#Heritage The Riverhouse
With its prominent tiled roof and a curved ridge embellished with ceramic shards, the two-storey Riverhouse stands out distinctively from other buildings in the heart of the rejuvenated Clarke Quay precinct. As its name suggests, the Riverhouse stands by a river – the Singapore River and is poetically known as “House of Ripples” or Lianyi Xuan (涟漪轩) in Chinese.
📷: The Riverhouse (URA)
Surrounded by trend bars and restaurants, it is difficult to imagine that the Riverhouse has existed since the late 1800s. Built in the 1870s, this southern Chinese-style mansion is one of Singapore’s two remaining traditional Chinese-style mansions, and the oldest building in Clarke Quay today at approximately 150 years old.
While there are some who believed that the Riverhouse was built by Tan Yeok Nee, a wealthy Teochew gambier and pepper merchant – for he had built another similar Chinese-style mansion along present-day Clemenceau Avenue, there is no indication from archival records that the Riverhouse was ever owned or leased by Tan. Interestingly, one of the three owners in the 1870s was Choa Moh Choon, who the headman of the notorious Ghee Hok Society (also known as Ghee Hok Kongsi 义福公司) which was predominantly made up of Teochews.
Because of Choa, there were talks that the Riverhouse was once a den for illicit triad activity. This was despite a trace to its former first address at Warehouse No. 3 North Campong Malacca, within the location of the traditional commercial and warehouse district, which suggested that it was originally intended as a warehouse.
The architectural style of Riverhouse has Teochew influences – it has a Teochew sidianjin (四点金) or “four-points of gold” layout, with two internal courtyards flanked by a pair of huoxiang (火巷) or fire alleys. Tradition Teochew houses, especially the more elaborate mansions, have such alleys to act as physical barriers to prevent fire from spreading easily from one part of the house to another. In fact, these were the fire alleys which thankfully helped the Riverhouse to survive a raging fire that engulfed its neighbour at 14 Clarke Quay on 21 August 1920!
The Riverhouse subsequently went through the hands of many owners. In 1993, it was restored and granted the Architecture Heritage Award by Urban Redevelopment Authority in 1995. It is currently rented out as a commercial space – used as a multi-concept space housing a modern Chinese restaurant, an al-fresco bar and a nightclub. Occasionally, one may find wedding couples using this venue for their photoshoot too!
For nearly 150 years, the Riverhouse has witnessed the changes along the Singapore River and its communities. Today, it continues to play a similar role as successive generations continue to repurpose the precinct for new functions and meanings. #HEREitage #heritage
📷: Other Teochew features of the Riverhouse include its roof truss system in the tailiang style (抬梁式), which is made up of “successive tiers of beams and struts in a transverse direction”. This photo shows three cantilever beams on the front elevation of the building: one beam on the first storey and two on the second storey. These beams are known as jitou (屐头), and their ends are carved in a highly abstract chihu (螭虎) motif. The manner in which the beams are cantilevered is unique to Teochew architecture. (Yeo Kang Shua)