Jackie Chan's heritage buildings stand regally on SUTD campus

Four antique Chinese buildings donated by film star Jackie Chan stand regally on the grounds of their new home at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, even as final touches are being put on new buildings around the Changi campus.

These structures will officially open on May 8 – along with the rest of the school at 8 Somapah Road. It was previously housed at Dover Drive, beginning in 2011.

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Restoration work on the collection of buildings, which includes a pavilion, an opera stage, and two houses named Da Tong and Du Zhe after places in China’s Zhejiang province, started in October two years ago.

A team of 24 craftsmen from Suzhou, China, were brought in to restore them to their original glory. The buildings, from China’s southern Anhui province, are said to date back to the Qing and Ming dynasties, around 370 years ago.

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Restoration work included staining wood pillars and beams, fixing broken stone columns in the opera stage structure and retiling the roofs.

While minor construction work is left on the two houses, which are surrounded by an eco lake and will be used by the university to host events and meetings, the pavilion and opera stage in front of the hostel blocks are now open to the students and the public.

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Mr Hoong Bee Lok, an architect and senior director of campus development at the university, says the tedious restoration process was “well worth it”.

Mr Hoong, who has been on the project from the start, says: “It was difficult to combine old and new structures together in the masterplan. To appreciate the beauty of the Chinese architecture, they need a bit of space, rather than being placed close to other buildings.

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“At the start, we thought that they would look odd, but we made it work. Hopefully, they will become an attraction, where people can understand about Chinese architecture.”

Chan has been updated on the progress made on the buildings, which he donated in 2009. He is slated to visit the campus later this year, but no date has been set.

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The structures were part of his collection of 10 buildings which he bought for a sum he has not revealed. These were kept in storage before he donated four to Singapore.Aside from these, he also gave 12 old decorative beams – these were placed above doorways – for the university to display.

Six of these pieces are placed in the two houses, while the rest are in the university’s boardroom in the main building.

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Mr Hoong says that Chan was happy with the effort the school put into the buildings. “He felt we took them seriously and treated them with great respect and care. He wanted them to be liveable, usable spaces... He was even open to the idea of housing a cafe in one of them.”

With these historical beauties on campus, students will get a closer look at how they were crafted and their different styles of architecture.

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Mr Hoong says: “Bringing these buildings here and restoring them to their original look is an exercise in sustainability, which we want to teach our students.”

Fourth year architecture student Chong Zhuo Wen, 21, is excited about showing off the buildings to others, especially those who are not students there.

She says: “They provide some contrast with the new buildings. Also, as our school is so young, it’s nice to have something culturally rich here.”

natashaz@sph.com.sg