Arts & Culture

Relooking at the Peranakan Museum

From 2008 to 2019.
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Since the beginning of April, both the Singapore Philatelic Museum and The Peranakan Museum has been shut to undergo redevelopment. They will only be welcoming the public once again close to the end of 2020.

One of the architectural highlights of Armenian Street ever since the building was housing Tao Nan School since 1912, its classical facade has made it an Instagram must for many - especially since Singaporean buildings are increasingly slick and minimalistic to cater to more modern tastes. With the pastel colours and the intricate carvings on the many pillars that hold the building up, The Peranakan Museum is testament to what the Peranakan culture is: refined beauty embodying gentleness and grace.

Discover more about what The Peranakan Museum has been for Singapore and the region, as we await patiently for their reopening of doors in the coming year.

The current premises started as Tao Nan School. A school building of Chinese influence. What were some considerations made when acquiring the space for a museum of Peranakan nature?

The original building of Tao Nan School was initially first refurbished as the Asian Civilisations Museum, which opened in 1997. In 2005, plans were made for the building to be redeveloped to house the world’s first Peranakan Museum. The Peranakan Museum officially opened in 2008.

Do you think the Armenian street location is ideal for the museum? Why?

Since the Peranakan Museum was established at Armenian Street 10 years ago, we have actively presented exhibitions and programmes highlighting both the tangible and intangible cultural heritage for the local Peranakans.

Having celebrated the community’s rich culture for so many years in Singapore together with stakeholders along the street, and with the steadfast support of the Peranakan community, Armenian Street has become synonymous with Peranakan culture.

Being located within the Bras Basah Bugis precinct, Singapore’s arts and heritage district, has also elevated the museum’s presence among residents and foreigners. Some key events of the BBB precinct include the Singapore Night Festival, which takes place annually over two weekends in August.

The pedestrianisation of a portion of Armenian Street, from the road in front of the museum till the road junction, will be completed by May 2019. This transformation will create an urban park with new opportunities to share Peranakan hospitality, food and culture.

Now, does the current architecture reflect the Peranakan culture of aesthetic and beauty?

The Former Tao Nan School which houses The Peranakan Museum was designed in the "Eclectic Classical" style. The fluted columns and the symmetry of the building are characteristic of Classical architecture while the balconies fronting the façade suggest a colonial or tropical style. The layout of the building is also based on Straits Settlements bungalows with rooms arranged around a common central hall and toilets and kitchens outside the principal building.

The building also exhibits various tropical adaptations, including the spacious verandas and large windows that allowed the building to be naturally ventilated before it became air-conditioned.

It was gazetted a National Monument in 1998, and its façade has been conserved since.

What is one significance you hope The Peranakan Museum stands for in Singapore, and the whole of Asia?

The Peranakan community forms one of Southeast Asia’s most colourful living cultures, with vibrant stories and legacies that have been passed down through generations of babas and nyonyas.
We hope to provide a stimulating and educational experience for all, while representing the living culture of the Peranakan community in the region.

Some architectural changes have been made. Share with us what those changes were and why?

Chu Lik Ren of the Public Works Department was the principal architect responsible for the conversion of the Tao Nan school building which was completed 2 years after it started renovation works in 1994.

When Chu first embarked on the project, the Tao Nan building had since been vacated for ten years and was initially painted using only one colour. Set to revive the building from its dilapidated state, Chu wanted to convert the façade of the building to look more vibrant, feminine and welcoming. Hence, in the conversion, he chose four colours for the façade of the building – white, light and dark beige and green.

Chu also had to comply with the conservation guidelines with the (then) Preservation of Monuments Board that stipulated that the original façade and interiors of the building had to be kept intact as much as possible for the building was under review for consideration as a national monument.

Complying with the board’s brief, new elements such as sprinkler pipes, fire alarms and electrical cables for light, among others – as well as strengthening works which needed to be introduced into the existing building to support its function as a museum, were discreetly hidden within the prevailing thickness of the floor zone and within the internal members of the structure itself.

Canteen and toilets located behind the main building were demolished and replaced with a three-storey block which housed all the heavy machinery, air-conditioning equipment, toilets and storage facilities required for the museum.

Finally, new marble flooring was laid on the first storey, appropriately designed light fixtures were added to the museum, plasterwork was restored and new doors and windows were also set in to complete the embellishment of the main building.

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