Sunday, August 03, 2014

Our Bricks Estate : Exhibition and Talk at esplanade

Our Bricks Estate is an exhibition taking place right now within the premise of library@esplanade and is a gem of an exhibition that highlights a particular material that is often taken for granted, but nevertheless important in Singapore's infrastructural developing years from the colonial period all the way to Singapore early years as an independent nation - the brick. Behind the glass display showcases are bricks representative of Singapore's transformation from the colonial period all the way to post Singapore independence (1965), with the Housing Development Board leading the way in the transformation from squatters to high rise flats which corresponds also with the growth of the brick kilns.

Colonial Bricks and Indian Convicts 
The early brick kilns were managed by Europeans but convict labour were use to build the earliest buildings such as religious buildings ( e.g. Sri Marriaman Temple and St. Andrew's Cathedral ) and government buildings (e.g. Government House, now The Istana) are fine examples of structures using handmade bricks locally produced by hand by Indian convicts brought in from India to build the infrastructure needed to support the growing British Crown Colony. Established in Serangoon area, the bricks were of such good quality that it won an silver award in 1867 in the Agra exhibition.  

Handmade bricks from Armenian Church,  Cathedral of the
Good Shephard and Sultan Gate shophouse.

Growth and demise of Singapore commercial kilns  
Brick kilns mushroomed with the continued development of Singapore with commercial kilns owned by various Chinese towkay's  (some of this includes pioneers buried in Bukit Brown such as Ong Sam Leong, Wee Thiam Ghee,and Lim Loh). Smoke spewing chimneys became an iconic sight throughout, with big and small kilns spread throughout Singapore, usually in areas with natural supply of clay.

From the exhibition panels, i learned that by 1983, the Ministry of Environment stepped in to regulate and require kilns to change to diesel-fed systems. This placed pressure on many smaller kilns who could not afford the transformation to exit. In my opinion, exacerbating this, was the falling prices of bricks due to external competition and the growing popularity of the use of other industrial materials such as concrete are also important factors.

Location of some of the kilns 

Alexandra, Hock Ann and Teng San 

Bricks from various kilns

Asia and Malaya
Brick advertisements (source: NewspaperSG)

Talk on our Bricks Estate
There will be a talk by Dr Lai Chee Kien on August 10, 2014 at 3-3:45 pm in the library@esplanade. This is a great opportunity to hear from the curator of the exhibition as he shares insights on the role of the humble brick and the kilns that once landscaped Singapore's past.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Lai Chee Kien. Its research and design were done by Dr Lai Chee Kien and Miss Khoo Ee Hoon and it's contributors include: Jevon Liew, Ng Ching Huei, Mitch Koh, Soh Ah Beng, Jonathan Seow, Peter Pak, James Tann, Lawrence Chong, Jeanette Ng and Asia Brick Factory.

Some buildings that made use of bricks intensively
Brick structures i have seen
Near Bukit Timah Railway station 
In the stomach of a dragon kiln 
Prinsep Street Church 
Tombstones seen in Bukit Brown 

Indian convicts' contributions to early Singapore. [website] Singapore Infopedia
Our Bricks Estate. [website] Esplanade Presents National Day Celebrations 

1 comment:

Clement Teh said...

Thank you. this has been informative. I have noticed that manicure looking brick only appeared after world war 2. But there are some building that have them before the war like the princept street church and Victoria theather. Thye must have been imported