There was a time in Singapore when everything old is old again and must be torn down. After the devastation of Singapore during WWII, the region struggled to rebuild and restore pride for the locals.
Well, Singapore quickly became an economic gateway for the Asian region and a powerhouse for modernity, architectural innovation and post-war progress.
And while the machine of perpetual change revved up, many of the old buildings were demolished and streets flattened to make way for high-rise. And through to the 1990s the gleaming, clean, sharp-edged city was a model for progress – and the city had lost its soul.
But a change of heart was beating through the city and old shophouses were given a new lease of life and were being restored at a rapid rate to stand proud and colourful to add charm and a sense of history to Singapore. And there were even new buildings, built in the old style to compliment this emerging trend of heritage entitlement. Old buildings painted and shining with the bright gleam of pride sit comfortably in the shadow of the glass and steel monoliths.
With many beautifully preserved examples, the shophouses in Singapore are prime examples of timeless architectural appeal. These are narrow units built a neat row that explain and display Asian heritage and culture here more than any other structure – except maybe, for the temples.
So many styles
Traditionally, a shophouse has a narrow frontage with a sheltered corridor at the front for pedestrians (called a five-foot way). They have internal courtyards, open stairwells and skylights to bring light and air into otherwise dark and narrow interiors.
Shophouses display different architectural influences, often depending on when they were built. Several periods have been identified when it comes to shophouse architecture.There is the minimalist approach taken in the Early Style with little to no ornamentation, the austere elegance of the Second Transitional Style and the streamlined modernity of the Art Deco period, which eschewed rich detailing and tiling for sleek columns and arches instead.
A brilliant mix
It is the Late Style that is the most head-turning, with its bold use of colour and fancy tiles, as well as the eclectic mix of Chinese, Malay and European elements.
Think of Chinese porcelain-chip friezes and bat-wing shaped air vents co-existing with Malay timber fretwork, French windows, Portuguese shutters and Corinthian pilasters.
Chinatown, Tanjong Pagar and Emerald Hill boast many fine examples of the shophouses described above.
Take a walk through these five-foot ways and see for yourself these beautiful examples of historic Singaporean architecture.