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The Arts House

The Arts House (50)

Designed and built in 1827 as a private residence, this building was later used mainly for Parliament but also as an assembly and courthouse until 1999. Therefore, it is also known as the Old House of Parliament and is the oldest government building in Singapore still standing.

After a rather difficult restoration project, it reopened its doors in May 2004 as the home of The Arts House. It is a multidisciplinary space where you can enjoy art exhibitions, concerts, theatre, dance, film festivals, and fashion shows as well as various other forms of entertainment. This space develops and promotes local artists while giving any Singaporean access to their artwork.

This building’s intelligent design combines the charm of colonial architecture with the intimacy of a private residence. It is interesting to note that it has always kept the word “House” in its name, but of course that is how this building began.  That is also the impression it will give you as you enter and walk around its many rooms. You’ll notice that the rooms all have names linked to their historical heritage. The blue room, for example, once used as a lounge by members of parliament, got its name from the fact that it was once painted blue. You will also find a living room with comfortable sofas and even a grand piano.  

The construction of this building dates from the early years of modern Singapore. The work was completed in 1827 and designed by George Coleman Drumgold for the Scottish merchant John Maxwell.  Before the merchant even moved here, however, the government had already decided to use the building for other purposes. To this end, the government paid John Maxwell a rent of 500 rupees per month.  

At first the building stood out for its neo-Palladian style but the several annexes added in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gave it the Victorian style you admire today. In 1939 the Supreme Court was moved to another location and the building was used as a government warehouse. During the Japanese occupation of World War II, it even housed a social welfare centre. Then, in 1954, after being remodelled by a Public Works Department architect, it was officially declared the House of the Assembly, for in August 1965, after Singapore's independence, the House of Parliament moved here. As you can see, this structure is steeped in history.  It even boasts thirteenth century archaeological findings in its foundations, discovered during its 1989 renovation.

Another important detail is the bronze elephant you see on the outside. It was a gift from King Chulalongkorn or King Rama V of the Kingdom of Siam, after his stay in 1871.

Check out the list of events taking place here but also be sure not to miss its Corridor of Time:  an exhibition that relives all the major historical moments that have taken place in this House over the years, declared a national monument on 14 February 1992.

As you’ve already seen, the former House of Parliament or the Current House of Arts provides interesting experiences in unique surroundings. A final recommendation: dinner at the 1827 Thai Restaurant or a snack at Café Society are the best way to end your visit.

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