The Thian Hock Keng Temple Cultural Studies Essay

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The temple started out as a prayer house or "joss shrine" located along the shore-line of the Telok Ayer Basin between1821-1822. When the early Chinese immigrants especially from the southern provinces came in their crowded junks soon after Sir Stamford Raffles founded the settlement of Singapore. Immigrants from China built the prayer house dedicated to Ma Zu or Ma Cho Po (or Mother of the Heavenly Sages in Hokkien), the Protectress of seafarers and navigators.

Between1839-1842, extensive reconstruction transformed the prayer house into the Thian Hock Keng Temple, meaning Temple of Heavenly Happiness. With funding from wealthy merchants like Tan Tock Seng, it was completed in 1842 at a cost of Spanish $30,000.

The Hokkien Huay Kuan clan association was housed in the temple before it relocated across the street. The Chong Hock Girls' School, one of the earliest Hokkien girls' schools in Singapore also had its beginnings here initiated by the Huay Kuan association in 1915. Boys were integrated into the school in 1949.

Thian Hock Keng Temple was gazetted as a national monument on 6 July 1973.

2.2 The architectural feature of the temple

Constructed in the temple architectural style of southern China, Thian Hock Keng has a grand entrance with a high step in front. The side entrance gates feature brightly colored tiles portraying peacocks, roses and the universal Buddhist swastika in green and brown. This symbol represents good luck, eternity and immortality.

Guarding the doors are tigers, lions and Door Gods, traditional sentinels of any Taoist temple. Beyond this elaborate entrance are two courtyards. Straddling the courtyards is the temple proper, comprising the shrine of Ma Cho Po. On either sides of the temple are pagodas -- the one on the left is a shrine of Confucius while the one on the right houses ancestral tablets of immigrants who founded the temple.

Not a single nail was used in the original mortise construction. All the materials were imported from China. It was designed and built according to definite Chinese temple architectural traditions by skilled craftsmen from China. The resident god of the temple is the Goddess Ma Zu, which was shipped down from Amoy and arrived in Singapore in April 1840. Emperor Guang Xu of the Qing Dynasty had presented a scroll in 1907 to the temple. Today the scroll sits in the Singapore History Museum.

3. The Restoration of the Temple

3.1 The Related Stakeholder in the Restoration Project

3.1.1 Hokkien Huay Kuan-Owner

Hokkien Huay Kuan is the owner of the Thian Hock Keng temple.

The Singapore Hokkien community can be traced as far back in1828. They first gathered at Heng Shan Teng Temple off Silat Road. When Thian Hock Keng temple construction completed in 1840 it became the meeting premises of the Huay Kuan. It was formally established in 1860 with Tan Kim Ching (eldest son of Tan Tock Seng) as the first president. He also served as a Justice of Peace and issued marriage certificates under his seal. Besides looking after the welfare of the clan members, the Huay Kuan also acted as mediators and maintained law and order within the Chinese community.

In 1915 the association was officially registered and changed its name to Thian Hock Keng Hokkien Huay Kuan but in 1929 it was renamed Hokkien Huay Kuan.

The Hokkien Huay Kuan was housed at Thian Hock Keng until 1919 when it moved to Hua Yi Xuan ¿½¿½ one of the wings of the Temple. In 1955 the association moved to a new six-storey building across from the temple and in 2003 the building was rebuilt to an eight-storey office complex.

3.1.2 James Ferrie and Partner-Architect

In history, there are several times renovation and restoration of Thian Hock Keng Temple. The temple was renovated in 1906, with many ¿½¿½western-style¿½¿½ features added, such as a wrought-iron gate from Glasgow and dado tiling. In this restoration project these additions were considered historically significant, so were retained along with Peranakan elements.

The nearest restoration is in 1998, and its architecture is James Ferrie and Partner. Using the new material and technology, James Ferrie and Partner successfully restored the temple to its full potential to meet the cultural, religious and tourism needs of the community.

3.1.3 East Art Design and Engineering Pte Ltd-Contractor

In the initial building of the temple, all the craftsmen from china were remembered by the elaborate granite stone on a temple wall.

In the nearest restoration project, in order to reserve the original beauty of the Thian Hock Keng Temple, the restoration project employ a company which is established by china researcher of the ancient buildings, and this company lead all 70 Chinese craftsman to carry out the renovation work. All the Fujian craftsmen from wood carvers, stonemasons and artisans have been contracted under the China East Art Design & Engineering, to ensure that restoration works remain true to the original. The roof ridges were restored to reflect decorations using the chien nien technique, a Fujian style where colourful broken procelain form relief patterns on the roof ridges. There are also plans to reintroduce a marriage registry which was originally performed by the Huay Kuan association.

3.1.4 Chinese Suppliers

The Chinese suppliers is also concerned as one of the stakeholder for them involved in the supplying all the China origin material such like wood beam, granite, Lacquer Painting, etc. Because most of the restoration materials are come from China, the Chinese suppliers have a important role in the restoration work.

3.2 The Restoration Work of the Thian Hock Keng Temple

3.2.1 The Concern of the Restoration Work

A. Maintain the Original Fabric

The general aim was to restore the temple as authentically as possible, with reference to its original architectural style, structure, building techniques and materials. Where replacement was necessary, original material from genuine authentic sources was required. All new introductions of materials or techniques were to be non-intrusive to the original fabric.

B. The material procurement

Most of the materials are purchased from china, so a proper schedule should be work out to ensure all the material can be shipped timely and meet the requirements of the restoration work.

Items Origin Delivery Remarks

Timber Hang zhou, China 2 months

Pine wood Hang zhou, China 2 months

Granite pillars Chengdu, China 3 months

carvings Xiamen, China 1 months

rolled gold Quanzhou, China 1 months

Lacquer Painting Fuzhou, China 5 months

gold ruby glass Fuzhou, China 2 weeks

Antique finish Beijing, China 2 weeks

coloured glaze Beijing, China 1 months

tiles Beijing, China 1 months

C. The Budget of the Project

The budget for the project is maintained within S$3.5 million, the proposed period of the restoration is two years. For there will be many things that will affect the budget, the owner, the architect should coordinated closely to meet the target.

D. The Safety of the Project

The temple is located at the tourist street Telok Ayer, the suitable protection work should be prepared in order that the work undertaken in a safety manner and the appearance of the temple will not affect the tourists.

E. The visitors and the activities

For the temple is a history reservation and is popular in Singapore¿½¿½s attractions as well as a important religion place, so there should be proper arrangement for the visitors of the temple and the religion activities that will held in the temple.

3.2.2 The Highlight of the Restoration Work

A. The careful calculation and research in Chinese material and suppliers make sure the whole project budget within the control of the owner and also meet the planned requirements and effects.

B. All Chinese craftsmen, Chinese materials and the using of Chinese traditional technique make sure the temple either remain its original image and reinforce its function and structure.

C. The careful preparations make sure the project be carried out under a safety manner and not affect the visitors to this temple district or the activities held in the temple district.

D. ¿½¿½Top-down¿½¿½ dismantling and restoration, the traditional method for Chinese temple conservation was applied. Which make sure the temple are be dismantled in the manner that most of the material will be kept and reused.

E. As the decay of the original roof timber was caused by water penetration, it was necessary to improve the roof¿½¿½s water resistance. The traditional tiling method was slightly porous so to compensate for this a stainless steel membrane was included between the tiling and the roof frame.

F. The intricate carpentry work of the roof structure was decaying and had been badly repainted in previous restoration efforts. Some elements had also been blackened by soot over the years. Most were catalogued and dismantled for cleaning and repair. The decayed timber parts were removed and repaired by skilled craftsmen using scarfing techniques or replaced with new timbers from China.

G. On cleaning, it was revealed that the original embellishments had been a rich combination of gold leaf and intricately-coloured paint. Restoration of the finish was accomplished with traditional methods in which a primer was used to harden the surfaces before application of the paint and gold leaf.

H. For repairs to the severely weathered roof spirals and ridges of chien nien, traditional methods involving the application of broken ceramic chips were used. Research from China and close inspection of surviving spirals confirmed that the correct method should involve the use of a lacquer paste made of minerals and glazes. Lightning conductors, which were necessary to meet the building codes, were mounted in line with the swallowtail profiles of the ridges.

I. Replacements were not available for all the different designs of the broken tiles in the courtyard. So to maintain a consistent appearance, original tiles were salvaged from the wings and reused only in the main courtyard. New handmade tiles of a similar design were used for the wings so the distinctions between the different tiles were only evident in the changing levels of the courtyard.

J. Column and column base: the main hall of Thian Hock Keng is supported by sixteen column which are 46cm in root diameter and 8m in height. The sixteen pillars are erected in the style of the artistic spindle pillar (spindle pillar, excellent in appearance, and also can enforce the compressive stress of the pillar). Intertwined dragons were carved upon them, which embody the power of the heaven. All these columns are made of granite from China.

K. Wall of the temple: the wall was decorated with ceramic dados which are in impressive colour: red and green. The dados shape lots of image: flowers, phoenix, dragons and many other images which show the people¿½¿½s worship to the god of heaven. Before do the tile work, clearness of the old wall is an important preparation job, for the paint of the wall was flake away for the wind and rains of time, the clearness of the wall will make sure the tile be adhered to the wall tightly.

L. Painting in the temple

To the Chinese community colour carries immense socio-cultural symbolism, especially in traditional temple architecture. Authenticity in colour rendering is critical in conservation work of such a building. This project demonstrates that serious attitude by faithfully restoring its Min Nan style architecture, both in form and colour. It impresses with its research into the original colour palette as well as the effort in reproducing traditional lacquer techniques in colour application. Despite the strong colour palette used, the result is a measured replication in the spirit of the temple's original architecture.

M. The Rooftop ornamentation

The rooftop ornamentation is a traditional method of the decoration of Chinese building, and the most used are dragons, phoenix, Qilin etc. In Thian Hock Keng temple the rooftop ornamentation representing dragons and it¿½¿½s quite different from and more colourful than the Chinese native building. Also it took more time and effort of renovation. Some of the ornamentation are rebuilt by the Chinese craftsmen and restored on the rooftop to maintain the original look of the temple.

4. Conclusion

After the restoration and renovation, the Thian Hock Keng Temple gains her original beauty again and shows all the people come from around the world the traditional building art of Southern Chinese Style. The project mainly achieves the following result:

a. Reinforce the structure of the Temple and water proof of the temple.

b. Adding handicap fittings and facilities to the temple.

c. Authenticity in appearance rendering and reservation of the cultural, religious features of the temple.

d. Improving the temple¿½¿½s capacity for visitors and low down the peak stress of the temple.

e. Improving the safety measures of the temple.

f. Improving the Integration Image of Telok Ayer Street.