As night fell, devotees heading to the Bukit Timah Tua Pek Kong Temple in Lorong Kilat had to look out for dim rainbow lights to guide them to their place of worship.
But even as the worshippers came seeking divine intervention, the poor lighting, contributed in part by the fused bulbs which sat unreplaced, left the architecture of the 77-year-old temple unappreciated.
But following a renovation last year, which included a new lighting masterplan and a carefully chosen colour scheme, the temple now shines "like a beacon on the hill", says Mr Jackson Tan from architectural design firm Spores_Studio, whose team worked with Ms Toh Yah Li of lighting design firm Light Collab.
Together, they designed a system to improve the lighting of the temple, which last had a complete overhaul in 2003.
Their efforts earned the temple a merit award at the Illumination Awards 2015 organised by the American-based Illuminating Engineering Society in April.
Merit awards are given to buildings in American and Canadian cities such as Boston, Los Angeles and Toronto.
There is also an international project category. Besides the Bukit Timah Tua Pek Kong Temple, other winners this year included the China Pavilion for the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale and luxury hotel Aman Tokyo.
Mr Tan, 37, says one of the temple's concerns had to do with day-to-day maintenance and reducing energy usage.
"It doesn't have a lot of manpower so we came up with durable solutions that would make the upkeep minimal," he adds.
These include downlights in the main prayer hall, while the uplights showcases the 13m-high ceiling.
But as the lights last longer, they do not need to be changed often.
Outside, the underside of the roof tiers are installed with LED lights so that the architectural forms of the pitched roof can be seen clearly.
The ornamental concrete batons, on the underside of the roof, were also painted a fire engine-red hue, which stands out when the lights come on at night.
Another clever design is linking the front entrance archway and the main building with a clear glass canopy instead of an opaque one.
Mr Tan also used a low-emissivity glass which would prevent strong ultraviolet rays from coming through, deflecting heat from the area.
The panels, supported by glass beams, are also tilted two degrees - just enough to allow rainwater to wash away dirt and debris.
Mr Tan, who is also an adjunct assistant architecture professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, says: "We added space and weather-proofed the building. But there's still that visual connectivity with the sky for devotees, which is very important for Taoist prayers."
This is his first temple project, but he did not turn to other places of worship as a reference. Instead, he looked to museums and galleries, which have interfaces between old and new spaces.
He says: "There were many elements that had to come together, from the lighting to making sure that the new elements could be maintained well.
"It was about trying to find a good balance."
This article was first published on June 6, 2015.
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