Singapore’s Heritage Mirrored in its Architecture


As a result of British rule during the 19th century, Singapore displays an extensive amount of colonial architecture. Over the past couple decades or so, conservation efforts have continuously been carried out to preserve the country’s architectural and cultural heritage. 

These historic buildings, which show a spectrum of styles and influences of past periods, are being adapted to new uses while retaining their old splendor. 

In this article, we’ll feature some places where you can witness the architectural beauty of British colonial times. Some of these you’ve most probably heard of or been to but are not aware of their uses before the restoration efforts. 

Singapore architecture shows off its heritage and culture

Photo source: Remote Lands

Raffles Hotel

Right in the heart of the city, Raffles Hotel is a stunning example of British colonial architecture. As Singapore grew into a prominent port under British rule, the government built several civic and administrative buildings in the neoclassical style of architecture, even Sir Stamford Raffles’ own house atop Fort Canning Hill. 

Visiting Raffles Hotel is commonplace for many tourists who come to admire its design and architecture. With many who have a bit more time opting to relax in its leafy, airy courtyard or shop for luxury items at its Shopping Arcade. 

The clean combination of its white facade surrounded by green spaces exudes elegance and calm in the city center. Not just that, this massive, luxury hotel’s building is symbolic of power still true from centuries ago until today. 

Singapore heritage architecture Raffles Hotel (exterior)

Singapore heritage architecture Raffles Hotel (interior)

Photo source: Rethinking the Future

In 2008, Studio Milou Singapore, a French architectural firm that specializes in museum designs and cultural spaces, transformed two key British colonial monuments into the largest visual arts venue.

“The guiding principle was to give the impression that the two buildings were largely untouched and returned to the public as they were, even though extensive technical work had been carried out below and above,” says Jean- François Milou, Founder and principal architect, to Architectural Record

Two former structures – the Supreme Court and City Hall – have been lovingly combined, with the designs and details of the old encased for display. They are connected through criss-crossing walkways, an atrium and a basement concourse; while the main ornate  architectural body and splendors of old remain intact. 

In essence, the National Gallery of Singapore gives the public a chance to experience, more than a glimpse, and construct memories and visuals of Singapore’s history. 

Singapore heritage architecture National Gallery of Singapore

Photo source: Dezeen

Singapore heritage architecture National Gallery of Singapore

Photo source: Studio Milou

Capella Singapore

Another remarkable restoration project is seen with the Capella Singapore – a six-star ultra luxury resort on tranquil Sentosa Island. 

Driving up, the hotel’s rich heritage immediately shows with the main lobbies housed in colonial buildings – the Tanah Merah 1 and Tanah Merah 2. Constructed in the late 1800s, the buildings were formerly used as recreational spaces for the military personnel based on the island. 

Singapore architecture shows off its heritage and culture | Aerial view of Capella Singapore

Photo source: Nikkei Asia

Foster + Partners went to the next level with the successful restoration of the historic structures’ majestic glory while infusing elegant, yet sensible, modern flavors. Coupled with Jaya Ibrahim’s imaginative interior design that is anchored in the colonial style, the Capella Singapore balances old and new with this modern reinterpretation. 

Both structures extend on either side in a serpentine-like shape that follows the natural topography of the site, cascading down hillside tiers. The unassuming exterior is offset with a dramatic interior furnished in warm, earthy tones of wood and rattan that accentuates the tropical feel while maintaining both a homey and elegant ambience. 

It’s the perfect restorative escape from the city’s skyscrapers onto enveloping, lush greenery hiding a luxury gem. 

Singapore architecture shows off its heritage and culture

Photo source: TasteInHotels

White Rabbit

Located off Dempsey area, the White Rabbit is a restaurant and bar housed in a breathtaking and beautifully restored old 1930s chapel. 

This milestone project was accomplished by design firm Takenouchi Webb – British architect Marc Webb and Japanese interior designer Naoko Takenoushi. They are the dynamic duo famed for reinventing several memorable dining venues in Singapore. 

Singapore architecture shows off its heritage and culture | White Rabbit Singapore (exterior)

Photo source: Takenouchi Webb

For White Rabbit, the simplistic beauty of the abandoned church was combined with inspirations drawn from British public school dining halls, army barracks and other church buildings. The church’s existing details were retained and simply repurposed to add more flavor to the single dining space – from the original raised platform for the baptism bath, to the mosaic floors, decorative steel window grilles and ceiling paneling. 

Intricately designed stained glass windows and shaded lamps create a stark contrast to the clean white interiors and black steel frames that lend an intimate and ‘divine’ atmosphere. 

Classic European comfort food is matched with a timeless design making for a truly gastronomical yet relaxing dining experience. 

Singapore architecture shows off its heritage and culture | White Rabbit Singapore (interiors)

Photo source: Takenouchi Webb

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Completed in 1862 and 1905 and located in the heart of downtown Singapore, the Victoria Theater and Concert Hall (VTCH) is Singapore’s oldest performing arts venue.

These were previously separate structures – a Town Hall with a theater and a memorial hall to commemorate Queen Victoria, with a clocktower in the center to join both buildings together. Today, this beautifully restored historical monument now comprises a memorial hall, theatre, clock tower andhome to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. 

Victoria Theatre Singapore

Photo source: Flickr | Juergen Huettel

Built in the Palladian architectural style and interiors that went through varying changes and use over the years, the modernization of this significant historical monument was a challenge. 

To meet contemporary functional demands of performance spaces and flow of movement, changes centered on auditoriums, backstage spaces, rehearsal areas, audience facilities. These included excavating two basement levels, erecting a new dance studio and creating a central atrium flooding with natural light. 

Retaining that old world charm while reinventing intricate inner details to provide spectacular performances and sustainable practices. 

Photo source: InDesignLive.Sg

The Fullerton Hotel 

Dating back to 1928 and a member of the Historic Hotels Worldwide, the Fullerton Hotel is one of Singapore’s greatest cultural landmarks. Right at the end of WWI, then British Governor, Sir Laurence Guillemard said this massive masterpiece of neoclassical architecture would be “a monument worthy of the city.”

The building witnessed Singapore’s modern history unfold through the years as it housed the General Post Office, Exchange, headquarters of the Malaya command and many more government offices including the common center of Japanese forces. 

Placed under conservation in 1997, The Fullerton Hotel was reborn in 2001 as a luxury five-star hotel embodying comfort and elegance. The exteriors and interiors of this grand neoclassical architecture were restored as much as possible during the conversion of the office building to a 400-room hotel. 

Singapore architecture shows off its heritage and culture | The Fullerton Hotel Singapore (exterior facade)

Photo source: Vogue Australia

Keeping true to the original architecture and purpose, the historic lighthouse that guided mariners to safety and ships into the port was converted into a fine-dining restaurant called The Lighthouse atop the hotel. Coupled with its delectable Italian cuisine, The Lighthouse evokes a feeling of opulence the hotel brings as diners are enveloped in welcoming contemporary elegant interiors and magnificent views of the waterfront. 

The splendor and dignity of its original structure continues to tell Singapore’s story over the panoramic views of the Singapore River landscape. 

Singapore architecture shows off its heritage and culture | The Fullerton Hotel Singapore (dining with a view)

Photo source: Conde Nast Traveler

These are some of Singapore’s awe-inspiring architecture and their conservation efforts; emblematic of the city-state’s history and meteoric rise to modernization while preserving its cultural roots. Singapore has many other cultural heritage spots that have undergone amazing restoration and conservation processes. 

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