A heritage restoration that is a balance of old and new


  • Design
  • Wednesday, 05 Apr 2017

The mural on the side of the club features the faces of the club’s late members and Chinese revolutionary figure Sun Yat Sen. Photos: ST

For a decade, the 112-year-old Goh Loo Club at 72 Club Street in Singapore, once a hotbed of activity, stood in disrepair among the hip bars and restaurants in the area.

In a bid to stay relevant and attract younger members, members who took over in 2012 decided to revitalise the club, which was formed as a gathering place for the local Chinese community. Many of Singapore’s founding fathers, such as Dr Lim Boon Keng, who was also a writer, and prominent businessman, and philanthropist Lee Kong Chian were members.

The club premises – a 998sq m, three-storey shophouse that was gazetted for conservation in July 1989 – underwent a 16-month renovation. It was completed in April last year at a cost of S$3.8mil (RM12mil).

The club was among the winners of Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Architectural Heritage Awards last year, which recognise exceptional restoration works of national monuments and conserved buildings.

Alex Tan, 71, a committee member of the club, says the renovation – helmed by architecture and interior design firm Artprentice and construction company Jinmac – injected freshness into the building again – “The old club was very tight in space and the ambience was rather claustrophobic.”

The window grilles featuring scenes of people playing basketball.
The window grilles featuring scenes of people playing basketball.

The club – which was founded in 1905 and moved to its current premises in 1927 – got its name from a poem by famous Chinese poet Tao Yuanming, where the author waxes lyrical about his cottage. In Hokkien, “Goh Loo” means love cottage, says Tan.

Much of the building’s original elements were restored and retained, as preserving its heritage was of utmost importance to the club. For instance, the original three-legged mahjong tables, which were used by past members, are still there.

But the club also had to ensure that the refurbished space would be suitable for modern use. The third floor, for example, was turned into an open-plan multi-purpose space with sliding partitions and can be used for functions or meetings.

A fourth mezzanine level, where the club director’s office is, was added. The first two floors are currently leased out as office space.

Painted memories

A mural was added on the outside walls during the renovation and features the faces of the club’s late members and Chinese revolutionary figure Sun Yat Sen. It was painted by Singaporean artists Benny Ong, Zhao Jian Wen, and Didier Ng, and is meant to depict what the club was like when dignitaries visited.

Of the “Samsui” woman in the mural, Tan says it is symbolic of the working-class Chinese community and represents the pioneer members’ hard work and determination in carving out a new life in Singapore. (Samsui women were female immigrants who came to this part of the world in the 1920s and 1940s mainly from the Sanshui – “Samsui” in Cantonese, meaning “three waters” – district of Canton, or Guangdong today, in southern China, according to Singapore’s National Library Board.)

Saving the details

Before the original timber louvre windows were restored, they were aluminium sliding windows. The windows were painted green to match the building’s original green balustrades, but Tan says the original colour would have been greyish.

The original bricks were salvaged and pieced together to line one wall.
The original bricks were salvaged and pieced together to line one wall.

On the first floor, the window grilles reflect scenes of people playing basketball and were added in the 1950s. The Basketball Association of Singapore occupied the first floor from 1946 to 1970.

During the restoration, the original bricks were salvaged and pieced together to line the wall in the multi-purpose space on the third floor.

The columns, once hidden by timber panels, were discovered only during the restoration. As the columns are no longer strong enough to support the building on their own, steel beams were added to the building structure.

The original timber structure and floors were restored and can be seen on the second and third floors. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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