Heritage is more than just the built form that it embodies. It’s embedded in the nature of the space and also within the culture and collective memories of society. This intangible historic merit is as important as the built form itself. Our buildings are a reflection of who we are, regardless of their architectural value. And in Singapore, it’s the shophouses that embodies a lot of our cultural heritage.
In Singapore, it’s all too common to see many of our built heritage torn down to make way for the new. However, over in Dhoby Ghaut, there’s a movement to preserve its architectural history.
Temasek Shophouse preserves history
For those who’ve been there, Temasek Shophouse (TSH) at 28 Orchard Road is close to 100 years old. It was restored to become a social impact hub in the heart of Singapore in 2019. Currently, TSH’s interior includes event and gallery spaces, as well as a social enterprise café for public engagement to raise awareness for social issues and solutions.
Built in 1928, it stands on the site of six older shophouses – three acquired by Chee Swee Cheng in 1926, and the other three by E Kong Guan from 1925-1926. With roots in Malacca, both Chee and E were tapioca and rubber planters. When constructing the new building, the interior spaces were split down the middle for each owner. On each side, the upper floors contained a 2-bedroom apartment, with an office space and store on the ground floor. The office spaces became furniture showrooms, and then a department store in 1989.
Today, TSH is the home of Temasek’s philanthropic arm, and part of its philanthropic strategy to help the social impact ecosystem in Singapore. It has catalysed over 100 events and convened a vibrant community of change-makers to create positive impact to advance the greater good.
It also announced that it’ll be expanding to meet the rising needs of a growing community of change-makers motivated to find innovative solutions to the world’s increasingly complex social and environmental challenges.
Expansion of TSH to include other shophouses
The adjacent shophouses along the same stretch are slated to be restored to honour their architectural heritage. The row of gazetted shophouses comprise the three Tropical Modernist shophouses located at:
No. 14 Orchard Road: Former Malayan Motors Showroom (completed 1925)
This former showroom for Morris and Rolls Royce was a marker of Orchard Road’s motoring days, designed by Swan and Maclaren. Motorcar demand rose three-fold between 1913 and 1918, leading to a proliferation of car showrooms by the 1920s. Sadly, it made its last sale in August 1980. The building featured a scalloped semi-circular feature on the roof. A tall length of windows in the middle provided natural illumination to its upper floors.
No. 22 Orchard Road: Former Midfilm House (completed 1921)
The Dutch-gabled former Midfilm House (Middle East Film Building) was erected by Middle East Films Ltd. It was a pioneering distributor of films in Southeast Asia at the time. The building was later occupied by the SPCK Bookshop.
No. 38 Orchard Road: Tropical Modernist Shophouse (completed 1937)
What to expect from the restoration
The project will take place in phases and commence later in 2022. Some key architectural features such as the façade and interior heritage gems will be carefully restored to retain their unique characteristics. There will also be sustainability elements for greater efficiencies. Green spaces will also be important for the design outcome.
Together, the shophouses form an interesting and rare cluster of buildings, each with their own distinct architecture and function, located side by side along a commercial thoroughfare. The presence of ornate gables and articulate bay windows of multiple different buildings draws a sense of cohesiveness yet maintaining distinction.
The restoration of the gazetted conservation shophouses adjoining an arts and civic area steeped in history is a great start to preserve Singapore’s heritage. If you’re a fan of historic architecture, you can also check out our Brutalist architecture from the mid-20th century.