Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Peranakan structure -The Baba House

Located at Neil Road, along a row of shop-houses is the Baba House.  

This post, I will be introducing an interesting group - The Peranakan Chinese or the Straits Chinese. For those who do not know: "Peranakan" is a Malay term refers to those who are "locally born". For centuries, traders from various countries have come by to the Malacca, the coastal region of Sumatra and Java. Some of them settled down and married the local Malay/Indonesian. Their descendants are referred to the Peranakans. Majority are of Chinese ancestry, while minority are Indian ancestry , Thai ancestry and even European ancestry. When Singapore and Penang developed into bustling ports. Some of these Peranakan Chinese migrated to Singapore and Penang.

The term "Baba" refers to the male Peranakans while the term "Nyonya" refers to the female. Most of these Peranakans were well -to- do.

Paranakan homes are a combination of Chinese, European and Malay influence. This type of architecture is refer to "Chinese Baraque".  Their houses were lavishly decorated to showcase the wealth of their owners. The Baba House, is a pre-war residential terrace house, probably built in the 1890s, was formerly owned by the shipping tycoon, Wee Bin. It was gazetted for conversation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. (URA) in 1991. It  was gifted to NUS by Ms Anges Tan. By looking at the photo above , it is clear that the owner of the Baba house was then richer than its neighbours'. It has wood cravings on its windows. The colourful phoenixes and peonies motifs, very much elaborated than its neighbours, required the skills of a very skilful craftsman. The phoenixes and peonies are important symbols to the Peranakans. Other examples are dragons, qilin, butterflies, insects and bats.

The Signboard bears the motto of the family  is above the front door. The chinese words meant glory to the future generation. The Chinese lanterns on the sides symbolised family origin and surname. The one of left implies the official grade of the family. The right, the surname. Note the gold dragon head brackets. Dragon is another auspicious sign for Chinese Peranakans

A pair of Qilins on top of the door symbolises peace and happiness. Note the height of the ceiling, It is 13-15ft high.  The high ceiling, windows and pintu pagar (door fence) help to cool down the interior of the house. The air well inside the house helps too! There is a peep hole on top of this doorway to see who are the visitors at the door. This was a common architecture structure in shop houses and terrace houses those days.

I love this pintu pagar. Pintu Pagar allows air to flow into the house as well as maintain privacy for the family. The designs somehow reminds me of Malay floral motifs. Note the threshold on the floor. We are not to step on it. It is to ward off evil spirits. 

No photography is allowed inside the Baba House. This is the reception hall taken from the outside. Guests are only allowed at the reception hall in the Peranakan culture. In the past, future bride-to-be could peep through a peep hole from the room upstairs at the prospective husband-to-be when he is here to ask for her hand in marriage. At the back of this hall which is blocked by a screen is the transition chamber. Beyond that, it is the family hall whereby the family (womenfolk)  would carry out their usual activities even though they have guests in the house.

There are more to learn from the Baba House, I have only touched on the exterior architecture aspects.
If you are interested in viewing the Baba House, you can sign up for a 1 hour visit.
The tours are offered at the following time slot
Monday 2pm, Tues 6.30pm, Thursday 10am and Saturday 11am.
Call (65) 6227 5731 or email

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This is part of the Architecture and Buildings series for WW.
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  1. I love colorful houses like that! Very pretty!

    1. Do visit it when you are in Singapore! The Baba House can only be visited by appointments only. My last visit was in March and I was being informed that the tour were being signed up till June then. So do make your appointments early!


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