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NUS Chancellor visits Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre in Melaka

21 Sep 2013

Dr Tan (seated) signing the visitor’s book at the Centre. Looking on were (from left) H.E. Tun Mohd Khalil, NUS School of Design and Development Dean Prof Heng Chye Kiang, Mrs Tan and H.E. Chief Minister of Melaka Datuk Wira Ir Idris Haron (far right)

Architecture students Daniel (far left) and Serene (2nd from left) explaining the exhibits and structure of the townhouse to H.E. Tun Mohd Khalil, Dr Tan and Prof Heng

The spacious and airy interior of the conserved townhouse at the Centre
Photos: Benny Kee
On the final day of his first state visit to Malaysia from 18 to 20 September 2013, Singapore President and NUS Chancellor Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam made a stop at the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage in Melaka, a unique resource of NUS Department of Architecture.

Dr Tan was accompanied by Mrs Mary Tan and a delegation that included Minister for National Development  Minister Khaw Boon Wan; Parliamentary Secretary for  the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Transport Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim; and Members of Parliament Arthur Fong and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar.

The Governor of Melaka Tuan Yang Terutama Yang di-Pertua Negeri Melaka, His Excellency Tun Datuk Seri Utama Mohd Khalil bin Yaakob, hosted Dr Tan and his delegation during their visit in Melaka.

The Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage seeks to advance excellence in the study of historical architecture and urban environments of Asia, using Melaka, a UNESCO World Heritage City, as a case site. Serving as a practice and demonstration school in architectural and urban heritage conservation, the Centre caters to NUS and users such as architects, historians, undergraduate and graduate students from various schools, builders, craftsmen, contractors and people with related interest.

Head of NUS Department of Architecture Associate Professor Wong Yunn Chii revealed that the two houses restored at the Centre were once the first maternity clinic in Melaka. Interestingly, it was run by Dr Ong Bak Hin, an alumnus of Raffles College, Singapore, a predecessor institution of NUS. Assoc Prof Wong pointed out that the sustainable and sensitive conservation of the buildings means that substantial portions of the original infrastructure are still preserved.

Besides holding workshops and cultural events, the Centre also acts as the base for a joint venture between NUS and Universiti Malaya (UM), the UM-NUS Joint Studio Programme started in 2005. Students come together yearly to conduct research and create models of different towns in Malaysia, culminating in an exhibition and publication.

UM’s Department of Architecture’s Acting Head Mr Zunaibi Abdullah said the Centre is like a book that opens up to show visitors the beauty and typology of past architecture in Melaka. Cooperation during the process of conservation involving different people and students provides common ground for them to learn from each other, something that cannot be taught in the classroom.

Year three NUS architecture students Wong Shi Min Serene and Tan Guan Zhong Daniel took part in the UM-NUS programme last year. For their “Encounters with Ipoh” project, they met with their Malaysian peers at the Centre which served as a base for such collaborations.  

Both were impressed with the renovated heritage townhouses as the cool spacious interior was conducive for exchange of ideas. Serene found that the Melaka shophouses and conservation buildings also provided a heads-up and reference on the characteristics of such urban architecture, such that she could better appreciate the project she did in Ipoh.

Daniel said he learnt a lot from the UM students and accumulated skills in translating the real thing into a model. For Serene, the experience has made her more meticulous and organised, as well as built up her confidence when conducting research and interviews with strangers.

The relationship forged during such exchanges will help students from the two countries build up their network, understand each other’s way of working, values and practices, noted Professor Heng Chye Kiang, Dean of the NUS School of Design and Environment. “In a global society, there will be a lot of alliances they can enter together to work on buildings both in Singapore and Malaysia, or elsewhere,” he said.