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Fort Canning

History
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ABOUT

The 11 buildings located within the vicinity of Fort Canning Hill, were given conservation status on 21 November 2005. They consist of 3 buildings on Fort Canning Hill - 2 built in the neo-Classical style, and 1 black-and-white bungalow - and 8 buildings along Canning Rise and Armenian Street designed in a variety of architectural styles, including the Art Deco, Transitional and Modern styles. They serve as notable landmarks of the development of the historic area.

THE HISTORY

The history of Fort Canning Hill can be traced as far back to the 14th century when Singapore, then known as Temasek, was a regional trading centre. Since Sir Stamford Raffles’ time, the advantageous location of the hill and its panoramic view of city have continued to be capitalised upon for important developments and uses.

 

Fort Canning was originally known as Bukit Larangan, or "Forbidden Hill". It was later renamed Government Hill by Sir Stamford Raffles, and subsequently named after Viscount Charles John Canning, Governor-General and first Viceroy of India.

 

Archaeological excavations have yielded evidence supporting the existence of the ancient kingdom of Temasek, later named Singapura ("Lion City" in Sanskrit). Temasek was a regional trading centre in the 14th century until its destruction by the Siamese and Majapahit forces. Fort Canning Park still has a number of relics reflecting the past glory of this hill. Keramat Iskandar Shah, venerated by Muslims and believed to be the ancient tomb of the last Malay King, stood at the foot of the hill.

 

Drawn by its significant location and panoramic view, Stamford Raffles built his bungalow and established the first botanical gardens there in 1822. The bungalow, named Government House, remained the residence of the British governor until 1857, when the British Army began using the hill as a fort for its strategic location overlooking Singapore town. The top of the hill was leveled off to create a flat area of three hectares for the construction of a military fortress.

 

The fort was completed in 1861 and renamed Fort Canning, with the hill known as Fort Canning Hill. Also built within the fort were barracks for the European and Indian soldiers, as well as a hospital and gunpowder magazines. Most of the fortress was demolished in 1926 when the service reservoir was constructed.

 

Fort Canning remained the headquarters of the British military operations until the outbreak of Second World War in 1941. During the Japanese invasion of Singapore in Feb 1942, the hill also housed Singapore's largest underground military operations complex.

 

The decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese was made on the hill by General Arthur Percival in one of the underground bunkers. Thereafter, the Japanese military took over the hill and used the buildings as their headquarters. After the war, the hill reverted to British use until 1963. Between 1963-1965, it housed the 4th Malaysian Infantry Brigade Headquarters. In December 1966, Fort Canning was handed over to the Singapore Armed Forces for its use until the 1970s.

 

THE BUILDING

The early development around the foot of Fort Canning Hill commenced in the late 1880s by various users and has since developed into pleasant streetscapes with notable buildings fondly remembered by many. The establishment of buildings serving the public such as the Central Fire Station [http://www.pmb.sg/?page_id=242] and old Hill Street Police Station [http://www.pmb.sg/?page_id=238] (now the MICA HQ) has also contributed to the evolution of the area to a civic and institutional node.

 

The Former Singapore Command Staff College and Fort Canning Centre were built as military buildings between 1923-1927. The former Singapore Command Staff College was used to train local officers from the Army, Navy and Air Forces.

 

These buildings were designed in the Neo-Classical style, with streamlined classical motifs. A clearly defined central bay marks the main entrance of both buildings which is flanked by long wide open corridors on either wings to create a symmetrical layout. A pitched roof with wide overhanging eaves, prevalent in British military buildings, provide protection from the heat of the tropical weather.

 

The buildings have a dignified appearance. Resting on a base with rusticated horizontal bands, they exude a sense of stability. Pilasters spanning the upper two storeys help to accentuate the height of the building and create visual interest.  Located at strategic positions within Fort Canning Hill, both 3-storey buildings have commanding views over the city. 

 

Since 1997, the Former Singapore Command Staff College building has been used as a country club. It is now known as the Legends Country Club. The Fort Canning Centre (facing Canning Rise) is home to Singapore Dance Theatre and a culinary school (Sun-rice).

 

The bungalow at 21 Lewin Terrace was once residence of the Fire Chief, and is located at Lewin Terrace just above the Central Fire Station. Built in 1908, this single-storey Black and White bungalow is built into the slope and has a raised timber floor supported by sleeper walls and piers. It is well-designed with a high hipped roof supported on timber columns to accommodate a large open verandah under the wide eaves to provide a comfortable respite from the tropical weather. It is one of the few remaining bungalows left within the city centre. It is now used as a restaurant called Flutes at the Fort.

 

The Masonic Hall at Coleman Street was established on 27 Nov 1879.

The first Freemasons’ Lodge (Zetland Lodge) was established in Singapore at Armenian Street in 1845, after Freemasonry was introduced into Malaya in 1809. Mr William Napier, the first lawyer in Singapore after which Napier Road is named, was the first brother initiated.

 

The original single-storey Masonic Lodge was designed by D. M. Craik in 1879 and a second storey was added in 1887. Each member contributed $25 towards the construction costs. The present building at Coleman Street has been altered and extended three times, with the most recent alterations carried out in the 1970s.

 

It is a symmetrical building with the front and interior designed in the English Renaissance style which was used widely at the beginning of the 20th century for government and public buildings. The front façade consists of a fluted Doric colonnade with arched stained-glass windows above displaying the symbols of the English, Irish and Scottish lodges.

 

The central bay is flanked by large archways with rustication on the first storey, while the second storey features twin Ionic columns and is topped by triangulated pediments and a decorative balustrade. Together with the plaster mouldings adorning the front and sides of the main entrance, these architectural elements give the building a sense of grandeur and dignity.

 

The buildings of the Singapore Philatelic Museum and National Archives formerly housed the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS). ACS was one of the earliest institutions established by British Methodist missionaries in Singapore, combining Christian doctrines into the teaching curriculum. ACS, founded in March 1886 in Amoy Street, was relocated in 1892 to the Fort Canning site, next to the first Methodist church which was later demolished. This campus was used by the school until November 1993 when ACS Primary moved to Barker Road.

 

The building currently housing the Singapore Philatelic Museum was built in 1907. It was designed by Tomlinson and Lermit Architects and commissioned by the ACS Trustees as an extension block to the old ACS. In the 1970s and 80s, the building housed the Methodist Book Room, before being converted to become the Singapore Philatelic Museum in 1995.

 

The building’s architectural features are characteristic of the Colonial era. The façade is accentuated with arches along the second storey verandahs and a distinctive pediment in the central bay, adding to the distinctive streetscape along Coleman Street. 

 

The site on which the National Archives now sits was originally occupied by an old 1897 school building known as Oldham Hall, named after ACS’ founder Bishop William F. Oldham, who became a teacher and principal of the school. It was redeveloped in 1959 into an elegant Modern style reinforced concrete building. At four storeys, the building is taller than the Masonic Hall and the Singapore Philatelic Museum but still retains a sense of scale that is in harmony with the park surroundings.

 

Long thin windows are used for the façade of the school hall, while small square windows denote the stairwells. The well-proportioned front façade is composed with ribbed mouldings and rectilinear concrete fins and sills adding visual interest to create a pleasant and dignified appearance.

 

No. 45 Armenian Street, known to many as a pioneering arts venue, The Substation, has its name derived from its original use as an electric substation. Built in 1926-27, this Art Deco style building along Armenian Street is an established social and cultural landmark for both the arts community and the public. Since 1990, the building has been used as a multi-disciplinary arts space that houses a theatre, dance studio, art gallery and classrooms.

The front façade features brick-face pilasters, with simple geometric capitals, extending from the ground up to a mid-level architrave at the top of the second storey, where a horizontal sill breaks the verticality. Above this, the pilasters are further subdivided and continue towards the cornice to create visual interest.

 

No. 47 to 53 Armenian Street are four adjacent two-storey Transitional style shophouses that formerly housed the United Chinese Library which was inaugurated by Dr Sun Yat Sen in 1910. The library was set up to promote general knowledge and culture among the general public. It took on an additional role to disseminate revolutionary ideas and generate support for the Chinese Revolution against the Manchurian rulers. The Library moved to Cantonment Road in 1987.

THE LEGACY

The conservation of these buildings help to serve as important markers to the historic uses around Fort Canning Hill, enabling Singapore’s past to be read in the architectural, social and historical roots of the buildings. Even as the surrounding areas undergo further development, the retention of these buildings will help to ensure the uniqueness of the vicinity, adding to the critical mass of historically significant buildings and sustaining memories of the place for Singaporeans.

 

Conserved on 21 November 2005


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