Typically situated in lush, wooded environments, and occasionally overlooking valleys, the black and white bungalows of Singapore are a legacy of the island’s colonial past. Built between 1903 and 1941, these stately residences were typically occupied by the well-heeled.
The Bungalows of early Singapore
An 1823 sketch of the town of Singapore, by Lieutenant Philip Jackson, depicts single-storey timber buildings with long verandahs gracing the shoreline. 1 These were mostly Anglo-Indian bungalows — a style introduced by British settlers. 2
By the mid-19th century, local features were added to the design of the aforementioned bungalow style. For instance, the structure was raised above the ground — a feature likely inspired by indigineous Malay architecture, where homes are propped up on stilts to keep interiors cool and floods at bay. 3
Architectural historian Julian Davison branded the union of both styles as the “Anglo-Malay bungalow”. The style is also known for its lofty ceilings, tiled roofs, deep overhanging eaves, classical columns on plinths as well as broad verandahs. 4
Both the Anglo-Indian bungalow and the Anglo-Malay house serve as the foundation of the black and white house.5
#trending in 1903: the genesis of Singapore’s black and whites
According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the black and white bungalow is known for its overhanging hipped roof, use of half timber construction, open ground floor as well as verandahs on the second storey with a carriage porch below. 6 Its name is a nod to the house’s dark timber beams and whitewashed walls.
Meanwhile, the Singapore Land Authority, which manages the bulk of Singapore’s remaining black and whites, describes the style as the “cross-pollination of indigenous Malayan and mock-tudor features”. 7
How did the trend of black and white living take flight?
This has been attributed to gifted architect, Regent Alfred John Bidwell (1869–1918) of Swan & Maclaren, who produced the pioneering design of the now defunct W. Patchitt House at Cluny Road in 1903. Davison describes the home as having had a half-timbered mock-Tudor upper storey constructed over a classically detailed masonry ground floor, as well as a soaring roof with two square towers at either end of its front elevation.
Renowned in London and well-versed in a wide array of architectural trends, Bidwell was prolific in Singapore for designing iconic structures such as the fabled Raffles Hotel. His Cluny Road home set the stage for other black and whites.
Demand for black and white houses spiked among the well-heeled of Singapore as a result of Bidwell’s revolutionary design. Top-ranking government officials, barristers and brokers were among those who bought up large plots of land and commissioned architectural practices like Bidwell’s Swan & Maclaren to design their residences. 8
Over time, other influences, such as tropical Edwardian, trickled into the architectural lexicon of Singapore’s black and white houses.
The colony’s black and white chapter concluded abruptly as a result of World War II. The last of Singapore’s black and whites were of the military black and white style which can be found in areas like Alexandra, Changi, Seletar and Sembawang. 9
The bungalow was introduced to Singapore and Malaya by the British in the 19th century when the British East India Company was in power in the region. The type of bungalow that was introduced to Singapore during the time of its founding was the Anglo-Indian style bungalow.
2 Julian Davison’s Black and White: The Singapore House, 1898-1941
3 Julian Davison’s Black and White: The Singapore House, 1898-1941
5 Julian Davison’s Black and White: The Singapore House, 1898-1941
8 Julian Davison’s Black and White: The Singapore House, 1898-1941
9 Black and White: Our Homemade Heritage, a publication by the Singapore Land Authority