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Shophouse among three sites recognised for quality restoration

SINGAPORE — When the owner of a Neil Road shophouse was told that one of its beautiful, plastered walls had collapsed during restoration, she was dejected. As she felt the relief wall panels and antiquated pigmented cement tiles in the original courtyard had to be preserved, Ms Ho Ren Yung rushed to the shophouse to take a look, but realised the collapsed wall had, instead, revealed “cool” red and yellow tiles that looked “so much better”.

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SINGAPORE — When the owner of a Neil Road shophouse was told that one of its beautiful, plastered walls had collapsed during restoration, she was dejected. As she felt the relief wall panels and antiquated pigmented cement tiles in the original courtyard had to be preserved, Ms Ho Ren Yung rushed to the shophouse to take a look, but realised the collapsed wall had, instead, revealed “cool” red and yellow tiles that looked “so much better”.

Located at 145 Neil Road, the 150-year-old heritage building is among a row of shophouses that have been earmarked for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). It was also one of three sites that won the Architectural Heritage Awards presented by the URA yesterday, given to encourage quality restoration and conservation work in Singapore. The other two winners were Yueh Hai Ching Temple at 30B Phillip Street and J8 hotel on Townshend Road.

Speaking at the award ceremony yesterday, Mr Desmond Lee, Minister of State for National Development, said all three were “remarkable” examples of outstanding restoration.

For example, the Yueh Hai Ching Temple was “masterfully and meticulously restored” with the help of architectural historian Yeo Kang Shua, and skilled craftsmen were recruited from China to help in the restoration work, he noted.

Ms Ho’s mother bought the shophouse more than 20 years ago before she took over the property a few years ago. As one who has always had an appreciation for culture and heritage, Ms Ho saw the shophouse as the perfect place for a renovation and restoration project that would combine modern elements and heritage.

From the start, she decided to maintain the facade and interior of the two-storey terrace house in their original condition. The two-year project began only after she had conducted intensive interviews and house tours with five to six architects.

The first six months of the project were spent identifying all the elements they did not want to change.

Referring to an original calligraphic panel along the corridor on the second storey, Ms Ho said they had tried “very hard to keep that as the history of those words and where they came from is something we treasure”. Plus, they (the Chinese characters) say “celebrate goodness”.

The 28-year-old also went to great lengths to retain and restore as many vintage features in the shophouse as possible, even driving up to Malacca to source for and bring back reclaimed tiles from old homes that could be used.

Ms Ho also said there were unexpectedly few guidelines to follow in working on a heritage building, save for preserving the exterior. “We were not restricted at all.”

Revealing that the restoration work cost about S$1.2 million, Mr Mark John Wee, the project’s architect, said he believes conservation buildings have “character” and stories to tell.

“When we conserve buildings, I try to find out the story of the building — who lived in it before, what kind of life the place had and what kind of street it was on — and I try to retain as much of the building as possible, even scars — the imperfect areas — by expressing them instead,” said Mr Wee, who also worked on New Majestic Hotel & Bar, which won the URA Conservation Heritage Award in 2006.

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