Mixing design art with oriental and western cultures
For people who have visited Tung Ann District Guild, the 11-storey Tung Ann Association Building on the busy Cecil Street may come to mind. The building which was completed in 1984 has a column in the lift foyer which tells the history of the Guild and its premises.
Tung Ann District Guild bought the building in 1931. It was a 3-storey building then. The original floor area was much smaller, occupying only up to area where the lift foyer is. The leaders of the Guild, led by then-President Mr Soon Peng Yam (Soon Bin Yan), decided to buy over the coffee shop next door to expand the Guild’s premises. The added space has been turned in useful space, including the present office area, the meeting room and the guest room.
The man behind the architectural design of the Tung Ann Association Builidng is none other than the Head of the Guild’s Property Section Mr Tan Soo Ren. He is the son of Mr Tan Tai Kang (Chen Da Jiang), one of the sponsors of Tung Ann Association Building. The junior Tan returned from Britain after he had completed his architecture studies there and took up the role of building design for the Guild.
However, to design the Tung Ann Association Building with limited resources posed the greatest challenge to Mr Tan. He had to work within a tight budget of 5 million dollars from donors. He also had to seamlessly blend the old building space with the coffee shop space. Mr Tan skillfully filled it with the lift foyer, the stairs and even toilets.
Those who know him would describe Mr Tan as a gentleman. Interestingly, he shares a similar background as the Guild’s Treasurer Mr Teo Choo Kiat. Both of them attended Chinese High School and went abroad to further their studies. In fact, they met their wives while studying in the UK. However, their similarities ended there. Mr Tan married his wife Raelene, an Australian back in 1968 in Britain. Such a cross-cultural, cross-racial and cross-border marriage was very rare then. It has even prompted the National Museum of Singapore to produce a 7-minute film* documenting the life of the loving couple. It also gives a glimpse into the life of the early Chinese Singaporeans.
Enjoying his semi-retirement now, Mr Tan draws and swims regularly. He likes sculpting too. In fact, he has created a bust for each of his parents. The heavy busts, now displaced prominently in Mr Tan’s house, is a reflection of his love for them.
*The short film, part of a permanent exhibit of the photo gallery, is on show now on level 2 of the National Museum of Singapore.