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Two Melaka townhouses restored by the National University of Singapore

MELAKA: Two 150-year-old townhouses along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock were purchased and restored by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Architecture with a RM3.6 million donation.

Restoration works on No 54 and 56 along Melaka’s old “Millionaire’s Row” or Heeren Street cost an estimated RM1.8 million. The structure is now known as the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage (TTCL-Centre).

“We got the two units of townhouses as a ‘gift set’,” said NUS associate professor in the Department of Architecture, Johannes Widodo of the units, whose built-up area totals 8,917.9 sq ft.

“It is especially interesting because one of the units was used as a maternity clinic where many Melakans were born there.”

The maternity clinic, No 54, was operated by Dr Ong Bak Hin in the 1930s. Ong also has historical links to NUS as he graduated from the King Edward VII Medical School, which later became the university’s medical faculty.

In the immediate future, the townhouses will be used as a resource centre and field school for architecture. The houses are not open to the public as yet.

“When we hold exhibitions there, then it will be open to the public, but right now we are still considering more uses for the townhouses,” said project manager Philip Tay.

Speaking to theedgeproperty.com, Tay said they embarked upon the restoration project as part of the conditions set by the donor, Agnes Tan, who presented NUS with the RM3.6 million donation in 2004.

Tan is the last surviving daughter of Malaysian Chinese Aassociation founder and respected Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) community leader Tun Tan Cheng Lock. She cited fond memories of her childhood in Melaka as the impetus for upholding her father’s appreciation of education and culture.

Tay said the acquisition process began in August 2005 with the building design being approved by the Melaka town council two years later. The process of restoration began in April 2008 and was fully completed by July 2009.

The team driving the restoration works comprised six academics and undergraduates from NUS along with Malaysian engineers, contractors and architects.

The Malaysian team consisted of Petaling Jaya-based Das Azman Architects Sdn Bhd, structural engineers Jurutera Perunding SPEC Sdn Bhd and contractors NTQT Sdn Bhd, whom Widodo commended for a job well done.

Widodo added that the biggest challenge for the team, who are trained to design and build new buildings, was to be “humble” and not to impose their will into the old structures.

“We had to learn to let the old buildings speak and retain their authentic personality, and at the same time to enable present needs to be accommodated as well,” he said.

“Another challenge was to be as ‘green’ as possible by reducing the use of air-conditioning and by recycling the building materials as much as possible by integrating new elements sensitively and by minimising the costs.”

As a result of the team’s dedication to preserving as much of the old building as possible, 80% of the original structure was kept during the exercise, along with several interior features such as the existing staircases and wells within the house.

“This is not a commercial project but an academic facility, therefore we didn’t do any valuation,” said Widodo. The TTCL-Centre was officially opened by Melaka governor Tun Mohd Khalil Yaakob on Sept 26, 2009.

Please go to our multimedia segment for a slideshow of the townhouses.
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