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Art Deco: These Four Buildings Reflect Singapore’s Modern Sensibility
by: The Beat Asia
September 09, 2022
Art Deco, also known as Art Moderne, was a term coined and popularised by art historian and critic Bevis Hillier in the 1960s. Although Art Deco concerned the arts and architecture of the '20s to '30s, the term wouldn't really emerge until decades later thanks to Hillier's naming.
Art Deco has been described by Singaporean heritage research non-profit Docomomo as a catch-all term for the transformations in disciplines like visual arts, architecture, and design. It's usually characterised by sleek and defined geometric forms and shapes, as well as vivid colours and ornamentations.
"In colonial Singapore, the Art Deco style captured the commercial vibrancy and cosmopolitan modernity of Singapore as a major port city," Docomomo said.
In Singapore, Art Deco structures still abound, and they serve as captivating punctuations to the city-state's fast-tracking urbanism and glorious contemporary and futuristic architecture. Witnesses of a bygone era, these four buildings prove that Art Deco, although no longer as popular as it once was, isn't dead.
The Kallang Airport is considered Singapore’s "first purpose-built civilian aerodrome" to accommodate land and sea planes. The airport is iconic thanks to its main terminal building, which has a control tower and two Art Deco-style side blocks, according to the government's heritage portal Roots. The Paya Lebar Airport’s opening saw the Kallang Airport’s closure in 1955 and its main terminal was used to house the Public Works Department (PWD) and People's Association (PA). The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has plans to redevelop the iconic structure.
Location: Kallang Airport, 9 Kallang Airport Way, Singapore
Former Cathay Building
Characterised by its glass architecture, the former Cathay Building, now known as The Cathay, is the city-state's first skyscraper and fully air-conditioned cinema, as per Roots. Its construction was led and financed by the founders of Cathay Organisation, businesswoman and philanthropist Loke Yew and her son Loke Wan Tho, and its Art Deco design was masterminded by Frank W. Brewer. During World War II, the building was occupied by the British administration and military; due to its sturdiness, it also served as a shelter of civilians to protect themselves from the Japanese air raids.
Location: Cathay Building, 2 Handy Road, Singapore
The Asia Insurance Building
This 18-floor Art Deco building opened in 1955, making it one of the tallest buildings in Asia. It used to be the base of offices of local firm Asia Insurance Company and was designed by architect Ng Keng Siang. According to Roots, its facade was influenced by "various architectural styles, particularly that of the Modern Movement." It was bought by the Ascott Group in 2006 and its original design was retained, including its structure and facade. According to the National Library Board, the Ascott Group spent S$60 million to restore the building. It is now called the Ascott Raffles Place, known for its swanky, luxury pads.
Location: Asia Insurance Building, 2 Finlayson Green, Singapore
Tiong Bahru is a quaint neighbourhood in Singapore that has become one of the favourite spots of hip and cool locals and tourists. Despite being one of the world's coolest neighbourhoods, Tiong Bahru has humble beginnings. As per Roots, the community used to be a swamp land before it was developed by the Singapore Improvement Trust in the '30s to a housing estate. It's famous for its endearing Art Deco blocks that marry the old with the contemporary, brimming with third-wave cafes, shops, restaurants, art, markets, and more.
Location: Tiong Bahru neighbourhood
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