Architecture

The Istana Main Building

The Istana building is sited on top of a hill. Owing to the undulating nature of the land, the top of the hill was levelled in order to obtain a suitable plateau for the erection of the building. The building today stands at 140m above sea level. Before the high skyscrapers of the Central Business District blocked the view, it was possible to see the Indonesian Islands to the South and the hills of Johore to the North on a clear day.

The Istana is similar in architecture to many 18th Century neo-Palladian style buildings designed by British military engineers in India. It had a tropical layout like a Malay House, surrounded by verandahs, louvred windows and panelled doors, to promote cross ventilation, and an airy and cool interior. The central 3-storey high tower block dominates the building. This 'one-stage' tower is crowned with a slated mansard roof. It has dormer windows and is embellished with Corinthian pilaster and beautiful cornices. The 2-storey side wings are ornamented with Ionic colonnades at the second storey and Doric colonnades at the first storey. A pediment and portico terminate the colonnades at both ends.

The Moongate at Sri Temasek

The Sri Temasek is a typical 19th century bungalow. Built in 1869, it was the Colonial Secretary's residence. It was designated as the Prime Minister’s official residence after Singapore became an independent nation.

The uniqueness of this building lies in its intricate timber arcade which shows a mixture of eastern and western decorative motifs.  Of particular interest is the Moon Gate situated on the second level.  The moon gate is a typical Chinese feature located to define an entrance and screen, separating the common verandahs and the private space.  The white Moon Gate at Sri Temasek was made of chengal, teak and meranti. There are no records of how it came to be part of the Sri Temasek. It is only known that the Moon Gate was designed and built by William Swaffield, who was a pre-war Comptroller of Government House as well as a professional furniture designer.

Villa

The Villa, built in 1908 as the official residence of Aide-De-Camp, was later made the Private Secretary's bungalow in 1916. It then became the Attorney-General's House in 1958.  It is in the "black and white" bungalow style typical of that period.

The Villa was used to accommodate state visitors in the earlier days of Singapore’s independence, until end 1984.  Among its many illustrious guests were Premier Deng Xiaoping of the People’s Republic of China, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Prime Minister Elliot Trudeau of Canada.

Military Guardroom

The Military Guard Room, a small building sited along the inward road after the Centre Gate, was built in the early 1900s. Its facade consists of an arcade of five arches characteristic of the "hexastyle" architecture.  It is used by the ceremonial guards when not performing sentry duties.