The Great Guild to Singapore’s Shophouses

The modern-conservation shophouse in Singapore has over time turned into a emblem of wealth.  Enshrine with some of the most most nostalgic history in Singapore’s past, it is a highly coveted trophy by the rich. 

What exactly is a conservation shophouse in Singapore and why is it such a prized asset?  

Lets see if we can uncover some of the mysticism that surrounds this piece of Real Estate.

Vision of Conservation

There’s a significant role for URA and development in Singapore’s Conservation of its heritage. 

They are tasks to preserve and provide visual interest and diversity to our urban environment. The conservation of these structures and areas is testimony to Singapore’s rich cultural, historical, and architectural heritage. 

Our historic structures also contribute to the distinct character and identity of our city by preserving and restoring them. They give us a sense of history and memory even as we move into the future.

Singapore shophouse kai hub

4 Main groups of conservation areas are:

  • The Historic Districts of Boat Quay, Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India.

The Historic Districts are where the complete building should be preserved. It is acceptable for people to change the use of the building for either residential or commercial objectives. Preservation is taken quite seriously in these areas. 

  • The Residential Historic Districts of Blair Plain, Cairnhill and Emerald Hill.

The Residential Historic Districts are for mainly residential use and are generally smaller-scale. To make the terrace houses more appealing and practical for their owners, it is lawful to add an extension that is lower than the roof of the main part. 

  • The Secondary Settlements of Balestier, Beach Road, Geylang, Jalan Besar, Jalan Jurong Kechil, Joo Chiat, Mount Sophia, River Valley, Tanjong Katong,Upper Circular Road and Tiong Bahru.

In the Secondary Settlements, conservation is done on the streetscape level since the maintained buildings are located close to new developments. Owners in these areas can decide to save the entire building or construct a new extension up to the highest height allowed in the area. 

  • The Bungalow Areas of the Good Class Bungalow Areas and Fringe (Chatsworth Park Conservation Area, Holland Park/Ridout Road Conservation Area and Nassim Road/Whitehouse Park Conservation Area) and the Mountbatten Road Conservation Area.

The conservation of bungalows is done selectively since they display the architectural styles of different points in time.

They are situated in an area where construction of apartments or condos is permitted, they can be split into separate apartments or converted into a club. 

The owner can choose to preserve the entire structure, as well as the outhouse, or just the main building to meet their requirements and maximize land utilization.

What is a shop house?

In 1973, the Preservation of Monuments Board first safeguarded eight buildings as national monuments.

Southeast Asia’s shophouses are defined by their recognisable architectural traits from the colonial era. 

Many shophouses were built from the 19th century through the early 20th century and were demolished during the 20th century redevelopment, but some were preserved. 

They are now considered to be excellent examples of Southeastern Asian architecture from that time period. Shophouses can be found in other parts of the world, including parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

A shophouse is a distinctive structure. It is two to three stories tall, with a narrow face and a long length. The bottom floor is designed to accommodate a commercial enterprise such as a shop, a restaurant, or a light manufacturing firm, while the upper floors are used for residential purposes and some areas are entirely commercial.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has gazetted about 8700 buildings in Singapore as Conservation Properties.

The buildings were erected during different time periods, and each one has a unique façade design. 

In 2013, URA Singapore released a report titled Future Land Use in Singapore. The topic of conservation has a long and interesting history.

The Preservation of Monuments Board initiated the preservation of Singapore’s significant landmarks and sites in the early stages. In 1973, the Preservation of Monuments Board was responsible for preserving some of Singapore’s significant landmarks and sites.

Principles of Conservation

The external shell of a building is just part of what is preserved with conservation. We gain a visual and physical link to Singapore’s history through our historic buildings and districts. In our ever-evolving urban environment, we must retain the inherent spirit and ambiance of these historic structures as much as possible. Management and conservation of buildings requires an understanding of their architectural structure as well as practice.

In order to be conserved, buildings must follow our conservation principles. The “3Rs” should be applied in heritage restoration projects by owners, architects, engineers, and contractors to ensure quality results. These principles apply no matter how large or how small the historic building is.

3 Rs

Maximumum Retention

Sensitive Restoration

Careful Repair

The 3R principle is enforced by adhering to the principle.

For example, the Former Asia Insurance Building (now The Ascott Raffles Place), at Finlayson Green, was honoured with the Architectural Heritage Award in 2009 for its fine restoration, which adhered to the ‘3R’ standards.

Before the restoration project began, extensive research was conducted on the skyscraper’s original design, in order to ensure that the restoration and extension work would be consistent in spirit and design. We relied on archival drawings and photographic records, carried out site investigations, and performed a detailed site survey in order to assess the condition of the original travertine façade.

The original travertine and Nero Portaro marble cladding was restored to its original shine by carefully repairing and consolidating them. To preserve the building’s slender windows, the windows were also retained and reglazed with high-performance glass for improved sound insulation for hotel rooms. An old brass mail chute from the 1950s was re-used for current purposes.

This old office building has been reinvented and upgraded to meet modern needs as a hotel for the Ascott group, while maintaining its rich heritage value, adhering to the 3R principle.

The book “Objectives, Principles and Standards for Preservation and Conservation” explains the 3R principle in detail.

Singapore shophouse kai hub

Singapore Shophouse

The shophouse, a historical source of delight and nostalgia, is a common architectural and historic feature of Singapore. In South East Asia, shophouses are found in many historic cities. They are small, terraced houses with a five-foot pedestrian walkway at the front. Shophouses were built between the 1840s and 1960s and were the mainstay of the city’s urban fabric prior to World War II as well as in other parts of Singapore. 

These structures are usually two to three storeys high, constructed with party walls that are shared by the adjacent units. As a result, shophouses make up the majority of our conservation sites. Our preservation guidelines have been carefully followed to ensure the preservation of these heritage shophouses.

The NUS Baba House: The richness of Straits-Chinese architecture has been restored.  It is an example of an architectural beauty that has been carefully conserved by the URA to illustrate conservation best practices. It is one of the last few Straits-Chinese houses in Singapore that has not been tampered with.

In addition to restoring the building’s façade, Baba House showcases the 1920s domestic culture of the Straits Chinese community in Singapore. Visitors are welcomed to the house by wooden half doors, a common cross-cultural feature in Singapore’s historic homes.

The main hall features intricate and intricately carved floor-to-ceiling screens and partitions.

A well-restored shophouse can provide visual interest to our urban landscape and at the same time remind us of how these shophouses are a manifestation of Singapore’s unique cultures and aesthetic tastes.

Parts of a shophouse kai hub

Main Elements of a shophouse

Party Walls

These are the walls that divide up one shophouse from another.

Timer Structural Members

This includes the primary and secondary timber beams that support the floors, as well as the floorboards and rafters keeping up the roof.


This is the exposed courtyard that allows natural lighting and ventilation to enter the shophouse.

Rear Court

This is the open courtyard situated at the back of the shophouse, usually used for practical purposes such as the kitchen and toilet.

Timber Windows

In shophouses designed in the French or Casement style, the windows are made with strong timber frames.

These windows, as well as their infill panels, timber shutters, or jalousies, are not allowed to be changed.

Timber Stairway

A timber staircase is usually found in shophouses. Any engravings or designs on them must be preserved.

Front Façade

The front façade of shophouses often follows a common appearance.  Facades from different eras will have different designs congruent with its architectural times.

The Upper Floor 

of the shophouse protrudes five feet over the walkway, forming a sheltered passageway for people. 

The Columns 

offer support to the higher levels and are situated at the building’s front. This five-feet wide walkway shields people from the sun and rain and has been part of the Town Plan for Singapore since the era of Sir Stamford Raffles. 

The Roof 

is a component of the external design of the shophouse and cannot be altered. Anyone who desires to install an air conditioning unit must first receive authorization from the government before any operations can be executed.

Types of Shophouse

Early Shophouse Style(1840-1900)

This kind of architecture is generally characterized by a low, squat two-level structure with one or two windows in the upper wall surface. The square windows and entrances are framed with timber and have sliding doors, panels, or louvre panels to let in air.

First Transitional Shophouse Style 

Wooden frames are generally used for windows and doors, although it is becoming more frequent to find small windows included in the shutters. On higher levels of the house, there are usually two windows and the window tops have either a flat arch shape or a semi-circular design. Between windows, small air vents are typically square or diamond-shaped.

Late Shophouse Style (1900-1940) 

This style is particularly remarkable due to its incorporation of a range of adornments, such as mouldings, pilasters, intricately carved wood, and glazed tiles from overseas. The design and artistry of this style of architecture demonstrates a successful blend of Eastern and Western influences.

Second Transitional Shophouse Style 

Designers and builders took a minimalist approach to the decoration of this particular style, with only the simplest of details remaining. Late style embellishments, like intricate transom carvings and brightly-colored ceramic tiles, were paired with Art Deco features like cross-braced glass windows and basic geometric balustrades.

Art Deco Shophouse Style (1930s-1960s) 

This style of architecture is characterized by its basic geometric patterns on the exterior walls and its adaptation of traditional motifs like capitals, arches, and keystones in a streamlined manner.

Modern Shophouse Style (1950s-1960s)

This structure is remarkable due to its incorporation of slim concrete protrusions and air vents into the building’s exterior, which are both practical and aesthetically pleasing. The windows are in perfect harmony with the facade’s geometric patterns.

Shophouse Kai Hub

Final Note

The scarcity and the uniqueness of each of these shophouses presence itself as an investment unmatched by any other.  It is no wonder prices have been sky rocketing in the recent years.   

Because who doesn’t want to own a piece of Singapore’s Rich architectural history.  These bits of out history is after all, priceless?  

Contact us at Kai Hub if you like some help navigating through an investment in Singapore’s Shophouses.  We’d love to help!

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