Heritage spotlight on Haw Par Villa

A sculpture at the 79-year-old Haw Par Villa. The study could lead to greater protection of the site and its artefacts, which reflect elements of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian folklore.
A sculpture at the 79-year-old Haw Par Villa. The study could lead to greater protection of the site and its artefacts, which reflect elements of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian folklore.ST FILE PHOTO

NHB calls tender to study and restore park's sculptures

An in-depth heritage study of one of Singapore's rare and historical gems - the 79-year-old Haw Par Villa - will soon be under way.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) has called a tender to study the park's some 1,000 Technicolor sculptures, dioramas and architectural features in detail. The study is likely to span about eight months and will start after the contract is awarded. The tender closed last week.

The focus of the tender is to determine the condition of the sculptures and study the materials and paint colours used, "with the aim of restoring them as close as possible to their original form".

The study could lead to greater protection of the site and its artefacts, which reflect elements of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian folklore. It follows calls by the heritage community, and a Straits Times commentary last October urging official protection of the site.

As it has been primarily managed as a tourist attraction, its value as a heritage site has been somewhat neglected. Its owners, the Aw family, handed the park to the predecessor of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 1979. It changed hands in the 1980s and ran as a theme park in the 1990s. It was returned to STB in 2001 and is now managed by tour operator Journeys, appointed by STB.

In response to queries, STB said it recognises the significance and heritage of Haw Par Villa, hence the partnership with NHB. The joint statement from STB and NHB also said the findings of the project will be used to guide the long-term refurbishment and repair of the park.

Singapore Heritage Society executive committee member Yeo Kang Shua said the need to identify restoration and conservation work is especially urgent as the park's sole painter, Mr Teo Veoh Seng, is in his 80s. Dr Yeo added that the current upkeep and maintenance practices for the sculptures are not sustainable.

Built by the Myanmar-Chinese Aw brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, of the Tiger Balm ointment fame, Haw Par Villa has been billed as a unique Chinese cultural resource - the only one of its kind left after its sister park in Hong Kong was demolished in 1998.Among the folklore on display: the stories of the Eight Immortals and Journey To The West.

Experts said the park plays a vital role locally and regionally in depicting overseas Chinese culture. Some believe it has the potential to become a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The contractor that wins the tender will have to develop a management plan to "guide the long-term maintenance and upkeep of the heritage features" in five-year maintenance cycles. Four suppliers have responded: Andes Consulting, Art Logica, Studio Lapis and Tenon Construction, with bids ranging from $88,800 to $239,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Heritage spotlight on Haw Par Villa'. Print Edition | Subscribe