Wak Hai Cheng Bio: A Dialogue Between Architecture and History
A contemporary look at the craft of conservation
The Yueh Hai Ching Temple is the oldest Teochew temple in Singapore. Between 2011 and 2014, the temple underwent extensive restoration, winning a UNESCO Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Practice Theory was commissioned by Dr Yeo Kang Shua, the project’s architectural conservation consultant, to design a book documenting both the conservation process as well as the craftsmanship involved.
Using 3 colours that are closely tied to Teochew architecture (green, ‘Pig’s Blood’ red, and gold), the cover design references lanterns hung above the doors of the Yueh Hai Ching Temple. These lanterns represent the identity of ‘the house’ in Chinese culture. Inspired by their bold and dynamic calligraphy, we designed the name ‘粵海清廟’ (Yueh Hai Ching Temple) in a similar manner, representing ‘the temple’ through strong and graphic type instead of image.
Nuanced in its abstraction, the title characters stretched across the front and back cover can be seen as ‘conversing’ with one another, referencing the dialogue within the book’s title. The layout and shape of the characters also remind us of architectural floor plans, with its symmetry paying homage to a key aspect of Teochew architecture.
Within the book, we also wanted to acknowledge the temple’s iconic roof. Boasting over a hundred painstakingly restored ceramic figurines, this elaborate rooftop feature is paralleled in the chapter dividers with the use of imagery as ornamentation.
Our design interprets the traditional craftsmanship and conservation principles through a contemporary lens—positing the book’s intent as both archival and investigative, while simultaneously questioning the act of conservation in modern times.