Discover Singapore’s Colonial Houses and Their History
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Discover Singapore’s Colonial Houses and Their History 

The colonial houses of Singapore stand tall as living relics, reminding us that in this country, history and elegance coexist in perfect harmony. 

So embark on a journey with me through the captivating world of Singapore’s colonial houses. We’ll take a close look at their significant history and what makes them so timelessly charming.

Why is it called a colonial house in Singapore?

A “colonial house” in Singapore refers to a specific architectural style that emerged during the colonial period when Singapore was under British rule. 

It’s a term used to differentiate structures from other architectural styles found in Singapore, such as traditional Malay houses or Chinese shophouses. 

— From kh_streetphotography

The actual construction of colonial houses involved the collaborative efforts of both British professionals and local workers. The result is a blend of British architectural styles and local craftsmanship.

What is the history of colonial houses in Singapore?

The history of colonial houses in Singapore dates back to the establishment of a British trading post on the island in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. This was when the British Empire’s influence extended to various parts of the world. 

— From jasonpomeroy_arch

Following this, Singapore became an important port and strategic outpost for the British Empire in Southeast Asia.

These houses were constructed principally using architectural styles prevalent in Britain at the time while adapting them to suit the local climate and cultural context. They were also strategically located near military bases and administrative centres. 

The houses were designed to provide a comfortable and spacious living environment, reflecting the status and hierarchical structure of British colonial society.

But it’s also important to note that their architectural styles and construction materials could vary, influenced by different periods and architectural trends.

Who built the colonial houses in Singapore?

— From capellasingapore

The colonial houses in Singapore were primarily built by a combination of British architects, engineers, and local craftsmen and builders. 

However, the British colonial government, through various departments like the Public Works Department (PWD), played a significant role in overseeing the construction of these houses.

The PWD, in particular, was responsible for designing and constructing many of the colonial buildings in Singapore during the colonial period. They introduced standardised designs and architectural plans.

Colonial government-employed British architects and engineers provided expertise and guidance in designing and supervising the construction of these houses. 

Local craftsmen and builders played an essential role in translating the architectural plans into reality. 

When were colonial houses built in Singapore?

— From littlebeginningsofficial 

The colonial houses in Singapore were built primarily during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was during the colonial period, which lasted until Singapore’s independence in 1965. 

In the early years, simple attap (thatched) huts and wooden structures were common. However, as the British presence and Singapore’s importance grew, more substantial and permanent structures began to emerge.

One significant development at the time was the arrival of the Public Works Department (PWD) in the late 19th century. The PWD introduced standardised building designs that blended British architectural styles with local elements. 

What is considered a colonial-style house in Singapore?

A colonial-style house in Singapore has distinctive design elements brought over from Britain.

— From villamarang 

These houses featured Victorian and Edwardian architectural styles, with prominent examples like the Raffles Hotel (1887) and the Fullerton Building (1928, now the Fullerton Hotel).

Stepping inside, you are greeted by spacious rooms with high ceilings, large windows, and ornate details. The house’s layout often features separate wings for various functions, creating a sense of privacy and grandeur. 

Expansive gardens and lush green surroundings often complement these houses, further enhancing their appeal. 

The interior showcases a perfect balance between classic British design elements and practical adaptations for the local climate, such as wide corridors for airflow and natural ventilation.

But during the early 20th century, another architectural style known as Straits Chinese Peranakan emerged. Straits Chinese Peranakan blended Chinese and Malay influences with European architectural touches.

— From sgshophouses

These resulted in the creation of colourful and ornate shophouses and terrace houses. The houses feature vibrant colours, intricate tile work, and elaborate façades using a fusion of Chinese, Malay, and European design elements.

The Black and White Houses of Singapore

The harmony of British architecture and the use of local elements birthed Singapore’s iconic black-and-white bungalows. These featured distinctive white walls, black timber accents, and generous verandas for ventilation and sun protection.

— From iproperty_intl

With its distinctive black timber accents against white walls, the house boasts an elegant and striking façade. The expansive verandas, adorned with decorative elements, provide both shade and a welcoming space to enjoy the tropical climate.

The black and white colour scheme of these houses was practical in the tropical climate of Singapore. The dark colour marked the homes as unique and timeless, while the white walls reflected light and kept the interiors cooler. 

A black and white colonial house in Singapore is a captivating architectural masterpiece that exudes a timeless charm. It stands as a symbol of Singapore’s colonial history, showcasing a harmonious blend of British and tropical influences.

Ironically, not all colonial homes are black and white houses (at least in colour). While they were iconic and synonymous with Singapore’s colonial architecture, other (more colourful) architectural styles were also present during the colonial period.

Who lived in Singapore’s colonial houses?

These colonial houses in Singapore served as residences for British colonial administrators, high-ranking officials, military officers, and other expatriates in the region. 

These houses were seen as a symbol of authority and power, reinforcing the hierarchical structure of the colonial administration. They also reminded the officials of home while living in a foreign land.

In addition to British expatriates, some local dignitaries and wealthy individuals also resided in black-and-white houses. These houses represented a symbol of prestige and were associated with a certain social status during that era.

— From capellasingapore

It’s worth noting that while the primary occupants were British officials, over time, the houses were also allocated to individuals from different backgrounds, including non-British expatriates and even locals.

The colonial houses’ occupancy depended on changing circumstances and needs.

Where are the colonial houses in Singapore found?

The black and white colonial houses were scattered throughout various parts of Singapore, including areas like Tanglin, Bukit Timah, and Katong. There are now just around 500 of them.

Over the years, these colonial houses have become an integral part of Singapore’s architectural landscape and hold significant cultural and historical value. 

Specifically, you can still find black and white houses in the following locations:

  • Tanglin – The Tanglin area, particularly along Ridley Park and nearby streets, is known for its cluster of well-preserved black and white houses. These houses were originally built to house British military officers and civil servants.
  • Bukit Timah – The Bukit Timah area is home to several black and white houses, particularly along Bukit Timah Road and its surrounding lanes. Many of these houses are nestled amidst lush greenery and offer a tranquil living environment.
  • Dempsey Hill –  Located near Tanglin and Holland Village, Dempsey Hill is a trendy lifestyle destination that houses a number of beautifully restored black and white houses. Today, these houses are often repurposed into chic restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries.
  • Mount Pleasant – Mount Pleasant has some of the grandest colonial houses in Singapore. Constructed in the 1930s, these houses provided lodging for high-ranking officers until 2005. These officers included senior police personnel from the adjacent Police Depot, which later became Singapore’s Police Academy.
  • Ridley Park – Amidst the chaos of World War II, the demand for military accommodation in Singapore reached a fever pitch. That’s when two enclaves, Ridley Park and Ridout Road, emerged as saviours for officers and their families in need of housing.
  • Katong – In the Katong neighbourhood, which is known for its rich Peranakan heritage, you can find a few black and white houses scattered amidst the charming shophouses and terrace houses. These houses add a unique touch to the architectural landscape of the area.
  • Wessex Estate – Nestled charmingly near Portsdown Road, you’ll stumble upon a delightful community of black-and-white houses straight out of the 1930s and 40s. Around 70 semi-detached houses and walk-up apartments once provided a cosy haven for British servicemen stationed at military sites in Alexandra and Pasir Panjang.
  • Labrador Nature Reserve – Within the Labrador Nature Reserve, near the southern coast of Singapore, there are a few black and white houses that were originally used as residences for British military personnel. They are now part of the reserve’s historical landmarks.

— From bungalow55 

Following Singapore’s independence, many colonial houses were repurposed and utilised for various uses, such as government offices, schools, and private residences. 

Some have been preserved as heritage buildings, while others have been redeveloped to meet modern needs. Their presence today serves as legacies of Singapore’s colonial past, all while attracting visitors who appreciate their unique charm.

Can I rent a black and white house in Singapore?

— From fi.dng

Yes, it’s possible to rent a black and white house in Singapore. However, it’s important to note that black and white houses are relatively limited in number and are in high demand due to their historical and architectural significance.

But with some effort and patience (and a whole lot of money), you can live in one if you know the right people or places to approach.

The following tips can help you reside in these relics of Singapore’s colonial past:

  • Engage with property agents. Real estate agents specializing in heritage properties or those with connections to the rental market for black and white houses can assist you in finding suitable rental options.
  • Look at online property portals. Websites and online platforms that list rental properties in Singapore may occasionally have black and white houses available for rent. Regularly check these platforms for any listings that match your preferences.

— From nicnwes

  • Visit heritage preservation organisations. Groups dedicated to heritage preservation in Singapore may have information on available black and white houses for rent or lease. They can provide guidance and contacts to help you in your search.
  • Do networking and word-of-mouth. Tap into local networks, social circles, and expatriate communities in Singapore. Often, word-of-mouth referrals can lead to potential rental opportunities or provide information on upcoming vacancies.

Please note that rental prices for black and white houses can vary depending on factors such as location, size, condition, and amenities. But late 2021 prices pegged rentals in desirable locations from approximately S$10,000 to S$30,000 (or more) per month!

Rental prices may also vary depending on the lease duration, negotiation with the landlord, and market demand at the time. 

Additionally, be prepared for potential requirements and restrictions, as some houses may have preservation guidelines or limitations on modifications.