Singapore's Black & White: A Brief History

Singapore's Black & White: A Brief History

Anne Reagan
Feb 24, 2012

When it comes to classic and well-known home styles there's the Brooklyn brownstone, the Manhattan Classic Six, the stylish California Modern Ranch and in Singapore, we have the Black and White.

Purists love the simplicity of the colonial-style homes done in minimalist white and black. The history of the black and white is quite simple: British colonists, sent to live abroad in Asia, built these homes with a nod to both the Arts and Crafts and Art Deco movements but with changes made to reflect the tropical setting. The age of the black and white spanned from approximately 1898 - 1941 during the time of British-occupied Singapore.

The homes were constructed to fit the equatorial lifestyle. An overhanging roof kept direct sun from entering the rooms but since floors were only one or two rooms deep, plenty of light was allowed to flow through the space. For the safety of the occupants, the private living spaces were placed on the second floor (back then even tigers roamed the island) and there were plenty of shuttered windows to allow for breezes and protect the home from sudden rain and wind storms. The open floor plan of the main level made it ideal for entertaining and to allow breeze to flow through the home.

After World War II, when the British troops lost (badly) to the Japanese, many of the black and whites were abandoned by their occupants and reoccupied by new Japanese commanders. Some Singaporeans are old enough to remember those days and rumor has it they refuse to live in such "haunted" homes. Many of these properties have since been restored and are highly coveted, particularly by expats: their unusually large square footage and surrounding property are the envy of apartment dwellers throughout the country. There may not be any tigers roaming wild in Singapore but the modern black and white home dweller still has the jungle at their footstep. It's quite common for homeowners to battle monkeys, snakes, bats, and monitor lizards as well as the more common problems of mold and insects.

If you're interested in learning more about this architectural style check out Black and White The Singapore House by Julian Davison.

(Image: Chan Sau Yan)

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