Singapore, known as “The Garden City”, is a tropical city-state island located within the Southeast Asian region. Since its independence in 1965, the country has undergone massive economic improvement that resulted in its transformation of its Third-world state into a first-world nation today. The change in the people’s lifestyle can be also observed in the evolution of architecture in Singapore within its limited 721km2 of total land area.
Singapore Architecture has a wide range of styles that is accumulated from different periods, including infrastructures that have distinctive foreign influences from around the world and developing their architectural aesthetics in both traditional and contemporary forms. From the 1990s, Singapore was propelling towards becoming a global city. Thus, the government created several architectural design competitions to create more iconic landmarks to strengthen Singapore Identity and attract more tourists, immigrants, and investment into the little red dot.
This article will be sharing 15 structures to showcase the evolution of architecture in Singapore.
1. Kampong | Architecture in Singapore
Before British colonized Singapore in 1819, the main form of local human settlement followed the region’s pattern of establishing Kampongs. Kampongs are traditional villages for the indigenous people. These vernacular structures are usually raised above the ground or water bodies on slits and the structure of their skeletons are built with hardwood posts and beams. Their roofs are formed with layers of palm frond thatch and their walls and floors components are made of woven bamboo strips or hardwood planks.
In 1822, Sir Stamford Raffles drafted the Raffles Town Plan which is a masterplan for the city of Singapore. Raffles carefully planned the street layout and created building regulations to limit house size, street widths and the materials used to construct these infrastructures. Over time, these rules moulded the architecture typologies seen in shophouses. Shophouses are mixed-use building structures with stores located on the ground floor while the upper floors contained the living accommodation. These rows of shophouses complied to the three-story height restriction, the mandatory formation of the covered walkway known as five-foot way and the common use of brick or tiles as construction materials to form a coherent front facade. The shophouses’ combination of these unique rules and local adaptation became Singapore’s earliest form of architectural innovation as this building form is exported out of the island regionally.
3. Black and White Houses
During the British colonization, many European families settled down in Singapore. The Europeans of that time preferred houses built with bricks and stucco in European style. Eventually, these influenced the formation of a new architecture form in Singapore: The Black and white Houses. These bungalows have whitewashed walls with black painted detailing and are normally the place of residence for wealthy colonial government officials or British Army personnel then.
4. Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka
Singapore is a multiracial and multireligious country with many unique places of worship. During the colonial era, international immigrants worked and lived in Singapore. They bonded together to raise funds to establish their places of worship to serve their community and sub-groups. The Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka is the oldest mosque built in 1820 and the first place of worship established in Singapore. The Prayer House was funded by Philanthropist Syed Omar Ali Aljunied and was built in Kampong Melaka as planned in the Raffles Town Plan for the Malay Community. The mosque expanded over time and was declared in 2001 as a historical site by the National Heritage Board. Other oldest places of worship in Singapore include the Sri Mariamman Temple, Thian Hock Keng Temple, Armenian Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator and Nagore Dargah where they provide services to their communities for many generations and preserved well against Singapore’s everchanging urban landscape.
5. The Arts House (Formerly Old Parliament House) | Architecture in Singapore
After being colonized in 1819, Singapore’s building was heavily influenced by European aesthetics. During that period, George Drumgoole Coleman was the most prominent colonial architect responsible for many of these European style architectures. One of his most iconic works is the Old Parliament House built initially for a Scottish Merchant as his private residence in 1827. The building design is inspired by Neo-Palladian Architecture and is known as the oldest government building in Singapore today. After the government purchased this Victorian building complex in 1842, it became a courthouse. The Courthouse underwent several renovations and was renamed as the Parliament house in 1965 as an office for Chief Minister David Marshall. It was said that the current form of the building seems more Neo-classical in style. In 2004, the preserved and refurbished Old Parliament was renamed The Art House as an art and heritage centre.
6. Public Housing by SIT
The first public housing satellite town in Singapore is Queenstown built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in the 1950s. In Singapore, public housing comes in the form of high-rise flat blocks where town residents have easier access to more resources, better roads, and a wider range of amenities. Queenstown is named after Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her coronation in 1952.
7. Old Ford Motor Factory
The Art Deco Movement first appeared in France before World War 1 and it is known for its bold geometrical forms and use of rich materials. During that period in Singapore, many public and private buildings were designed based on this architectural trend and one of the most famous Art Deco Architecture in Singapore is the Old Ford Factory built by French Architect Emile Brizay. The Old Ford factory was built in 1941 with a unique Art Deco Style Front Façade. It was also the venue where the most historical event took place in Singapore. The factory’s boardroom is where the British Forces officially surrendered to the Japanese army after the Battle of Singapore in 1942. The National Archives of Singapore has converted the building into a historical exhibition gallery, and they preserved the original Art Deco Façade for the future visitors to appreciate.
8. Public Housing by HDB
After Singapore gained independence, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) replaced SIT in 1960 as the public housing authority to tackle the nation’s crowded slums and squatter settlement issues then. Today, HDB has produced more than one million flats in 24 towns and three estates all over the country, providing a cleaner and better living environment for 80% of the resident population. Through the years, HDB has been improving the design of these residential blocks to be more creative, maximizing their functionality and building more technology advance facilities to fulfil their residents’ needs.
9. OCBC Centre
From the 1970s to the 1980s, Singapore experienced an increase in modern architecture near the city centre. Many of the commercial skyscrapers follow the brutalist architecture style as people tend to favour clean and functional building forms after the war. The first internationally renowned architect to build in Singapore was I.M. Pei. He designed the 52-storey high OCBC Centre within the financial district. This Brutalist Headquarters was completed in 1976 and was the tallest building in the Southeast Asia region then.
10. Golden Mile Complex | Architecture in Singapore
Local architects also reinterpreted the internationally popular brutalist style into local infrastructures in the 1970s. The Golden Mile Complex is a high-rise commercial and residential building designed by Singaporean Architects Gan Eng Oon, William Lim and Tay Kheng Soon in 1973 under local firm known as DP Architects today. The angled profile of the complex provides residents on the upper floors to good ventilation, blockage from noise pollution from the nearby roads and have a full view of the sea and the sky. The stepped slope forms an overhead shade for the communal concourse below. The building form of the Golden Mile Complex is said to be the first to develop before the formation of avant-garde stepped section buildings found in the United Kingdom and Europe.
11. Marina Bay Sands
In the 21st century, Singapore architecture geared towards welcoming postmodernism and high-tech architecture styles. Marina Bay Sands (MBS) was added to the nation’s skyline in 2010. According to the Architect Moshe Safdie, the form of the resort was inspired by card decks. MBS is an integrated resort with a hotel, boutiques, casino and the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool. The Artscience Museum and the convention centre is also included as part of the integrated resort to further enrich the visitor’s experience in Singapore.
12. School of the Arts
The new generation of Singaporean Architects has also developed a new interpretation of Critical Regionalism (CR) that considers the island’s tropical climate and its dense city landscape. Local architecture firm WOHA Architects spearheaded the experimentation of using lush green plantations to create green skyscrapers, which is in line with Singapore’s ambition of developing a “City in a Garden”. Their local project on the building of School of the Arts (SOTA) in 2009 has gained international recognition from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) and more. The design of SOTA forms visual and physical links within the campus and allows natural air circulation to occur between classrooms, studios and performing spaces. The green façade helps to reduce air pollution, noise, glare and dust to create a safe and optimum study environment for the students to learn.
13. Helix Bridge | Architecture in Singapore
The Helix Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that was designed collaboratively by Cox Architecture and Architects 61. Being inspired by the shape of DNA structures, the finalized bridge consists of two helical structures that curve together to form a tubular truss to resist the design loads. This High tech styled bridge uses stainless steel with fitted-glass and perforated steel mesh to form a shelter for visitors as required by the given brief.
14. Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is a nature park designed by British architecture firm WilkinsonEyre and Grant Associates. The energy-efficient conservatory complex is built using sustainable building technology to recreate suitable indoor conditions for various plants gathered from all over the world to thrive within a tropical country. The most impressive features of the domed greenhouses is the lack of interior support for the large glass roof and the low environmental footprint of the infrastructure produced during construction. The Supertrees found within the park are also used to collect rainwater and exhaust hot air efficiently to cool the building systems to the required level.
15. Jewel Changi Airport | Architecture in Singapore
Jewel Changi Airport or Jewel is a Neofuturistic mixed-used entertainment and retails complex built in 2019 beside the international Changi Airport. The Architect in charge of this nature-themed building is Moshe Safdie who was also involved in the design process of Marina Bay Sands. The most outstanding feature of this infrastructure is the indoor waterfall known as the Rain Vortex which is the tallest indoor waterfall worldwide.
The development of Singapore Architecture has come a long way through welcoming new international trends and developing our styles. Each period of Singapore’s history produces a different set of buildings that encapsulates the people’s attitude to life then. As Singapore propels towards achieving the idea of a “global city”, the skyline will be filled with new infrastructures to captivate people from all over the world with its bold architectural endeavours.