Old Tao Nan School

Coordinates: 1°17′39.2″N 103°50′56.9″E / 1.294222°N 103.849139°E / 1.294222; 103.849139

The Old Tao Nan School (Chinese: 旧道南学校) is a historic building in Singapore, located along Armenian Street in the Museum Planning Area, within the Central Area in Singapore's central business district. The building was a wing of the Asian Civilisations Museum. The other wing of the museum is located at the Empress Place Building on the north bank of the Singapore River. It is now the Peranakan Museum.


Tao Nan School was set up by three local Chinese philanthropists of the Singapore Hokkien Association (Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan) in 1906 and founded the ideal of preserving Chinese culture and heritage. It had premises first at Siam House on North Bridge Road. When it relocated to Armenian Street in 1912, the school switched its medium of education from Hokkien to Mandarin, an unprecedented event in Singapore at that time.

Tan Kah Kee, a wealthy Chinese leader, was one of the 110 founding members of the school. He served for 12 years as the school's president. He received a good amount of his funding from Oei Tiong Ham, a sugar tycoon, whose donation of $10,000 paid for the plot of land on which Tao Nan School was built. Tan Kah Kee himself contributed much money to the school as well as other Chinese schools.

Tao Nan School has produced many remarkable Chinese leaders, among them Lee Kong Chian, a prominent businessman, philanthropist and patron of education.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), the school was closed. It reopened in October 1945 after the end of World War II. Its student population increased rapidly and by the following year, two separate sessions of classes were necessary. In the mid-1970s, however, the school's population declined as families moved out of the city to new suburban housing estates.

In 1976, the Singapore Hokkien Association decided to move the school to its present home in the suburb of Marine Parade. In 1982, Tao Nan School started operations at its new campus in Marine Parade, where it still resides today.

The Old Tao Nan School building was gazetted as a national monument on 27 February 1998.


The Old Tao Nan School building, built between 1910 and 1912, was designed in the Neo-classical style with features of the French Renaissance. A grand central entrance way leads into an atrium topped with a skylight. Symmetrical staircases on either side of the atrium lead up to galleries and corridors on the second and third levels. To accommodate the tropical climate, large wide verandahs were built at the front of the building; pitched flat interlocking clay roof tiles were used, and high ceilings were erected for better ventilation.

This area, now part of Singapore's commercial centre, was at one time a quiet, peaceful environment and many schools were built there. By today's standards, schools such as the Old Tao Nan School seem somewhat cramped; they certainly lacked the spacious green playgrounds and fields of schools built in the post-war years. Yet architecturally the Old Tao Nan School building evokes the serenity of its era in its arched verandahs, symmetrical arrangement and dignified proportions, fashionable in England in the nineteenth century.


Today, the Old Tao Nan School building houses the Peranakan Museum which was opened in April 2008 by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The Museum explores the main themes of Peranakan life in ten permanent galleries. Displays include the twelve day Peranakan wedding and the role of the Nyonyas (female Peranakans).

Building Activity

  • Javee Lam
    Javee Lam updated
    about 4 years ago via OpenBuildings.com