Sketches of Tiong Bahru

Tia Boon Sim writes about sketching in the Tiong Bahru heritage area, as part of Urban Sketchers Singapore. An exhibition of sketches, featuring the works of Tia, Paul Wang, Don Low, Miel and friends, will be held at the URA Centre from 21st October to mark the launch of Volume 1 of their compiled works. Details, here.

I spent my childhood days briefly in the old neighbourhood of Margaret Drive in a two-storey corner terrace house built by Singapore Improvement Trust or SIT. The old house has already been demolished, giving way to the new urban HDB lifestyle that can now be found all over Singapore.

To some extent, Tiong Bahru, built during the SIT era, reminds me of the ways of life that I was accustomed to as a young girl in its kampong style, laidback, and easygoing charm.

While preparing for the exhibition in Tiong Bahru with my sketcher-friends from 22 May to 12 Jun, 2010 we were intrigued by the environment, the people, sights, sounds smells and the architectural detail wherever we decided to put our pens, brushes and our little stools outside someone’s house or sitting on someone’s door steps.

Each sketch is a manifestation of our favorite parts of Tiong Bahru, or simply just images that appealed to our aesthetic sense. For example, the person attending to his lovely red VW convertible on a lazy Sunday afternoon in this favourite sketch of mine by Paul Wang, is KK Chin, our architect friend. We spent a great time together for dinner with KK and his wife Yvonne at Ping Ting Zi Char at Block 57 and chatted about everything from architecture to art to music to people to life.

Another night that the sketchers were having dinner at the same place, Don sketched the food with Paul’s pen. An uncle said, “If you come in the morning, you will have more than 30 dishes to sketch from.” He then pointed to the fluffy man in Don’s sketch and told us, “He is the boss. “ The following sketches were done the same night.

When we were sketching Block 82 across the street, the lady owner would peep from her window through the half curtain and offered us drinks. She even invited us to her house to take a quick look at the interior and told us about how much she loved Tiong Bahru to the extent that she owned not one but three units at the same block.

Miel works on Sunday so he has his Monday off to comb Tiong Bahru on his own if he thinks sketching with us on Saturday is not enough. The sketch “Back Lane” by Miel was done in his distinctive minimalistic style and reflects the tranquility of the neighbourhood during weekdays.

The four artists are regular contributors to Urban Sketchers Singapore, which is the local chapter of Urban Sketchers, a global organization that promotes location drawings. More sketches by other sketchers can be seen at

An exhibition of sketches, featuring the works of Tia Boon Sim, Paul Wang, Don Low, Miel and friends, will be held at the URA Centre from on 21st October to mark the launch of Volume 1 of their compiled works. Details, here.

Below, see a clip of Tia at work in Tiong Bahru.


Tia Boon Sim is an architect who has worked in both the public and private sectors, designing the awardwinning Clementi Indoor Stadium in the former and starting her own architectural practice concentrating on interior projects in the latter. In 1990 Tia joined the course team of the Diploma in Interior Architecture and Design at Temasek Polytechnic and is currently overseeing the entire foundational curriculum for Temasek Design School. Tia is the founding members of Thow Kwang Clay Artists Studio at Pottery Jungle, Singapore involved in promoting the art of wood firing. She is also an Urban Sketcher contributing actively from Singapore.

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