Architecture Cities City Culture

Singapore’s Kaleidoscope of Architectural Styles – Part 1

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Singapore is perhaps one of the most diverse cities in terms of religion, race and language in the world. This Southeast Asian country is probably the only place in the world where you can see churches, mosques and temples dedicated to both the Buddhist and Hindu religions all on the same street.

One only needs to catch the city state’s metro to get an idea of the varied backgrounds the people there have, as signs display instructions in all four of the nation’s official languages. From towering skyscrapers to quaint pagodas, this is a metropolis that is ever-changing but has a unique flavour to it that has maintained some constants throughout its history.

Old Supreme Court Singapore. Photo ©GH Photos
Old Supreme Court Singapore. Photo ©GH Photos

Singapore has always been an important trading hub for Asia, even before the days that they were ruled by the British. There are both Greco-Roman and Chinese accounts of a settlement in this area that date back to the 4th Century and the location was ruled by various Sultanates over the proceeding millennium.

After the settlement was burned to the ground by the Portuguese in the early 17th Century however, the area was largely abandoned. Evidence of settlement from this period or before is all-but non-existent today but Singapore fell under the British Empire in the early 19th Century and Victorian buildings can still be found around the city. 

The Old Supreme Court (above) has striking similarities to the Buda Castle in Budapest in shape, colour and the materials used to construct it. The building is a shining example of classical architecture with its orders (or columns) on its façade, imposing square outside walls and large dome atop its centre. The Victoria Theatre (below) is made in a similar style, with the notable difference of there being a clocktower in the centre below the dome.

Victoria Theatre, Colonial District Singapore. ©GH Photos
Victoria Theatre, Colonial District Singapore. ©GH Photos
Downtown Singapore as seen from the Elgin Bridge. Photo ©GH Photos
Downtown Singapore as seen from the Elgin Bridge. Photo ©GH Photos

Since independence in the 1960’s, Singapore has developed into a first world country, something you’re left in no doubt of when observing the country today. In general, Asia is the continent where the tallest skyscrapers are found these days, with Singapore being one of the shining examples of this. The UOB Plaza One (located roughly centre in the above photograph) is the second tallest building in the city today and employs a modern architectural design, that is unfortunately made for purpose rather than style.

A more shining example (quite literally on a sunny day) of modern Singapore are the three towers that make up Marina Bay Sands. Each tower is identical and is connected by a large boat-shaped structure atop it with large infinity pools around it. With the waters of the Marina Bay beside it, the building normally appears as blue as the sky or the sea, thanks to the reflective windows on the outside of it.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Photo ©GH Photos
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Photo ©GH Photos
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Singapore. Photo ©GH Photos
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Singapore. Photo ©GH Photos

Despite being surrounded by both Malaysia and Indonesia, the largest ethnic group in Singapore is the Chinese, representing almost three quarters of the population. As such, Buddhist pagodas and temples are commonplace outside the Central Business District. The style of these pagodas varies, but a good example is the recent construction of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which was completed in the early 21st Century. The temple is built in the style of the Buddhist pagodas in northern China, despite most of the country’s ethnically Chinese citizens being able to trace their roots to the south of China. This architectural style is that of square rooms and a perfectly symmetrical design in order to satisfy Feng shui, the Chinese theory of maintaining the balance of energy in a space.

The detail on the building is exquisite, with Chinese symbols being ingrained on all the circular rafters which make up the roofs and both lanterns and flowers flanking the outside of the structure. In keeping with the materials which would’ve been used during the Tang Dynasty (7th – 10th century), wood is used for the supporting beams, walls and windows.

Words & Photography: George Howson

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