The city-state’s buildings represent an enchanting mix of Asian, British colonial and modern global influences.
“Singapore has its fair share of iconic buildings, especially (those built) in the ’90s and 2000s, that have contributed to a skyline that is distinctive from other Asian cities,” said Chong Keng Hua, associate professor of architecture and sustainable design at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
“It’s never straightforward to label Singapore architecture under a specific style … If there are consistent creative forces underlying its evolution, these would be our response to our tropical climate and space constraints.”
Sustainability is another theme showing up in the mix, Chong said.
“The juxtaposition of futuristic, high-rise green buildings with post-independence (after 1965) modern complexes and older colonial buildings and shophouses gives Singapore’s urban landscape a unique identity and experience,” he added.
Here are 10 of Singapore’s most famous buildings, representing its past, present and future.
Raffles Hotel: Singapore’s historic Raffles Hotel has finally reopened following a massive facelift that kicked off in 2017. Credit: Raffles
Architect: Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan & Maclaren (main building, 1899)
The grande dame of famous Singapore buildings has somewhat modest beginnings.
In the late 1880s, the Armenian Sarkies brothers leased a bungalow owned by an Arab trader. They named it after British colonizer Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and started out with just 10 rooms for their guests. It didn’t stay modest for long.
Jewel at Changi Airport
Inside Singapore’s new Jewel Changi Airport
Architect: Moshe Safdie
Use: Entertainment and retail complex
We go from an old-school colonial classic to the newest building on the list: Jewel at Changi Airport.
Also found inside the 10-story building (five below ground, five above) are entertainment venues, shops, restaurants, a hotel and services for airline passengers, such as early check-in, baggage storage and connections to three of the airport’s terminals.
“Jewel has redefined airport, retail and public space all at once,” Chong said. “It creates a huge impact in making Changi Airport the most recognizable — and probably the most Instagrammable — airport in the world.”
Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay
The Esplanade also has a nickname derived from a popular fruit in these parts. Credit: Shutterstock
Architect: DP Architects and Michael Wilford & Partners
Use: Entertainment complex
You might know Esplanade by its informal name: “The Durian.” That’s because the theater’s twin glass domes — made from more than 7,000 triangular aluminum sunshades — bear a striking resemblance to two halves of a durian, a strong-smelling fruit popular in the region.
Chong says the building’s signature spiky facade wasn’t part of the original design.
“It was initially conceived as two glass shells without shading, which drew much criticism for its insensitivity to the tropical climate, as it would create a greenhouse effect.” Thus, the iconic shades.
Marina Bay Sands
Diving into the dawn with Moshe Safdie
Architect: Moshe Safdie
Use: Hotel, casino and mall
“To me, this is more of an urban project than an architectural project, as it has transformed both the waterfront and downtown skyline,” Chong said.
National Gallery Singapore
If visitors look up they’ll see this impressive dome at the National Gallery Singapore, now home to the largest collection of modern Southeast Asian art. Credit: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Architect: StudioMilou and CPG Consultants
Use: Art museum
The National Gallery is a microcosm of what the city-state does best — blend the old with the new. In this case, the City Hall and Supreme Court buildings have been transformed into Singapore’s premiere art museum.
Chong said “the result is simple yet elegant.”
Sri Mariamman Temple
Sri Mariamman Temple is an important Hindu landmark in Singapore. Credit: Shutterstock
Opened: 1827 (then known as Mariamman Kovil or Kling Chapel)
Use: Place of worship
No list of Singapore buildings is complete without representation from the myriad religions that have found a foothold here.
One of the building’s most outstanding architectural features is its “gopuram” (entrance tower). The highly ornamented tower, festooned with colorful figures, is a well-known landmark in Singapore’s Chinatown.
CHIJMES has gone from religious to secular uses. Credit: Shutterstock
Architect: George Drumgoole Coleman
Use: Dining and nightlife venue
The oldest building in the complex is Caldwell House, which later became a Catholic convent for girls (the name CHIJMES relates to its name, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Middle Education School). It is now a peaceful oasis by day and a bustling entertainment center at night.
Fullerton Hotel Singapore
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore is located in another classic building from the colonial period. Credit: Shutterstock
Opened: 1928 (as site of Singapore’s General Post Office)
Architect: Major Percy Hubert Keys and Frank Dowdeswell
Here’s another impressive example of Singapore renovating old buildings. What is now the site of a luxury hotel was once a fort named after Robert Fullerton, the first governor of the Straits Settlements (a group of British territories). Fort Fullerton was torn down in the late 1870s and replaced with the Exchange Building. It, too, is gone.
The Exchange was replaced by the Fullerton Building in 1928, which served as the General Post Office. Myriad other uses followed, including its upper floors providing a home for the exclusive Singapore Club.
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall
Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall is another example of Singapore’s blending of old and new. Credit: Shutterstock
Opened: 1862 (theater building) and 1905 (concert hall building)
Architect: John Bennett (theater building) and Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan & Maclaren (concert hall building)
Current use: Theater and concert hall
Back in 2010, this national monument was closed for a four-year, $158 million Singapore ($116 million) makeover to restore its neoclassical facade and to install state-of-the art facilities, according to the theater. It reopened with a big splash in 2014.
The Interlace is a good example of Singpore’s status as a cutting-edge spot for urban housing. Credit: Shutterstock
Architect: Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and Buro Ole Scheeren
Arranged around eight courtyards, The Interlace is a distinctive residential complex formed of 31 stacked apartment blocks
5 bonus buildings
The Pinnacle@Duxton is a public housing estate in the Tanjong Pagar district of Singapore. Credit: Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
- Pinnacle @Duxton: This 50-story tower is the leading example of Singapore’s groundbreaking approach to residential structures, according to Chong, who noted that “the unique architectural design was a result of worldwide competition that attracted more than 200 entries.”
- Kampung Admiralty: Completed in 2017, the housing complex for senior citizens features a medical facility, pharmacy, community garden and more. It was named 2018’s World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival. This project “signifies a global shift from iconic architecture to one that is responsible and socially meaningful,” Chong said.
- Robinson Tower: More trees, please. This eco-friendly building in the Central Business District aims to create the “sustainable urbanism” that has become one of Singapore’s calling cards. The tower’s gravity-defying upper section appears to float above a verdant garden terrace.
The Golden Mile Complex (forefront right) The Golden Mile Tower stand along the Nicoll Highway in front of other buildings in Singapore. Credit: Darren Soh/Bloomberg/Getty Images
- Golden Mile Complex: Resembling a typewriter, this building is “probably the most daring mixed-use architectural design in 1970s,” Chong said, adding: “The dramatically terraced Brutalist building was originally imagined to be a prototype of an urban form, which could have been the blueprint for the entire tropical city.”
- Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum: Opened in 2007, this five-story temple is a great place to experience the influence of Buddhist culture in Singapore. The building, located in Chinatown, reflects the architectural style of China’s Tang dynasty.