Windows into the past: where Percival and a President once resided

11 05 2016

A rare opportunity to have a look inside the former Command House came over the weekend when it was opened to the public. Organised by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) as part of their Celebrating Places and Memories photo contest, the open house, unlike a previous visit I had previously arranged, allowed me the freedom to roam through the interior of the beautifully restored former residence, the last occupant of which would have been Mr. Ong Teng Cheong in his capacity as the President of the Republic of Singapore.

A window into a rather interesting past.

A window into a rather interesting past.

Now in use as the UBS Business University, the house has had a colourful past that goes far back beyond its use by the Republic’s Head of State, much of which can be found in a previous post: The very grand house that Brewer built. Built in 1938 in a style influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, it is one of the grander residences built by Singapore’s colonial masters. As a replacement for Flagstaff House, the official residence of the GOC, Malaya’s chief military officer, it was to see a string of top military commanders take up residence, the last leaving at the point of the British pullout in 1971. This was however not before the third GOC to be accommodated, Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival, put all delusions the British may had held of their invincibility to an abrupt end  in a conference room in Bukit Timah one February’s afternoon in 1942.

As Flagstaff House in 1957, when it housed the most senior British Military Commander in the Far East (online at the Royal Green Jackets and Former Regiments Photographic History pages).

The pullout, by which time the house had already taken on the name Command House, saw ownership pass on to the Government of Singapore. The house first became the official residence of the Speaker of Parliament. Only one Speaker, Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng,  would use it. Two of Dr Yeoh’s successors declined the use of the house before renovations to the Istana prompted its temporary use as the official residence of the President from 1996 to 1998.

The road up to the former Command House.

The guardhouse on the road up to the former Command House.

The guardhouse in 1957 (online at the Royal Green Jackets and Former Regiments Photographic History pages).

Much of what we see of the house today, would be from its days as the President’s residence. Even with the interventions made by its tenant since 2007, Swiss based financial services company, UBS, for use as a place of instruction, much of the grandeur and dignity the house must held had during the days of the President, is still very much in evidence.

A view from the second floor.

A view from the second floor.

The entrance hallway, which one steps into entering the house, is dominated by a grand staircase coloured by the earthy hues the wood of its wall and balustrade panels that are thought to have been added in during its time as the President’s house. The hallway opens up on either side to what would have been a verandah, typically seen in the many examples of colonial architecture adapted  for the hot and steamy tropics, that provide access, ventilation and insulation to the rooms found in each of the house’s two wings. Two large rooms dominate each wing and that would have been where the house’s dining and reception areas would have been arranged.

The grand staircase.

The grand staircase.

A large room that may originally have served as a dining room.

A large room that may originally have served as a dining room.


Another room in its wings.

A room at the end of one of its wings.

A room at the end of one of its wings.

The verandah in the wing.

The lower floor verandah in the east wing.

One of the large rooms found in the wings.

One of the large rooms found in the wings.

On the right side of  the staircase, a door separates what is intended to be seen from the unseen – spaces used by hired help that is hidden on both levels at the back of the house. The spaces, connected between floors by a narrow staircase, would have had access to kitchens, larders, cleaning and maintenance stores and the servants quarters, housed in the annexes and in separate buildings at the back of the main building and on the terrace below.

The servant's staircase.

The servant’s staircase.

A view down the servant's staircase.

A view down the servant’s staircase.

A garage on the lower terrace.

A garage on the lower terrace.

Buildings that could have served as servant's quarters on the lower terrace.

Buildings that could have served as servant’s quarters on the lower terrace.

The back of the house - an external staircase has been added at each wing for escape purposes.

The back of the house – an external staircase has been added at each wing for escape purposes.

At the top of the grand staircase, the most beautifully furnished of the house’s spaces, a very homely looking lounge, comes into sight. Arranged in the space above the house’s porch,  three of the space’s furniture – a television cabinet and two chests, are thought to have survived from the days of the President. As with the hallway below, access to the rooms in each wing, is provided by a what would have been a verandah that is now enclosed by windows. The President’s private rooms, a study, a walk-in wardrobe and a bedroom, as I understand it, were located in the east wing. The west wing on the other hand would have been where a guest room and a children’s bedroom would have been found.

The lounge area.

The lounge area.

A view out the front windows.

A view out the front windows.

A window at the side of the lounge.

A window at the side of the lounge.

A view down the grand staircase.

A view down the grand staircase.

The balcony outside the former President's bedroom.

The balcony outside the former President’s bedroom.

The verandah on the upper floor.

What would have been a verandah on the upper floor.

What would have been the President's bedroom.

What would have been the President’s bedroom.

A view from the bedroom into the verandah.

A view from the bedroom into the verandah.

The view through one of its original windows.

The view through one of its original windows.

Exposed brickwork on its arches and voussoirs is clearly evident in the house. It is a feature that Frank W. Brewer employed in his Arts and Crafts influenced designs.

Exposed brickwork on its arches and voussoirs is clearly evident in the house. It is a feature that Frank W. Brewer employed in his Arts and Crafts influenced designs.

More exposed brickwork.

More exposed brickwork.


Besides the former Command House open house, the will be open houses at two more venues that SLA is holding this month. One is the regular public holiday open house at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on Vesak Day. The second will be at old Kallang Airport on Sunday (15 October 2016) from 10 am to 1 pm. The open houses and the Celebrating Places and Memories photo contest (details here) are being held to create awareness and appreciation of State Buildings. Details on how to register for the Old Kallang Ariport open house can be found in this post on SLA’s Facebook Page. More information on the contest and State Buildings can also be found in this post: Celebrating Places and Memories – a photo contest by SLA.



Celebrating Places and Memories – a photo contest by SLA

29 04 2016

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the agency that oversees the management of State Land and Property in Singapore will be opening Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to the public on Labour Day, 1 May 2016. In conjunction with this, SLA will also be launching a photo contest themed “Celebrating Places and Memories”.

A celebration of space and memory at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in its days of glory.

The contest, for which members of the public are encouraged to share their memories of State properties such as the former railway station, will run from 1 May to 12 June 2016. Intended to create greater awareness and appreciation of State buildings, many of which are rich in heritage and character, there will be two contest categories: Open and Instagram.

Light streaming through a former barrack block at the former Tanglin Barracks at Loewen Road.

The Open category will offer top 3 cash prizes of $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000, with 10 merit prizes each worth $250. 10 prizes will be awarded for the Instagram of $200 each.

Windows into a time forgotten.

Windows into the past – Old Admiralty House.

Submissions may involve any State property, and participants will be directed to the Land query service on Onemap to confirm that the property belongs to the State. A caption (of 50 words or less) should accompany each submission, stating why the State land or building holds significant meaning to the participant. Bonus points will also be awarded for Open category submissions that are also uploaded on SLA’s one Historical Map app.

Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road.

Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road.

Submissions may be made from 1 May onwards. For the Open category, this should be emailed to For Instagram, intended entries should include the hashtag #SLAplacesandmemories. Further details on the contest will be available on the SLA contest microsite.

The last E&O Express train to depart from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, seen at Bukit Timah Railway Station in June 2011.

Open Houses at State Property:

Note: Other than the open house at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station (another will be held on Vesak Day, 21 May 2016), SLA will hold open houses at two other properties to allow would be participants of the photo contest to photograph them.

These will be at the very grand former Command House , now the UBS Business University campus at 17 Kheam Hock Road on 7 and 8 May from 10 am to 1 pm, and parts of Old Kallang Airport on 15 May from 10 am to 1 pm.  Pre-registration is required.

Do look out for the announcement and further information that will be posted on the SLA’s Facebook Page.

(For information relating to registration for the Command House open house, kindly visit this link)

A non-exhaustive list of State Land and Buildings for which submissions are encouraged:
1 Bukit Timah Railway Station including Truss Bridge
2 Alkaff Mansion (10 Telok Blangah Green)
3 The Grandstand (200 Turf Club Road)
4 Johore Battery (27 Cosford Road)
5 Former Bukit Timah Fire Station (260 Upper Bukit Timah Road)
6 Former Admiralty House (345 Old Nelson Road)
7 Old Kallang Airport (19 Old Airport Road)
8 Red Dot Museum (28 Maxwell Road)
9 Seletar Black & White houses (inside former Seletar airbase)
10 Tanglin Village (Dempsey Road, Loewen and Minden Road)
11 Phoenix Park (within Kay Siang and Tanglin Road)
12 Raintr3 Hotel (33 Hendon Road)
13 Dragon Kilns (85 and 97L Lorong Tawas)
14 Bukit Timah Saddle Club (51 Fairways Drive)
15 Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
16 Former Central Police Station (99 Beach Road)
17 Former British Council Branch Office & Training Centre (362 Holland Road)
18 Former Watch Tower (50 Tanjong Rhu Place)
19 Former Da Qiao Primary School (10 Ang Mo Kio Street 54)
20 Community Use Site @ Junction of Tanjong Rhu View & Rhu Cross (popular community use site)
21 Community Use Site along Tuas South Ave 3 (popular community use site)
22 Viaduct @ Commonwealth Ave West (space for street art)
23 Shop houses at 14-38 Orchard Road
24 Former Station HQ of the Royal Air Force Base and Barracks Blocks for RAF (179 & 450 Piccadilly Road)
25 Ascott centre for excellence (2 Anthony Road)
26 BNP Paribus Training Centre (34 & 35 Hendon Road)
27 AXA University Asia Pacific Campus (3 Ladyhill Road)
28 UBS Business University (17 Kheam Hock Road)
29 La Salle College of Arts Campus (9 Winstedt Road)
30 Alexandra Park ( Winchester Rd & Canterbury Rd)
31 Adam Park (preferably 7, 8 & 11 Adam Park)
32 Goodwood Hill (preferably 4A, 5C/D, 15 Goodwood Hill)
33 Tudor Court (123 – 145 Tanglin Road)

Also at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station:

‘WOMEN: New Portraits’, an exhibition by Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz, through the crowd of reporters and photographers at the ArtScience Museum.

Annie Leibovitz, seen through the crowd of reporters and photographers in Singapore in 2014.

‘WOMEN: New Portraits’, an exhibition of newly commissioned photographs by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz feature women of outstanding achievement. Commissioned by UBS, the exhibition will be open to the public from 29 April 2016 to 22 May 2016 at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station’s Main Hall, a stop that is part of a 10-city global tour.  Admission is free. Opening hours for the exhibition, including the day of the Open House, is on Monday to Sunday from 10am – 6pm, except for Fridays when the exhibition hours is extended to 8pm. More information is available at

Gardens of enchantment

7 07 2012

Fresh from my visit to the ‘Enchanted Garden‘, I found myself visiting what has to be several gardens of enchantment – exquisite garden displays that I got a peek at during a media preview of the fourth edition of what had to be the top garden and flower show in Asia – the biennial Singapore Garden Festival (SGF). The event which opens today at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, will be held from 7 to 15 July 2012, bringing together some 39 designers from 19 countries who have produced some exquisite garden and flower designs and displays and is expected to draw some 300,000 visitors over the nine-day period.

Visitors to the 4th edition of the Singapore Garden Festival will get to have a feel of some exquisitely designed gardens of enchantment.

The draw of the exhibition must certainly be the experience on Level 6 where 37 masterpieces, the most since the Festival started in 2006 – 15 Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens and 15 Floral Windows to the World, and seven Balcony Garden displays are displayed, featuring both local and international garden designers – 80 percent of whom are making their debut appearance.

Some 37 masterpieces are on display on Level 6 including this show garden in the Landscape category – the work of Sarah Eberle of the UK entitled ‘Continental Drift’ which investigates natural habitats and varying landscapes around the world.

The elevator all dressed up in a garden theme – with artificial turf on its floor, was perhaps a sign of what was to come – stepping out it is the land of fairy tales that greets the visitor – the walkway leading to the exhibition has been dressed up with a fairytale castle themed entrance display with 5-metre tall topiary arches, animal-shaped topiaries, pixies and frog soldiers peeking out from colourful flowering plants and simulated castle walls decorated with climbing plants.

Even the elevator is dressed up for the event.

A fairy tale world welcomes the visitor on Level 6.

One of the winning Fantasy show gardens does in fact incorporate a fairy-tale theme – ‘Garden of Tales’ which is the creation of award-winning local designer Damian Tang which was not only a Gold Medal winner but was also named as the Best of Show for the Fantasy Category. It was one of two that I was drawn to – the other being ‘Luminescent Perspective’ by John Cullen … ones that will certainly leave the visitor enchanted. The ‘Garden of Tales’ inspired by children’s love of fairy tales, is one that through the clever use of frames into each of its five areas – scenes each with a fairy-tale to discover, draws one into it – well described in the fact sheet as “tempting us to peek into different realms of magic, mystery and wonder”. The garden features a one-thousand year old olive tree which was specially shipped in from Spain in a refrigerated shipping container – we were told that the roots of the tree were over two metres wide and the tree almost cold not fit into the container.

I was drawn into the ‘Garden of Tales’ through windows into each of the five scenes that depict scenes from popular fairy-tales.

A scene from Alice in Wonderland.

And one from Little Red Riding Hood.

The creator Damian Tang posing for a photograph.

John Cullen’s ‘Luminescent Perspective’ is one that celebrates the ever-changing nature of gardens and features a lighting sequence that every two minutes will take visitors through the changes in light through the day – from dawn to dusk. The garden which picked up the Gold and People’s Choice Award also features a rotating carousel and was my personal favourite – being one that welcomes the visitor in – one in the word of the designer in which children can be children in.

John Cullen’s ‘Luminescent Perspective’.

Another display which has lighting effects – as well as sound and movement, is New Zealand’s Danny Kamo’s and Andy Ellis’ ‘Ruaumoko’. The Fantasy Show Garden is named after the Maori god of earthquakes – Ruaumoko – the unborn son of Rangi (Sky Father) and Papa (Earth Mother) whose movements in his mother’s womb is said in Maori mythology to be felt as earthquakes across the world. It features an earthquake like movement that lasts 40 seconds – the length of the large shock that hit the designers’ home city of Christchurch in February 2011. The garden picked up a Gold Medal for SGF.

An image of Ruaumoko at Danny Kamo’s and Andy Ellis’ fantasy themed garden.

An eye-catching display in the Floral Windows to the World Category is the ‘Floral Kaleidoscope’ designed by Harijanto Setiawan which picked up a Gold Medal as well as being named the Best of Show for the category. I loved kaleidoscopes as a child and seeing the display has certainly rekindled my fascination for kaleidoscopes. The display is a celebration of life and the never end change in nature.

The kaleidoscope (in the window below) makes use of a reflection of an illuminated floral display on the ceiling.

A look into the kaleidoscope.

A new and interesting category at this year’s festival is the Balcony Gardens competition. This will feature displays that are very appropriate for us in Singapore – displays that creatively make use of 3 metre by 3 metre spaces. Out of seven entries, there were two Gold Medal winners – Toh Lee Hua and Veera Sekaran. Toh Lee Hua’s ‘A Breath of the Wind’ – the Best of Show winner, takes city-dwellers’ busy lifestyles and creates a green space in an urban environment that requires minimum upkeep.

Toh Lee Hua’s ‘A Breath of the Wind’ uses neat displays of terrariums which require little maintenance.

Veera Sekaran’s ‘Living Green Balcony’.

On the evidence of what I had a quick glance at, there is a lot more visual treats that’s there to discover and I would, if I could, have spent the entire day walking around the displays on level 6 (there is more to see on level 4 which I have not yet seen) and I would certainly be back for more over the next nine days. Tickets for the show are available at the ticketing kiosks located at level 3 of the Suntec Convention Centre during the show period. Ticket Prices are S$10 (Weekdays – Monday to Friday) and S$14 (Weekends – Saturday and Sunday) for adults and S$5 / S$8 for children, students and senior citizens (children under 0.9 metres in height go in free). Family Tickets (2 Adults and 3 Children) are also available at S$20 (weekdays) and S$38 (weekends).

Gold Medal winner Andrew Seccull’s ‘Mazu’s Garden’ is set on a platform that represents a floating house – with many elements that relate to the sea – a garden for the protector of fisherman in Chinese belief, Mazu, to meditate.

The are a lot more visual treats to discover beyond the winning entries.

Visitors to the show can also participate in the SGF “Colours” photography competition which offers great prizes that include a Sony Nex-F3 camera. Participants can take a photo they feel best depicts the theme “Colours” and submit it through Singapore Garden Festival’s Facebook page The public can then vote for their favourite photo on the Facebook page’s contest tab. A range of prizes are up for grabs for both participants and voters. The Festival is organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) and its key partners, the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Orchid Society of Southeast Asia (OSSEA), Singapore Gardening Society and Singapore Tourism Board (STB). For more information, please visit the Singapore Garden Festival website or Facebook page.

All photographs accompanying this post have been taken using a Sony α57 (SLT-A57) DSLR camera.