Dr John Ting3
3University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia
Prefabricated houses were imported into Victoria during the 1850s gold rush to address the lack of builders in the state. Manufactured by British colonial interests in Singapore, their architecture displayed European influence through their type, scale and form. However, they can also be seen as adapting vernacular approaches as the construction details of these buildings clearly show the involvement of migrant Chinese and Malay carpenters. As timber buildings, construction details were not masked or covered up but expressed as integrated parts of the architecture. The roof structures display Malay intermediate beams, and Chinese crossed top plates are used on top of the wall framing. Long runs of horizontal timber members were joined in what the Chinese call a ‘hand in hand’ connection (also known in European carpentry as ‘lightning scarf’ joints). These systems were not self-evident, and often required Singapore carpenters to accompany knocked-down prefabricated houses to export markets like Australia. This paper investigates why these highly skilled Chinese carpenters left their home country, how they might have implemented their skills in Singapore, and how they then came to move on to other colonial jurisdictions. It also examines the legacy of nineteenth century Chinese carpentry and construction practices in Australia.
Dr. John Ting is an architect, researcher and educator. He teaches in the architecture program at the University of Canberra, with a PhD from the University of Melbourne and a professional degree in architecture from RMIT University. His present research investigates Sarawak’s architectural history, the vernacular architecture of Malaysia, and mobile and prefabricated timber buildings in nineteenth century colonial Southeast Asia and Australia. He is the author of The History of Architecture in Sarawak before Malaysia, published in 2018.