4 Architectural Treasures in Bras Basah.Bugis

By Bras Basah Bugis on Mar 2017

We all have that one friend.

He or she went to Paris on holiday for two weeks. You spend the next two years listening to his or her complaints about how Singapore’s “dull architecture” simply can’t measure up. Never mind how they managed to acquire an annoying Californian accent in France.

The next time such friends open their mouths to venture a disparaging remark, floor them with these amazing architectural facts from Bras Basah.Bugis.

1. Neo-Gothic / Gothic Revival – CHIJMES Chapel

Image credit: Flickr / Eustaquio Santimano

According to some sources, our famous CHIJMES Chapel is an Anglo-French Gothic chapel.

This is not entirely true. The vaulted arches, flying buttresses and intricate carvings found in the building are indeed Gothic elements, but the chapel should be rightly considered Neo-Gothic architecture.

Image Credit: Flickr / Shenghung Lin

True Gothic architecture like that of the Reims Cathedral in Northern France was the work of stonemasons in the late medieval period. With the coming of the Renaissance, their popularity began to fade… for a while.

In 1800s Victorian Britain, the Gothic style returned like a bubble-tea craze. Victorian hipsters like John Ruskin raved endlessly about the superiority of the older style, claiming that handcrafted Gothic architecture “respected the freedom and individuality of the craftsmen”.

Built in 1890 by Father Charles Benedict Nain, the CHIJMES Chapel was part of this renewed Gothic craze. Don’t worry though, its esteemed neo-Gothic siblings include the UK’s Houses of Parliament and the Royal Courts of Justice.


2. Palladian - Armenian Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator

Image credit: Flickr / Mark爱生活

Armenian traders were amongst the first expats to settle in Singapore. Although the community never numbered more than 100 people, they left a lasting legacy – Raffles Hotel was founded by the Sarkies Brothers in 1887 and The Straits Times was co-founded in 1845 by Catchick Moses.

In 1827, the community began collecting funds to build a permanent place of worship. For the design, they chose G.D Coleman, the architect who designed Sir Stamford Raffles’ own residence on Bukit Larangan, also known as Fort Canning Park.

The finished church is an inspired work of Palladian architecture, an European style pioneered by Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, who modelled his houses after the temples of classical antiquity.

It was a bold choice on Coleman’s part because Palladio’s style was almost exclusively used for villas rather than churches.



Image credit: Flickr / Jnzl's Photos

The Doric columns, triangular pediment and high degree of symmetry are inspired by Greco-Roman temples, but Coleman was smart enough to enlarge the portico so more church-goers could hide from Singapore’s blazing sun.

A wise move that architects of our present dwellings have been copying ever since.


3. Art Deco Style - The Cathay


Image credit: Facebook / Panipak Liky

If you ever felt a sense of deja vu when looking at The Cathay’s facade, you’re probably wiser than you know.

Originally completed in 1939, The Cathay was designed in the then-popular Art Deco style. It belongs to the same family as New York’s Chrysler building and Miami’s South Beach. If you look closely, the resemblance can be quite striking as they share many stylistic motifs – geometric adornments, stepped concrete pillars, vertical motifs and metal casement windows.


Image credit: Flickr / Jnzl’s Photos

After World War 2, the popularity of Art Deco faded as architects abandoned the style in favour of modernism’s glass-and-steel simplicity.

However, Art Deco elements never completely went out of fashion. Its lasting influence can be seen in the design of jukeboxes, furniture pieces and graphic design.

If you’re still wondering why it looks so familiar, it’s probably because you were drooling over Art Deco posters of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby.


4. Contemporary - School of the Arts


Image credit: Flickr / WOHA Architects/Forge Archimedia

In our postmodern present, there is no stylistic rulebook on how to build. Modernism treats architecture as a “machine for living” and demands that we build with purposeful utility, according to function and need.

No Gothic gargoyles, no decorative columns.

Yes, it sounds like a cold philosophy, but many architects have managed to create stunning works from this pragmatic policy. In Bras Basah.Bugis, SOTA is an exemplar.

The broad strokes are done in glass, concrete and steel – the unholy trinity of modern architecture. However, there are subtle touches here and there to soften the look of those high-rise monoliths. The supporting pillars are clad in wood for a more natural aesthetic. The mixture of rough and smooth material breaks up the usual grey concrete monotony.

Between the classrooms, pillars and lecture halls, the open spaces serve as a blank canvas for creative experimentation.



Image credit: Flickr / WOHA Architects/Forge Archimedia

SOTA’s design also includes elements of eco-architecture. The building was designed to be a porous wind-tunnel so every three-second breeze feels like a six-second gale. Even the curtains of green foliage on the building’s exterior help to protect SOTA students from dust and the glare of direct sunlight.

For those who studied at a more conventionally designed secondary school, there’s certainly plenty to be jealous of.

When you’ve been staring out of an apartment window your whole life, it’s easy to imagine that Singapore is far removed from anything of architectural or historical interest.

With time and careful observation, though, you can easily compile a history of architecture using Singaporean examples alone. Since our founding in 1819, the nation has been swept along by all the hottest architectural trends. In the mid-1800s, we went on an overkill with the neo-Gothic revival. In the swinging 30s, the charms of Art Deco proved irresistible.

It is just that familiarity breeds contempt. If you care to look, Bras Basah.Bugis contains a wealth of architectural treasures.