Fuk Tak Chi reopens after makeover

After a long voyage at sea, Hakka and Cantonese migrants arriving in Singapore would disembark from their boats and pass through the doors of the Fuk Tak Chi temple in Telok Ayer to thank the deity Tua Pek Kong for a safe journey.

In modern times, the conserved 1824 structure serves as a museum and a thoroughfare for office workers as they scuttle about the Central Business District in search of food during lunch hour.

But Singapore's harsh tropical climate has not been merciful to the country's oldest Chinese temple. High levels of humidity and frequent downpours had caused termite infestations across 43 of its timber beams.

The building's decorative elements, such as its phoenix and dragon religious emblems, had chipped and faded over time as well.

Last Wednesday, it reopened after a 10-month makeover.

Far East Organisation, which owns and operates the museum as part of Far East Square, closed the space last October to give it a fresh face. It hired DP Architects and artisans from Quanzhou, China, to restore the 162 sq m single-storey building.

Ms Tse Pek Mun, senior associate of DP Architects, said that new waterproofing technologies were adopted to "ensure the longevity of the museum".

For instance, chemicals were injected into the building's walls to create a "barrier" to prevent moisture from seeping in and damp from taking root.

The team also installed a full waterproofing system for its roof. This involved adding protective layers of paint to its timber ceiling and roof ridges. They also repaired its rooftop gutter to allow better drainage of rainwater.

Mr Heng Chiang Hock, associate director of DP Architects, said that the firm paid attention to working with Chinese artisans on the "delicate handcrafting" of decorative supports and roof decorations.

Such attention to detail will ensure the museum's "longevity" and help preserve a key part of Singapore's heritage, he said.

Experts repaired and repainted the ceramic phoenix and dragon emblems seated on the roof's ends.

The museum's gold-gilding features were also given a fresh lick of coating.

Floor-mounted plaques will now be installed to allow visitors to trace the footsteps of Singapore's forefathers who lived in Chinatown.

These signs will highlight the different features of the building, such as the significance of its life-size door gods.

Visitors can also expect to see old stone-wall plaques and mural paintings that were once part of the temple.

This is the second restoration the Fuk Tak Chi museum has undergone since a $200,000 one that Far East Organisation carried out when it took over in 1998.

The organisation declined to disclose the cost of the latest effort.

The building was awarded to the developer in 1995, alongside the defunct Chui Eng Free School and a collection of shophouses, for conservation and adaptive reuse by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The temple's operations ended in 1994.

Production manager Kirman Tjin, 47, who passes through the space every day, said: "It is good to preserve our historical assets.

"As I walk through the space, I get to reflect on our past. It is a reminder of the hard work put in by the coolies who helped build Singapore," he added.

This article was first published on Aug 11, 2015.
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