Exploring Peranakan Architecture: Singapore’s Historical Looking Glass
Everton Road Early Style Shophouses, illustration by Kate Brandy
If I had been asked to describe Singapore’s architecture before I arrived for the first time,I would have described the iconic and shiny indoor waterfalls of Changi airport and the sky high surfboard-esque Marina Bay Sands. But if you look past these recent creations, a world of culturally eclectic and truly Singaporean architecture awaits.I admit that I visited the sparkling soaring buildings and colossal shopping malls first when I arrived. But after the thrill of the endorphin-inducing heights of Marina Bay Sands wore off, I started to look elsewhere to see what makes up Singapore architecture. Peranakan shophouses are a window into the past of Singapore, with intricate detailing and styles that personally excited me more than the sheets of glass towering over me, making me feel ant sized. I attribute this to the mix of cultural influences from both western and eastern styles that have made the shophouses of Singapore truly unique.
I highlighted my favorite styles: Late style and Eclectic shophouses. I looked found these different styles located in various historic neighborhoods of Singapore where I would spend lazy Sundays walking around. I hope you enjoy and plan a trip to Singapore soon!
Everton Road, Little Part 1 Cafe to cool off in and draw
illustration by Kate Brandy
If you are interested in the history of these buildings they are inspired by Peranakans culture. Perankans are descendants of 16th century Chinese traders who became completely immersed in local culture. In fact, Peranakan is an Indonesian/Malay word that means “local born”. Also known as the Baba-Nyonyas or Straits Chinese, the Peranakans were the middlemen between the British and Chinese and, as a result, were quite powerful and wealthy. A shophouse or rowhouse has two or more stories and is a both a commercial and residential structure. The tenants usually use the first floor for commercial purposes such as sundry shop, light industry or warehouse and reside in the upper floors. The building is not free standing, rather it is connected to several other shophouses to form a shophouse block. The Peranakan shophouse styles can be categorized into 5 styles: early, transitional, late, art deco, and modern. These historical buildings are littered around Singapore and I have had the pleasure of exploring a few of the neighborhoods that harbor such gems. If you are ever in Singapore I highly recommend taking a walk around these neighborhoods. To complete the experience, I have also included the local cafes I visited to add some extra flavor (pun intended).
Emerald Hill, Eclectic Style Shophouses illustration by Kate Brandy
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