13 June 2015: The Singapore House 1819-1942


The Singapore House is a comprehensive study of the various domestic architectural styles that thrived in Singapore from 1819 until outbreak of the Pacific War. It marks a major attempt to document a rich and beautiful architectural legacy with over 400 illustrations including rare historical materials and remarkable drawings
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the spore house RESIZEDAreca Books is pleased to announce the republication of  Lee Kip Lin’s The Singapore House 1819–1942, an assuring and eloquent reminder that Singapore was a thriving island long before its ‘unofficial’ birth date of Sept 1965, spanning over a century of development and producing a variety of fine architectural styles. Lee states that the modern history of Singapore began in 1819. Its founder Raffles formulated a plan to divide the town into communal neighbourhoods or ‘campongs’, placing the Europeans in the Beach Road area between Stamford Canal and Arab Street; the Chinese in south of the Singapore River; the Malays in the upper reaches of the river and the Bugis and the Sultan on the margin of the Eastern Bay.

“Today, many of the houses have disappeared under the pressure of urbanization. The Singapore House marks a major attempt to document this wonderfully rich and beautiful architectural legacy.” The architectural descriptions are grouped thus: First Years (18191829); Early Houses (18301869); Eclecticism (18701899); Chinese Cognate, Malay Traditions, The Adoption (aka ‘East meets West’), Landscape and Garden, and Revivals and Uncertainty (19001941). The first half of the book is a comprehensive study of the various styles—from English Georgian to Victorian Eclectic, Gothic, Edwardian Baroque, Arts and Crafts and Modern International and their origins as well as the somewhat unique variations that were devised to suit the tastes and lifestyles of their owners.

The earliest example of a traditional Malay house can be seen in a sketch of Kampong Rochor in 1846 by J.T. Thomson

The earliest example of a traditional Malay house can be seen in a sketch of Kampong Rochor in 1846 by J.T. Thomson

Vividly and richly illustrated, this coffee table book reproduces some rare images—visual records circa 182325 showing the earliest Singapore houses as “squat, compact and simple with steep attap roofs.” One also understands the pivotal role that seclusion and privacy played behind the near-uniform ‘inward-looking’ designs common among the aptly namedChinese Cognate houses of the period. The Malay traditional house was of a more ‘common’ design, traditionally of timber throughout and raised on stilts with three basic components: front hall or verandah, the main body and the kitchen. The acceptance of colonial bungalows by affluent Malays led inevitably to the development of hybrid forms. The age of eclecticism, on the other hand, was heralded by a period of less concern for historical accuracy and the desire for innovation and novelty and extravagance.

The Singapore House 1819–1942 brings together a fascinating array of rare documentary materials, stunning photographs and useful architectural drawings – an invaluable source of information not only for the social and architectural historian but also for anyone who has an interest in Singapore’s domestic heritage. It was first published in 1988 and reprinted in 2015.