The architecture of Singapore displays a range of influences and styles from different places and periods. These range from the eclectic styles and hybrid forms of the colonial period to the tendency of more contemporary architecture to incorporate trends from around the world. In both aesthetic and technological terms, Singapore architecture may be divided into the more traditional pre-World War II colonial period, and the largely modern post-war and post-colonial period.
Traditional architecture in Singapore includes vernacular Malay houses, local hybrid shophouses and black and white bungalows, a range of places of worship reflecting the ethnic and religious diversity of the city-state as well as colonial civic and commercial architecture in European Neoclassical, gothic, palladian and renaissance styles.
Modern architecture in Singapore began with the transitional Art Deco style and the arrival of reinforced concrete as a popular building material. International Style modern architecture was popular from the 1950s to the 1970s, especially in the public housing apartment blocks. The Brutalist style of architecture was also popular in the 1970s. These styles coincided with the great urban renewal and building boom periods in Singapore history, and consequently these are the most common architectural styles seen on the island. Some of the more architecturally significant works of this period include Pearl Bank Apartments by Tan Cheng Siong, and the People's Park Complex and Golden Mile Complex by Design Partnership.
Post-modern architecture experiments, in both the 'historicist' and deconstructivist modes made an appearance in the 1980s, though the style was relatively muted in its expression. Another architectural trend has been the rediscovery of Singapore's architectural heritage, leading to an active conservation programme as well as a booming industry in the restoration of historic buildings, often adapting them to new uses. A recent example is the National Museum of Singapore.
An important area of local innovation has involved seeking to develop a form of modern architecture appropriate to Singapore's tropical climate. This climatically sensitive approach to architecture traces its roots back to the vernacular Malay houses and through to experiments by British colonial architects and early local nationalist architects to devise an authentically local architecture using modern construction methods. In the 1980s and especially from the late 1990s, this has led to a proliferation of what might be called 'modern tropical' architecture, or neo-tropical architecture. It involves a return to clean and simple rectilinear modernist forms, coupled with an emphasis of lush landscaping and sleek sun-shading in the form of metal or wood louvres, instead of the modernist glass curtain wall, which admits and traps solar heat. These architectural efforts have taken on a new relevance and urgency due to concerns about global warming, climate change and environmental sustainability, especially given that air conditioning in buildings is one of the largest consumers of electricity in Singapore, which is mostly generated by fossil fuels.
From the late 1990s, like many other global cities and aspiring global cities, the Singapore government consciously launched a drive to develop 'iconic' landmarks in the city, as a means to strengthening the Singapore brand identity as well as to attract foreign tourists, skilled immigrants, investements and buzz. Several such landmark projects have since been developed, sometimes through open or closed architectural design competitions. These include the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay arts centre, the Supreme Court of Singapore, the new National Library, Singapore, the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort and the Singapore Flyer.
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“The two elements the traveler first captures in the big city are extrahuman architecture and furious rhythm. Geometry and anguish. At first glance, the rhythm may be confused with gaiety, but when you look more closely at the mechanism of social life and the painful slavery of both men and machines, you see that it is nothing but a kind of typical, empty anguish that makes even crime and gangs forgivable means of escape.”
—Federico García Lorca (18981936)