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Melody Zaccheus and Samantha Boh
Sunday, Oct 5, 2014

Singapore

'Mamak shop' decision proves a winner

The Straits Times | Melody Zaccheus and Samantha Boh | Sunday, Oct 5, 2014

J8 Hotel managing director Joseph Lee with sundry shop owner K.M. Kuthubudeen and his friend, Mr Abdul Rahim (seated), at the shop on the hotel’s ground floor at Townshend Road on 30 September 2014.

SINGAPORE - The decision to carve out a space for a traditional neighbourhood fixture, the "mamak shop", helped earn the owners of J8 Hotel an architectural heritage award.

The project was one of three from a pool of seven submissions that received the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Architectural Heritage Awards this year at a ceremony yesterday.

Mr Joseph Lee, 50, the hotel's managing director, set aside a recessed area for 59-year-old Mr K.M. Kuthubudeen's sundry shop on the ground floor of a stretch of historic shophouses in Jalan Besar.

"We invited him back as we wanted to keep the traditional amenity around to preserve as much as we could of the area's past," said Mr Lee.

The 98-room hotel, which opened last December and cost $10 million to renovate and restore, picked up the URA's Category B award.

The category recognises developments in historic residential districts and secondary settlement areas for successfully integrating the old with the new.

A URA spokesman said the sensitive restoration and renovation of the five transitional-style pre-war shophouses into a hotel help breathe new life into the surroundings.

The neighbourhood is home to businesses such as hardware shops.

The URA's heritage awards are in their 20th year, and a total of 120 projects have received the awards since their launch in 1995. There is no prize money.

This year's other winners include a terraced house at 145 Neil Road. The authority said its owner and architect paid special attention to retaining and restoring old features such as the red cement flooring along its five foot way and a fish-mould waterspout centrepiece made of plaster.

It noted that special effort had been made to uncover the original striking blue paint of the two-storey terrace's facade.

Architect Mark Wee, 39, director of architecture firm Ong & Ong, said the team that worked on the $1.2 million project wanted to keep to the original colours and design of the building.

"We wanted the story of the place to continue and to restore its original narrative as far as possible," he said.

The only winner in Category A, which is reserved for national monuments and fully conserved buildings in historic and good class bungalow areas, is the Yueh Hai Ching Temple at 30B Phillip Street. The URA described the national monument as the star of this year's awards.

The temple, which traced its roots back to 1826, also picked up an award of merit at the 2014 Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards last month.

It had undergone a five-year, $7.5 million makeover and reopened in March this year.

URA director of conservation management Kelvin Ang said the judges were impressed by the thorough research a team from the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew social welfare organisation, had put in.

This included travelling to Guangzhou, China, in search of master craftsmen to restore the temple's timber structures, carvings, frescoes, gold gilding and ceramic decorative features.

The temple has the highest density of craft and ornamentation works of any temple in Singapore. Adorning its roof and walls, they depict Chinese classic stories and folklore.

Said URA's Mr Ang: "Our generation is lucky to be able to see the beauty of this temple for the first time in decades after it had been in disrepair for years."

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who presented the awards, said conserving and restoring buildings is only the first step.

It is how they are brought to life that determines whether they will continue to be relevant and important, he noted.


This article was first published on October 3, 2014.
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