Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre

by Ong Li Ling

I tagged along with the King’s College Alumni for a weekend tour of Malacca earlier this month. The highlight of the weekend was a walking tour conducted by Professor Johannes Widodo from the NUS School of Architecture. The tour started at the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage located at 54-56 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. A write-up on this Centre will be the first instalment of my “Professor Widodo Malacca Walking Tour” series.

Route taken during the walking tour. The Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre is marked in green.

Tun Tan Cheng Lock was a Baba Chinese. He was a leading member of the Straits Community and was the first elected president of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA). He contributed significantly in the field of education, social welfare and politics. The road was named to commemorate his many contributions.

The Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre is located in a townhouse along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. It was almost demolished 10 years ago as there was a proposal to create a walkway from the Kota Laksamana parking area to Jonker Walk. The plan to demolish this building failed due to the intervention of local NGOs.

This building was used as a maternity clinic for Dr Ong Bak Hin (one of the first Malaysian doctors who graduated in England) in 1920, Yeoh Maternity home in 1955, Aik Siow Clinic in 1977 and in 1980 as a rest house and subsequently a storage warehouse for Syarikat Abdul, an antique junk dealer. The two shoplots were sold in December 1992 to Tay Kheng Soon, a Singaporean architect,  and they were finally purchased by Miss Agnes Tan and bequeathed to the School of Architecture NUS.

A 1605 Portuguese map of Malacca shows that there was a market place where this building currently sits.

In a map dating 1663,  the location of building is where the orange box is. It is close to the sea which is at the bottom of the map.

All the yellow beams in the ceiling are original, but the brown wood is a replacement because the original wood was rotten.

The wall of the building almost collapsed and had to be restored. After the plaster was scrapped off, the conservationists saw different types and sizes of bricks dating from the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Malaysian eras. The plaster was not reapplied as they want to let the wall tell the story of the building. The Breaking Line of the wall indicates the movement of this building and tells us that this building was not built at one go as there were extensions forward and backward from the core.

The Line on the brick wall shows the first facade of building when the surrounding area was still the sand and was near the sea.

The steps were built after they closed the connecting door. In the beginning the neighbouring houses were connected. The subsequent owners closed the connection and they then built the second floor.

The well was shared with the neighbours.

The hole in the wall was made when the building was used as a warehouse in the 1980s when it belonged to Syarikat Abdul.

This wall collapsed and was stitched with concrete but the concrete was not covered up so that students can learn how to stitch a falling a wall.

Conservationists experimented with various types of plaster so that they can learn which one is better for conservation.

The Pit is kept open to show that there is sand inside. This used to be a coastline. You can find seashells and corals.

A connection to the Chariot House next to the Royal Press was found.

A horse stable was found as evidenced from the horse bones buried. It is speculated that the horses were used to pull the chariots.

Roof tiles used in Malacca cannot be found in Malaysia anymore. However, similar ones can be found in Vietnam. The tiles are made by placing clay on the thighs. So the sizes are not even.

Professor Johannes Widodo and team want to turn this place into a conservation clinic to show that it is possible to do a sensitive conservation and not to turn everything into boutique hotels and cafes.

During the opening ceremony, the Malacca Governor was invited to officiate and he suggested calling this place 54-56. The contractor bought 4D and was delighted when he won the first prize!  He bought a 4-Wheel Drive with his winning money.

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Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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