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NUS Architecture Opens New Living Laboratory

Image Credits: NUS, Press Release

The Department of Architecture under the National University of Singapore College of Design and Engineering (NUS CDE) opened the Architectural Conservation Laboratory (ArClab), a unique living laboratory housed in a conserved building which will serve as a site for researchers, graduate students and built heritage professionals to conduct a wide range of teaching and research activities on sustainable development of the built environment.

ArClab was established in January 2022 to achieve four key goals:

  • augment the training capabilities of Singapore’s building industry in built heritage conservation;
  • develop innovative use of technologies to enhance conservation;
  • conduct high-impact research into broader conservation issues; and
  • promote climate resilience and net-zero retrofit in historic buildings.

Over the next four to five years, ArClab will undertake the restoration of 141 Neil Road, a historic townhouse in the Blair Plain Conservation Area. The Portabella family, who owned the house, had recently donated it to the University, along with a gift of S$2 million, to support its repair and conservation works.

The Head of the NUS Department of Architecture and UNESCO Chair on Architectural Heritage Conservation and Management in Asia noted that as the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, the ArClab aims to be an exemplar and pedagogical demonstration of sensitive repair and conservation, adaptive reuse of heritage, and sustainable management of the historic environment.

The building’s conservation process will provide opportunities for both teaching and research. Using the conserved townhouse as a living lab, ArClab will showcase a new model for learning about the historic environment, building professional capacity to manage historical resources, and promoting historical and environmental studies.

The Deputy Dean (Research), the NUS College of Design and Engineering noted that ArClab is a timely endeavour that gathers expertise in engineering, design and architecture from the NUS College of Design and Engineering to preserve our history and build skills to address Singapore’s unique urban sustainability concerns.

Speaking at the opening of ArClab, the Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration noted that he is excited to see ArClab become an engine to develop the knowledge of conservation practices and skills locally; develop heritage capacity building in Singapore and the region; support building owners in the maintenance and restoration of heritage buildings; grow Singapore’s overseas presence in built heritage and break new ground internationally and see how sustainability and liveability can be imbued inbuilt heritage.

Bring cultural heritage to life

One of the oldest buildings in the entire stretch of Neil Road, the historic house was built as part of the Everton Estate in the 1880s. The historic building contains a collection of decorative tiles depicting English Art Noveau and Chinese motifs. It is adorned with several auspicious Chinese character plaques in clerical and cursive font styles.

Housed within the historic building, ArClab will be a dynamic “classroom in the city” for students taking graduate programmes and doctoral studies in built heritage management. They will play a significant role in the repair and conservation works.

Students will learn and conduct research on areas such as traditional building materials and craftsmanship; the use of innovative technologies for repair works, energy efficiency and comfort; and net-zero retrofit in historic buildings. ArClab will also design and deliver advanced courses for professionals working in the field of built heritage.

The research will be conducted alongside teaching activities in the conserved building. NUS researchers will carry out various projects, including conducting research, documentation and restoration of Singapore’s heritage using innovative technologies such as 3D modelling; developing an integrated approach for energy efficiency and net-zero retrofit of Singapore’s historic buildings; testing and developing traditional building materials and techniques as well as using innovative technologies for conservation and repair works in the Singapore context; and estimating the impact of the high-density urban surroundings on the microclimate of historic districts.

A broad range of advanced equipment will be available for researchers and students to conduct holistic research and training.

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