Heritage of Yunnan Garden 'spans globe'

Redevelopment by NTU must be sensitive to its Nanyang-style landscape, say experts

The Yunnan Garden at NTU. The university said the monuments on its campus will not be affected by the redevelopment.
The Yunnan Garden at NTU. The university said the monuments on its campus will not be affected by the redevelopment.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Largely deserted today, Yunnan Garden is a heritage gem in Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Jurong campus.

It is home to national monuments such as the library and administration building of the former Nanyang University, or Nantah. The building, now the Chinese Heritage Centre, was designed in the Chinese national style by local architect Ng Keng Siang, who is also behind the Lim Bo Seng Memorial at the Esplanade Park.

The building was gazetted in 1998 with a memorial and Nantah's original arched gateway. These were also built in the same Chinese national style, with reinforced concrete and stylised Chinese motifs.

While heritage experts welcome news that NTU is planning to make the Yunnan Garden area more accessible for the public to enjoy, they said redevelopment must be sensitive to the Nanyang-style landscape.

Architectural historian Lai Chee Kien said: "When it was first designed, one could sense the grandness brought about by the formal symmetry of the garden and the former administration building after passing through the entrance archway."

Dr Lai emphasised that the garden's heritage is not limited to Singapore. "Singapore was chosen as the site of the first university for the region's Chinese settlements so its heritage spans the globe as it involves the international Chinese community," he said.

Founded in 1955, Nanyang University was built on a 200ha campus donated by the Hokkien Huay Kuan. Nantah closed in 1980 and NTU later occupied its grounds.

Likewise, architecture assistant professor Chen Yu said: "I hope that they will not treat it just as an open green space. Its landscaping with its memorial pagoda and pavilions was the venue for historical events."

Among these events was Nantah's first graduation ceremony in 1960.

Experts also pointed to features like the park's terrazzo seats as representative of 1950s design, and the grass slope in front of the Chinese Heritage Centre bearing the Chinese saying: "To thrive in adversity, to strive and improve oneself constantly". NTU said the redevelopment is to strengthen the heritage narrative of the campus, adding that the monuments will not be affected.

For Singapore Heritage Society's executive committee member Yeo Kang Shua, plant selection is important. "For example, lush greenery will alter the aesthetic completely.

"The ensemble of historic elements such as its built structures, terrain, choice of plants, should be viewed as features of a historic landscape and therefore studied carefully by experts before any work to redefine the landscape starts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2016, with the headline 'Heritage of Yunnan Garden 'spans globe''. Subscribe