The Shophouse

Shophouses—a historical source of delight and nostalgia—are a prevalent building type in Singapore’s architectural and built heritage. They are also commonly found throughout the historic cities of South East Asia. They are narrow, small terraced houses, with a sheltered ‘five foot’ pedestrian way at the front. These buildings can be used for both business and living. Constructed between the 1840s and the 1960s, these shophouses formed the majority of the pre-WW2 urban fabric of the old city centre as well as several other parts of Singapore. These buildings are generally two- to three- storeys high, built in contiguous blocks with common party walls. Shophouses therefore form the bulk of our gazetted conservation buildings. The shophouses still around today have been carefully restored and conserved according to our conservation guidelines.

The NUS ‘Baba House’: Richness of Straits-Chinese Architecture Restored

Once the ancestral home of a Straits-Chinese family, the NUS ‘Baba House’ located at No. 157 Neil Road, is an example of an architectural beauty that has been carefully restored by the URA to illustrate conservation best practices. . It is one of the last few untouched Straits-Chinese Houses in Singapore.

Not only has its façade been revived with original ornamental details, the restoration also showcases the 1920s domestic culture of the Straits Chinese community in Singapore. Welcoming visitors to the Baba House are the wooden half doors or pintu pagar, a typical cross-cultural feature that used to be common in Singapore’s historic residences.

The main hall features elaborate and intricately carved structures of floor to ceiling screens and partitions.

The Baba House is representative of the visual interest that a well restored shophouse can provide to our urban landscape, and at the same time, remind us how these shophouses are representative of Singapore’s unique cultures and aesthetic tastes.

Key Elements of the Shophouses

The quality restoration of a shophouse requires an appreciation and understanding of the architecture of the building. The key elements that need to be respected in the restoration of a typical shophouse are:


Click to enlarge

Key Elements of the Shophouses Description
Party Walls These are principle load bearing walls that separate a shophouse from its neighbouring shophouse.
Timber Structural Members This refers to the main and secondary timber beams, that span from one party wall to the other and supports each floor. .It also includes the timber floor boards, and timber rafters that support the roof.
Airwells Airwells are courtyards that are exposed to the sky, they provide natural ventilation and lighting to the interior of the shophouse They facilitate a comfortable indoor environment in our tropical climate.
Rear Court An open courtyard located at the back of the shophouse. It is bounded by the rear boundary wall, service block, rear elevation of the main shophouse and the party wall. This area was traditionally used for functional needs such as the kitchen and the toilet.
Timber Windows Timber framed windows that are designed in the French or Casement style. Some have solid infill panels while others will have operable timber shutters/jalousies to allow for air and light.
Timber Staircase This refers to the staircase inside the shophouse, which are often of timber structural construction In some houses, the timber balustrades can be of ornate design. .
Front Facade The front ‘face’ of the house that faces the street. Facades from different architectural eras will have different aesthetic approaches.
The Upper Floor This projects over the five-footway to form a covered pedestrian arcade.
The Columns Located at the front of the building. They support the upper floors and form five-foot way colonnades.
The Five-Footway This provides pedestrians with a sheltered environment for passage away from the hot sun and torrential rain. This feature was mandated by Raffles since the first Town Plan for Singapore.
The Roof The roof is usually of a ‘pitched’ construction on a timber structural frame and laid with natural coloured, unglazed V-profile terracotta roof tiles. Shophouses from the 1900s onwards tend to use natural coloured, unglazed flat-interlocking tiles (also commonly called ‘Marseilles’ tiles).