Traditional architecture in Singapore includes the Malay houses, shophouses, black and white bungalows and religious places of worship. The architectural construction and design bespeaks of a style suited to the environmental conditions and aesthetic aspirations of the population.
General issues with housing in Singapore
When talking about traditional architecture in Singapore, certain considerations must be kept in mind.
Most of the Singapore residents are now housed in HDB units and see no need to build themselves traditional houses.
HBD (Housing Development Board) are government-subsidised apartment blocks. 80 – 85% of Singaporeans live in HBD flats.
Traditional skills in building are gradually lost, especially with the onslaught of modernization, where residents are more inclined to buy a HDB unit.
Traditional buildings require constant attention in maintenance work due to the high rate of deterioration from the humid tropical weather and termites.
These are traditional dwellings that existed before the arrival of foreigners in the region and were (and still are) being constructed by indigenous ethnic Malays of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo (including Indonesia). The Malays of early Singapore would no doubt have built similar structures for shelter against the elements.
Typical construction styles and design
Traditional architectural structures are built with the elements and social arrangements in mind, as well as the availability of local materials.
Structural proportions are harmonious and roofs slant downwards at a sharp angle to allow for maximum runoff of rainwater.
Natural bindings allow for flexibility and are more commonly used instead of nails. Timber is perforated to allow for joining pieces of wood.
Are typically built on stilts, like the Rumah Panggung or kampung houses, for avoiding wild animals or floods.
Have a stairway leading from the outside to the serambi porch (or verandah) and upwards to an elevated interior. Stairs can be made of wood or brick and tiled.
Have rooms that are partitioned into a verandah, a living room and bedrooms. The verandah is for relaxing, the living room for family members, relatives and friends and bedrooms exclusively for the family members.
Are built with roofs designed for shade, protection against the heat and rain and for ventilation. Roof edges at the lower levels are usually lined with decorations.
A shop house is a traditional building most commonly seen in urban Southeast Asia. They are, as their names indicate, buildings where people can shop.
They are usually 2 to 3 stories high with shopping space on the bottom floor and a residences above the shop.
They occupy historical centers of most towns and cities in the Southeast Asian regions.
Black and white bungalows
These buildings were once the abode of European expatriate families working in tropical areas during the colonial era. They were built by wealthy expatriate families, commercial firms and the government. Many continue to be occupied as residential buildings, but some have now been converted into commercial real estate, such as restaurants and bars.
These buildings were built by local residents of Singapore to reflect their respective aesthetic beliefs.
They featured Chinese, Hindu and Sikh temples.
Jewish synagogues, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian Churches were also part of the religious landscape, as were Sunni and Shia mosques.