Distinguished Patron


Mrs Alice Tan began collecting Straits Chinese ceramics and Chinese export silver in 1992, in her 60s. Her expansive 577-piece collection, featuring auspicious motifs such as the butterfly, peony, and phoenix, now supplements the Straits Chinese collections at NUS Museum and NUS Baba House.


Comprising 438 Straits Chinese ceramics (including rare wares in decorative yellow or dark blue enamel), and 139 pieces of Chinese export silver, the items help inform, enrich and broaden visitor understanding of the variety of historic Peranakan wares in existence.


Beyond shedding light on the habits of Peranakan Chinese families in domestic settings, via items like bowls, tingkats (tiered food containers), vases, and kamchengs (covered containers for storing boiled water or soups), the wares in Mrs Tan’s collection serve as tangible vessels and representations of the history of Chinese ceramic manufacturing. For instance, they reflect market demand for unique Straits Chinese products from as far back as the 18th century. In pristine condition, some of these pieces were used during celebratory occasions such as weddings.


They also serve an important role in encouraging education and research on the production and consumption patterns of export ceramics in global history, as well as the role of Southeast Asian actors, such as clients, patrons and collectors in challenging Chinese manufacturers to create wares distinct and unique for Southeast Asian markets. There is also ample room for the study of patterns of collection, such as the trajectory undertaken by collectors as they assemble their own catalogues via an assortment of networks and sources like auction houses and antique dealers within the region and beyond.


Export porcelain pieces from Mrs Tan’s collection will likely be displayed within the vicinity of NUS Museum’s Archaeology Library as well as the ceramics display at the museum’s Lee Kong Chian gallery.


Alice Tan-POHA1


Alice Tan-POHA2

Chan Siew Kim, Mrs Alice Tan's Straits Chinese collection.



The heritage building built in the 1880s, located at 141 Neil Road, was donated by the Portabella Family to the National University of Singapore in April 2022 to serve as a training centre (Architectural Conservation Laboratory, ArClab) for the conservation of the architectural heritage of Singapore. The Minister for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, officially opened it on 14 Nov 2022.


The ArClab is a unique “living” laboratory housed in a conserved building – the first in Southeast Asia. This laboratory, hosted under the NUS Department of Architecture in the College of Design and Engineering will serve as a site for researchers, graduate students and built heritage professionals to conduct a wide range of teaching and research activities on sustainable development of the built environment. The ArClab will actively receive, collect, and produce materials in various mediums to encourage and promote the communication of research findings.


141 Neil Road is tangible evidence of the value of historical and architectural knowledge in sustaining urban and social continuities. Its ambition is to serve as a new ideal model for learning about the historic environment and as a centre to strengthen the professional capacity to deal with heritage resources and promote historical studies. The heritage skills training will be of benefit to the built heritage sector when it comes to the gradual uplifting of conservation and ongoing maintenance standards for the over 7,200 conserved buildings and 75 national monuments. In brief, it will become an exemplar and pedagogical demonstration of sensitive repair and conservation, adaptive reuse of the historic building, and sustainable management of the historic environment.


The Portabella Family - 1

The Portabella Family- 2

(Top) The Minister for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee with the donor of 141 Neil Road townhouse, Mr Ricardo Portabella and NUS senior leadership team during the opening of NUS ArClab.

(Bottom) The donor of 141 Neil Road townhouse, Mr Ricardo Portabella and NUS President, Prof Tan Eng Chye inserting the facade panel to the scaled model of 141 Neil Road. Image sources: DOA, NUS.