Discover the story behind Emerald Hill from those who call it home such as banker Lisa Robins, in another edition of the OH! Open House art walkabout
ising above bustling orchard road, Emerald Hill is an enclave rich in Peranakan heritage. Formerly the site of a large nutmeg plantation, the land underwent residential development at the turn of the 20th century with terrace houses built in the Chinese Baroque architectural style, defined by the coloured ceramic tilework, shuttered windows and carved swing doors. Uncover the story of this historic district with OH! Open House (ohopenhouse.org), an art walkabout held from March 3 to 25, which will unveil the secrets of the neighbourhood through custom-made artworks and performances in strangers’ homes and unconventional spaces. Having lived on Emerald Hill for the past seven years, American banker Lisa Robins and her French husband, Hervé Pauze, will be opening their doors to visitors. Her home will showcase works by Singaporean artists such as photographer Ang Song Nian, who explores the interaction between human and nature—a perfect backdrop for Emerald Hill. Robins tells us about the allure of Emerald Hill for her, and why she wants to share its history and heritage with everyone.
Why did you and your husband choose to live on Emerald Hill?
Our friend lived in an old shophouse on Emerald Hill Road, and when the rain fell into the well in the courtyard—which had pink and blue Peranakan tiles— the sound evoked nostalgic feelings. So when we moved to Singapore in 2011, we looked for a house to rent on Emerald Hill and were fortunate to find one. We haven’t moved since!
Tell us about the house.
Our house was built in 1926 as part of a row of six residential homes, not shophouses. While it retains the bones of the original house with dog bone windows, bar room entry doors and central courtyard, it was transformed decades ago by our architect landlord. Its original internal volume remains, but the interior is akin to that of a loft.
Why did you decide to open up your home for OH! Emerald Hill?
Singapore is a modern city. We tend to forget its interesting history, heritage and the stories that inform its present. OH! Open House plays a unique role in bringing neighbourhood history to life. Seeing how people experience art and history in everyday life can bring new perspectives and appreciation for heritage and the arts.
What will visitors experience?
We echo the experiences of colonial expeditions to foreign lands in which order and discovery were not predictable. Like these explorers, visitors develop their own itinerary, exploring how the early colonisers strove for the organisation of the unknown.
What have you discovered about Singapore through previous tours?
We loved Joo Chiat for its back alleys and beautiful Peranakan homes; Tiong Bahru, one of the first housing estates has a temple in one corner and playgrounds all around; and last year’s Holland Village tour covered a lot of territory. Singapore has a complex cultural history that often gets overshadowed by the dominance of business and finance. Each OH! Open House has offered a glimpse into a different neighbourhood, history, as well as new artists.
TOP OF THE HILL In the rented Emerald Hill home (left) Lisa Robins (below) shares with her husband, visitors can also see some of their Indian and Chinese art collection