Old School Charm
As places where we spent a large part of our childhood and growing up years, schools hold fond memories for many of us. Some of us might have even met our life partners there! Join Skyline on a walk down memory lane to visit some of the schools which have been conserved today.
by Carol Lim
Old School Charm

When was the last time you visited your alma mater? Does your alma mater still exist today?

In Singapore, where land is scarce and consequently conservation has to be carried out in balance with development, it is not possible to keep all old buildings without freezing development.

Yet, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) recognises that schools are significant social landmarks. That is why several old schools can be found among the 6,500 buildings which are conserved today. Kept wholly or in part, they serve as physical reminders for many generations of old students who have passed through their classrooms and hallways.

Some of them continue serving their function in educating the young, such as St Patrick’s School at East Coast Road. For others, they have gained a new lease of life as they are adapted to house civic and cultural institutions or entertainment facilities.

Long live Victoria School

One of the latest school buildings to be approved for conservation in January 2007, the former Victoria School (VS) is a prominent urban and community landmark at Tyrwhitt Road, off historic Jalan Besar.

VS has had a long and illustrious history. It had its humble origin as an English class in the Kampong Glam Malay School in 1876 and moved to the site at Tyrwhitt Road when the building was completed in 1933. The school was located here for over 50 years before it relocated to Geylang Bahru and later to its new premises at Siglap Link.

Over the years, this pioneer school has made significant contributions to the growth and development of our country by producing numerous scholars, professionals and leaders.

The old premises boasts unique buildings with interesting architecture and history. Being kept for posterity are the Main Classroom/Administrative Block and the Hall-cum-Canteen Block.

The original Main Classroom/Administrative Block is a handsome, flat-roofed, Neo-classical style building with a signature long frontage and upper storey corridor that continues around the central spine of the classrooms. A school hall, with concrete-arch structures, terminates the block at one end.

Built in 1933, it was designed by the same architect as that of the Supreme Court and the former Traffic Police Building, Frank Dorrington Ward of Public Works Department (PWD). It is elegantly proportioned and faced with Shanghai plaster.

The Modern style Hall-cum-Canteen Block built in 1967 is one of the early prototypes developed by PWD in the post-war years to produce schools that are aesthetically pleasing and are fast to build. This innovative spatial-planning technique was later repeated in other schools on the island.

Characterised by a functional yet decorative second storey façade, VS’ multi-purpose hall on the second storey is supported above the ground floor canteen area by slender concrete columns.

Both buildings, in their distinct architectural styles, serve as tangible anchors and reminders of the development of our educational system and the evolution of the school building types in the pre- and post-war years.

A rare gem

What marks the former VS from the other schools gazetted for conservation is that it is one of the few early city centre schools still in existence today and features two school buildings from the pre- and post-war period in a single site.

The original main building is a one-of-its-kind educational building and the Hall-cum-Canteen Block is the only known school hall left of this style and configuration. Together they show the evolution of school architecture in Singapore, marking both the important periods in terms of architectural development as well as social and political changes.

New life
Come 2009, the old VS will have a new role to play. It is currently being restored and refurbished to house the People’s Association (PA) in future. The canteen and hall are planned to be used as PA’s rehearsal rooms while the existing school field will be used for PA’s large-scale activities such as parade rehearsals for Chingay and National Day.
Schools Then and Now
Today, while bells may still ring at some of the oldest schools in Singapore, remarkable transformations have been made to others. Some have been given an entire fresh breath of life as chic lifestyle enclaves while others are now precious storehouses of different facets of our history. But the one thing that these old institutions have in common are sweet memories that they evoke in the hearts of those who have, for a good part of their growing-up years, filed daily in and out of their gates.
Alsagoff Arab School

Built in 1912, the school was named after Syed Ahmad Alsagoff, a wealthy Arab merchant and philanthropist who was very influential in Singapore’s early colonial days. It was the island’s first Muslim school.

The restoration for this all-girls school involved the revival of all architectural motifs and decorations, and replacement of the existing metal roof to a clay tile one today. Features in the old school – wide verandahs, double-storey high arches, beautifully crafted cast-iron baluster, and other architectural motifs – were reproduced in a new extension so as to retain touches of the old.

Singapore Art Museum

The Singapore Art Museum, opened in January 1996, is housed in the former St Joseph’s Institution building at Bras Basah Road.

The school was founded in 1852 and relocated in 1987. The building itself was restored and gazetted as a national monument in 1992. The design of the classical grand façade and dome was inspired by Bernini’s Colonnade in front of the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 


Back in 1854, Chijmes was home to the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ), a school as well as an orphanage. For over 100 years, the orphanage was home to children from poor or broken families as well as unwanted babies left at its front gates, aptly named the Gate of Hope. Chijmes was later also occupied by St Nicholas Girls’ School.
Today, the beautiful grounds of the old school and chapel have now been refurbished and transformed into a little enclosed village with al fresco eateries, bars, boutiques and galleries around a sunken
St Andrew's Diocesan School

The old St Andrew's School has a unique place in the architectural landscape of Singapore. Designed by Frank Wilmin Brewer in 1939, the building was said to be one of his finest and largest completed work in Singapore.

Originally a two-storey building before the addition of a third storey in 1952, it is now restored as the new Diocesan Centre, sensitively adapted to its new use and continues to contribute to the overall sense of place.

The project won the URA Architectural Heritage Award in 2006 and received an Honourable Mention at this year’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.

Peranakan Museum

Housed in the premises of the old Tao Nan School, the building was built between 1910 and 1912, and was designed in the Neo-classical style with features of the French Renaissance.

The museum was closed on 1 January 2006 to be reopened about three to five years later as a fully dedicated Peranakan Museum.

National Archives of Singapore Building

Founded in March 1886 in Amoy Street, Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) was relocated to the historic foothills of Fort Canning in 1892.

The original 1897 school building known as Oldham Hall was redeveloped into an elegant Modern style reinforced concrete building in 1959. The campus was used by the school until November 1993.

Today, this four-storey building houses the National Archives of Singapore.

Singapore Philatelic Museum

This museum on the history of Singapore stamps was formerly part of Anglo-Chinese School and was completed in 1904.

In the 1970s, the building became the Methodist Book Room until it was restored to become the present museum.

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