour, the Governor of Malacca, TYT Yang di-Pertua Negeri Melaka, His Excellency Tun Datuk Seri Utama Mohd Khalil bin Yaakob on 26 September 2009 at 11 am.
NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan said: “We are deeply grateful to Ms Agnes Tan for her generous gift, which will significantly advance education and scholarship in NUS. The careful restoration of the two townhouses in Malacca and the establishment of the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Scholarships in Architecture will inspire further study and innovations in environmentally sustainable approaches to conservation and urban reuse. ”
Said Ms Agnes Tan: “Having spent my childhood and youth in Malacca, I find that its sights and sounds continue to remind me of its old and colourful history. By giving these houses a new lease of life, it is my hope that they will perpetuate the vision of my father, a son of Malacca, who believed strongly in the pursuit of knowledge and education, and that they will become a place where many who are passionate about Asian culture and architecture can gain a deeper experience, and encourage meaningful exchanges.”
Ms Tan’s gift of S$1.5m to NUS in 2004 for the purchase and restoration of the two townhouses was followed by another generous gift of S$4 million to the University for the Baba House in 2005. Together, these houses will play an important role in conserving the distinctive Peranakan heritage, in tribute to the late Tun Tan Cheng Lock, a highly-respected Peranakan community leader.
The gift from Ms Tan in 2004 enabled a team of 6 NUS academics and undergraduates from the Department of Architecture of the School of Design & Environment, working with a Malacca-based conservation architect and building contractors, to restore the two townhouses over a period of 2 years.
The NUS team adopted an ‘economically sensible’ and ‘ecologically sustainable’ focus to achieve a Green Conservation perspective – planning and designing with passive and low-energy environment concerns for a low carbon-footprint. Natural environmental controls such as ventilation and lighting as well as ensuring the comfort of the occupants in the townhouses were key factors in a meticulous study of the townhouses’ original grounds, construction and fixtures. This conservation approach enabled the NUS team to keep up to 80 per cent of the initial structures intact and capped the restoration cost at close to S$1 million (or RM$1.8 million).
Over the years, townhouses 54 and 56 have assumed many business identities including a clinic and even a “rumah tumpangan” or a rest-house. Dating back to the mid-19th century, Unit 54 (with a total floor area of 257 square-metres) was first used as a medical facility better known as Ong Maternity Home by Dr Ong Bak Hin in the 1930s. Dr Ong was one of NUS’ early medical graduates. He graduated from King Edward VII Medical School, the former Settlements and Federated Malay States Government Medical School from which NUS traces its origins.
NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan will also be announcing the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Scholarships in Architecture at the official opening of the two townhouses in Malacca on 26th September. The gift from Ms Agnes Tan to NUS supports two to four Tun Tan Cheng Lock Scholarships in Architecture for research and education in Asian architectural and urban heritage every year. The scholarships will be open to students from NUS and universities in Southeast Asia.
With the launch of the two townhouses, the NUS Department of Architecture will be looking into the inclusion of a variety of activities into the Architecture curriculum, such as special semester and summer school programmes as well as field trips to 54 and 56 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock.
Said NUS Head of Architecture, Assoc Prof Wong Yunn Chii: “The special care taken in planning, detailing and designing of these two townhouses will serve well as a basis for tried-and-tested solutions in conservation, preservation and adaptive re-use. We intend to bring such approaches as well as the historical and technical research materials on heritage to public attention. Hopefully, this will inculcate a greater communal interest in the heritage contents and the cultural distinctiveness of Malacca and other similar Asian cities.”
The University of Malaya and NUS currently share a joint programme that offers academic credits for their Architecture students and covers case studies on Malaysia and Singapore’s historic sites. Malacca was the first selected area of study when the programme started in 2005. Since then, three other cities in Malaysia (Penang, Kuching and Kuala Terengganu) have been also explored by some 32 students each year. The results from the Kuching (2008) and Kuala Terengganu (2009) programmes will be on display.
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