For the past two years, architectural conservator Yeo Kang Shua has been painstakingly piecing together the colour profiles of historical buildings.
His objective is to see how they have changed over the decades.
Samples from tiny incisions made in the walls of about 15 structures, including shophouses, temples and residential buildings, have been taken to the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) campus, where he lectures.
There, a scanning electron microscope details the elemental composition of each layer of paint to find out how Singapore has changed colour over the years.
To help the assistant professor at SUTD in his mission, the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan has awarded him an endowed professorship for a tenure of three years as of last month.
Dr Yeo will have access to part of a $3 million endowment fund which the clan association awarded the university in 2012.
The 39-year-old's goal over the next two decades is to set up a database of buildings' colour schemes and the types of paints that were used.
"We make use of such information with the aim of finding out the colour scheme that people liked to paint with historically, the possible reasons behind the owner's choice and the potential age of the building," said Dr Yeo.
Rather than just ride the wave of nostalgia, he believes Singapore needs to develop concrete processes for the protection of its heritage - and he plans to use science and technology to achieve this.
Dr Yeo is the first professor at Singapore's fourth university to receive an endowment.
The decision to award the professorship to the area of architectural conservation signals a growing recognition of the need to develop expertise in this field - something which has been lacking in Singapore.
"We hope more individuals and organisations can come forward to support such research," said Dr Yeo.
Under this professorship, Dr Yeo will give talks, lectures and workshops on conservation-related topics. He will also be required to help the Hokkien Huay Kuan deepen public understanding of the heritage of its properties, which include its Thian Hock Keng temple in Telok Ayer.
Dr Yeo, who is the honorary secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society, is a familiar face in the conservation circles.
He has been involved in award-winning Unesco conservation projects.
Mr Adrian Peh, a member of the Hokkien Foundation's Committee of Management, said the clan hopes to incite passion for architectural research and conservation among the young.
Mr Peh said: "Given Dr Yeo's calibre, dedication to preserving monuments, and his passion and commitment towards heritage, Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan believes... the professorship will impact the industry."
This article was published on Aug 21 in The Straits Times.
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