Local conservation experts in demand

Local conservation experts in demand
The 88-year-old Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, located at 235 Telok Ayer Street, has a 1,500-strong congregation. It was designated a national monument in 1989.

LOCAL conservation experts have been zipping across the region to give advice on historic building projects in places ranging from Myanmar to Calcutta and Penang.

This is a far cry from the mid-1990s, when conservation expertise in Singapore was in its infancy and developers and building owners depended on overseas experts for advice.

Now, the tables have been turned, and experts in the field include architectural conservation specialist consultant Ho Weng Hin and architectural conservator Yeo Kang Shua.

Mr Ho, for instance, was engaged by a private developer from Myanmar last year to consult on the restoration of the late 1880s Burma Railway headquarters.

"My familiarity with best practices in conservation puts me in good stead for this," said Mr Ho, 40, who was also technical adviser to the restoration of St George Church in Penang, the oldest Anglican church in South-east Asia.

Today, there are at least five experts like Mr Ho, about 10 architectural firms specialising in conservation and consultancy, and between 15 and 20 conservation contractors.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said the the Architectural Heritage Awards - now into their 20th year - had a role in the growth of the field.

The awards, the first in South-east Asia, have helped raise conservation standards, noted Mrs Teh Lai Yip, URA's senior director of conservation.

She gave the example of the century-old, award-winning Hong San See temple in Mohamed Sultan Road.

The team behind the effort, which included Dr Yeo, did careful research to restore the temple's wood carvings and gold leafing, among other things.

Some 117 projects have been given awards since 1995.

Dr Yeo, 39, an assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said the URA awards have contributed to the wider appreciation and awareness of the country's built heritage.

The authority said it will be putting together a database of technical conservation information, with input from professionals, such as the types of chemicals or materials used to preserve an old building, on its conservation portal.

Dr Yeo, who was part of a team that designed an award-winning elementary school in the historic district of Lijiang, China, in 2005, welcomed this move.

He said: "Over time, a technical database will be built up and we will be able to track the efficacy and appropriateness of different building treatments."

melodyz@sph.com.sg

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