Treasured Ties to a Glorious Past
A firm commitment to preserve a heritage that is uniquely Clarke Quay
Issue: Feb 2011
Soak in the atmosphere of the past on tongkangs at Clarke Quay where treasured experiences of yesteryears are lovingly preserved and creatively used as an event space enjoyed by everyone
A rustic contemporary blend of old and new in architectural form – that best describes the landscape of the Clarke Quay area today. Combining rich maritime heritage tradition with modern architecture in a cosmopolitan setting, Clarke Quay charms with a delicate mix of culture in its carefully planned and preserved space.
Clarke Quay’s heritage as a trading post is evident in the presence of the restored warehouses and a treasured pair of bumboats significantly positioned alongside the Singapore River. These two tongkangs (light boats for carrying goods) date back more than forty years and are being painstakingly preserved by CapitaMalls Asia to retain the historical value of Clarke Quay’s seaport past, against a unique backdrop of rows of conserved shophouses, pushcarts and five-foot-way merchants.
The last two original tongkangs preserved to retain the historical value of Clarke Quay’s seaport past
This treasured pair of tongkangs is an important piece of Singapore’s maritime history, which has long endured the crucial test of time and formed an unlikely but solid, golden friendship with CapitaMalls Asia for nearly twenty years.
Owned by CapitaMall Trust and managed by CapitaMalls Asia, the tongkangs were initially acquired as part of the restoration of Clarke Quay in 1993. They are the last surviving bastions of a way of trade and life, being the only pair of original tongkangs remaining on the Singapore River.
These two precious bumboats were built in 1968 and 1972 and functioned as a section of restaurant outdoor dining space while their electric boat counterpart replicas were constructed to run river cruises. In July 2009, the sustainability of the antique boats took a turn for uncertainty when the tongkang duo’s functionality slowed to a halt by age and wear and tear.
Weathering age and adversity
But CapitaMalls Asia remained committed to preserving the heritage of the boats.
“The tongkangs were in dire need for major repairs. In spite of the challenges, we made a conscious decision to invest in preserving Clarke Quay’s and our national, cultural and architectural heritage which would otherwise have been lost forever,” recounts Keith Low, Clarke Quay’s Centre Manager.
A firm decision was made to preserve and restore the boats despite all odds. And the odds were great then. Singapore River was part of the Marina Bay Reservoir and this necessitated repair works to be carried out within the narrow and shallow confines of the river. The boats could not be transported out of the Marina Barrage to an ideal repair location such as a dry dock.
The tongkangs had to be lifted above the waters of the Singapore River for restoration work to begin
A strict adherence to tight pollution controls in the reservoir was also mandated. The old, fragile tongkangs, each weighing 70 tonnes, had to be lifted above the waters for the restoration process. The biggest test had to be the fact that there were no architectural drawings of the tongkangs, giving restorers no clue or inclination as to how the tongkangs were designed and constructed.
It took CapitaMalls Asia nearly a whole year to source globally for the right company to restore the invaluable pair of tongkangs. Underwater Maintenance Company was approved to allow their marine engineers and maritime carpenters to prepare the fabrication and assembly of special pontoons to lift the tongkangs above water for patching of holes on the hulls, adding internal stiffeners for reinforcement, and an additional layer of fiberglass protection and an overall new coat of paint.
Marine engineers and maritime carpenters preparing the fabrication and assembly of special pontoons to lift the tongkangs for repair work
It is a big, expensive step of commitment taken by CapitaMalls Asia to keep this treasured friendship between the old, antique tongkangs and new, modern Clarke Quay alive as total restoration costs amount to over a million dollars. But it is a worthy investment because the preservation of heritage is priceless. The boats will be preserved to their original glory as best possible.
When restoration works are completed end 2011 the tongkangs will allow visitors a taste of old-world charms and stand as glorious testimonies to the timeless beauty of the past. Both will neither be enclosed nor air-conditioned. They will be adaptively reused as historical space venues for corporate functions, product launches and private parties. More importantly, the tongkangs will stand to form a part of the heritage trail of Clarke Quay in time to come.