Published September 16, 2008

Restored Katong house wins Unesco award

Project shows good conservation with innovative solutions for additional space

By ARTHUR SIM,00.html?

A RESTORED house at 733 Mountbatten Road built in the 1920s has been recognised with a Unesco award for innovation.

It is the first residential property here to receive such an honour - the 2008 Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation Jury Commendation for Innovation.

The house, the family residence of the Ang family, was restored with an extension added by Ang Gin Wah of Gin + Design Workshop.

In its citation, the jury, comprising 12 international experts, said that the contemporary addition to 733 Mountbatten Road had successfully added floor space while retaining and conserving the original building. The spatial arrangement and the massing of the new building in relation to the historic bungalow also creates an appropriate 'balance between the old and new'.

'This project, which demonstrates good conservation practice in combination with innovative solutions for providing additional space, sets a worthy model for re-use of heritage buildings in Singapore,' it added.

Mr Ang, who has an honours degree in architecture from Curtin University of Technology, Australia, reveals that the process of conservation and addition took almost three-and-a- half years to complete.

His parents had acquired the house in 1999 and wanted to build a multi-generational home consisting of three separate wings and a common family wing.

Mr Ang said that the concept of 'village living' was the basis for the restoration.

'During the design process, it was decided that the added new wings would not mimic the main house in style as this would detract from the value of the old architectural fabric,' he said.

Instead, the new additions were sensitively designed with contemporary elements to 'create a degree of harmony'.

The original main house was conserved in totality. The interface between the old house and the new extensions were 'fused' with glass to create 'a dialogue between the two'.

The main house was left for many years in neglect. Initial visual inspections revealed structural cracks on the main beams supporting the timber floors and the walls. These were then pressure grouted to improve the structural strength.

All timber windows, doors and louvre panels were painstakingly dismantled piece by piece, labelled and stripped of the old paint then sanded before re-assembly. Mr Ang said that each window had about 40 parts.

The coloured glass panels at the windows were removed and washed before re-assembly. Broken panes were replaced with glass specially sourced in Australia, as these were not available locally. An addition of a non-static acrylic strip was discreetly installed between the louvres of the window panels to reduce heat load in the event air-conditioning is used.

The architectural elements that could not be restored or replaced were ingeniously recreated. This included decorative plaster elements from the capitals of the Corinthian columns of the porte cochere which had broken off decades ago.

To restore the broken fragments of the capital, Mr Ang made plaster moulds of the existing capitals and recast fragments that were missing.

'With careful planning and strategies, such as maximum retention, recruiting and training tradesmen and craftsmen locally, we managed to not only reduce cost but also preserve a part of history,' says Mr Ang with much satisfaction.

733 Mountbatten Road was one of 45 entries from 13 countries received for the Unesco award.

The top three Awards of Distinction went to: the National Pass in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia; the Fujian Earth Buildings in Fujian Province, China; and Suffolk House in Penang, Malaysia.

In Singapore, Chijmes, the former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, received the 2002 Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Merit Award.