Restoring Singapore shophouses
[Image: Singapore shophouses of the 1920s]
In Singapore in the early 1990s shophouses were being demolished based on misleading structural advice that they were too expensive, or too difficult to restore for any future use. The cleared sites were of great value for the modern multi-storey development.
When Sir Stamford Raffles (1781–1826) arrived, Singapore was hardly developed at all. Raffles formulated a plan to divide the town into communal neighbourhoods, or campongs. The Chinese were moved to south of the Singapore River, and local groups and other Malays to the upper reaches of the river. The north banks of the Singapore River were set aside for development by the government.
Most of the first workers’ houses, low-rise timber buildings, were replaced by the blocks of shophouses designed with set requirements relating to site size, building heights and overall layouts of these areas, such as China Town and Little India.
Prior to my involvement in 1993, and indeed during the time I was in Singapore, shophouses were being demolished at a significant rate. The government sought advice on how to save the buildings that were thought to be at the end of their life.
The reason that so many houses had been demolished related to an approach that was generally used by the builders. If the roofs were in a bad condition, the timbers were replaced, and if the floors were in bad condition, they too were replaced. Temporary supports were used to retain the party walls if necessary. The result of this was that houses collapsed.
Later a top-down philosophy was introduced, where individual roof timbers were inspected and replaced as necessary. Similar action was taken at each floor level, rebuilding masonry from the top down as the roof and floors were dealt with. This resulted in a very stable structure being retained.
The Singapore Government appointed a French architect and me to guide it with this new approach, and agreeing a way forward with the officers of the government and its engineers. This led to a proposal that a group of houses in China Town, and another group in Little India, should be restored in accordance with this approach. The new philosophy and methodology has since been incorporated into the control regulations for work to these historic structures.
[Image: Singapore shophouses being refurbished]
- Lee, Edwin (1990) Historic Buildings of Singapore.
- Kilpin, Lee (1988) The Singapore House, 1819–1942.
- Davison, Julian (2011) Singapore Shophouse.
Find out more
Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Chinese renaissance architecture in China and Hong Kong.
- CIBSE Case Study: Christchurch International Airport.
- D'Leedon, Singapore.
- IHBC articles.
- Institute of Historic Building Conservation.
- Liveable Yangon: for whom?
- MahaNakhon, Bangkok.
- Risk identification and allocation of Singapore construction joint venture projects with developing countries.
- Robot Building, Bangkok.
- The Chinese construction industry.
- The Hong Kong shophouse.
The IHBC seeks to raise awareness and understanding of how building conservation philosophy and practice contributes towards meeting the challenge of climate change.
From Amenity Societies and Wentworth Woodhouse to Kurt Schwitters, Scotland’s Towns, Chester and more...
The former Royal High School building in Edinburgh is to be transformed into a £55 million national centre for music after the City of Edinburgh Council agreed to the lease of the historic property.
The joint-institute document aims to help maintain cultural heritage by providing a consistent framework across different sectors & geographies
IHBC’s Gus Astley Student Awards 2021: Win £500 and a place on IHBC’s 2022 Aberdeen School with your built environment/heritage coursework, closes 31/07!
The last remaining buildings on the site of the Harris meat factory family’s historic mansion are being restored to their former glory and converted into new homes.
The Construction Industry Coronavirus Forum (CICV Forum) has unveiled a new guide to the crucial and increasingly complex issue of professional indemnity insurance (PII).
ICOMOS has advised that the new football stadium proposal, if implemented, would have a completely unacceptable major adverse impact its authenticity and integrity.
Responding to the changing working patterns of a post-Covid Scotland, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) has revealed new plans to help retrofit public spaces into out-of-town alternatives to city centre offices.
The free-to-access online issue mixes the topical and practical to explore how the sector can best adapt to digital innovation.