Some time back, all anyone in Singapore could talk about was the [email protected] saga. Fingers were pointed, shots were taken, and the brouhaha only subsided when it was concluded that the fate of [email protected] would subsequently be determined by a ministerial committee.
Fast forward a few months later, and the ministerial committee has spoken. In a report which was released two days ago, the committee outlined the three available options:
- Retain the property and gazette it for conservation, or as a National Monument
- Retain the dining room and demolish the rest of the property
- Fully demolish the property, with the understanding that this “could result in the loss of a historically significant property”
In its report, the Ministerial Committee also details the history of [email protected], including nuggets of information about its architectural style.
[email protected]: A brief history
Built in 1898, [email protected] was one of a pair of bungalows. The property was nicknamed “Castor” (and its “twin” at 40 Oxley Road, “Pollux”), referencing twin brothers in Roman mythology. After being bought and sold multiple times, “Castor” was demolished, and redeveloped into three lots.
When the Japanese occupied Singapore between 1942 and 1945, they turned the properties along Oxley Road into comfort houses. When the war was over, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew rented 38 Oxley Road together with his wife, Kwa Geok Choo. At that point in time, they paid 80 Straits dollars per month as rent.
By 1965, Lee Kwan Yew and Kwa Geok Choo decided to buy [email protected] Security had became a major concern; in a bid to fortify the property against assassination attempts and other threats, the couple added steel gates, additional brick walls and bullet-proof windows. After a police constable was shot dead at the back of the house in the 1960s, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew wanted to secure the area, and did so by absorbing another house into the property.
The unique architectural style of [email protected]
The NHB report bills [email protected] as an “Early Style” bungalow which borrows from both the East and West. While the main structure of the house is reminiscent of a traditional Anglo-Indian bungalow, tweaks include a raised-floor construction, verandahs and overhanging roof eaves. Because it’s located on a slope, the house features a single storey in front, and expands to two storeys at the back.
In accommodating Singapore’s warm climate, arched openings ventilate the basement space, and an additional jack roof lets hot air rise and escape. Design-wise, [email protected] comes with a myriad of features which were “popular in bungalows of its time”; these include full-length French windows, fretted timber balusters, classical columns, pilasters and plinths, and more.
What [email protected] says about the late Lee Kwan Yew
In its report, the Ministerial Committee states that [email protected] has gone through several additions and alterations, but still has its “original form and architectural character” intact.
Here’s how the Ministerial Committee puts it: “As the home of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, 38 Oxley Road stands for the values that he and his wife exemplified both in their public and private lives – frugality and discipline in particular. The architectural simplicity of the house is reflective of the times, the site it sits on, as well as the values of its historic occupants.”
Do you think the government should retain the entire property, retain the dining room, or demolish everything altogether? Let us know in the comments below!
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