Former Alexandra Barracks was constructed in the early 1900s to defend the naval outpost in Singapore and protect British Far East interests. Named after Princess Alexandra, wife of then Prince Wales and later King Edward VII, the barracks complex included military facilities on the east of Alexandra Road and officers’ accommodation to the west at Alexandra Park.
The military estate at Alexandra Park had evolved for over half a century. The earliest houses dated from around 1905 to 1906 while the majority were constructed in the 1930s for senior medical staff in the Royal Army Medical Corps working in Alexandra Military Hospital. Hence, the architectural style ranges from tropical Edwardian at Bukit Damai to Art Deco at 1 Canterbury Road and a series of Public Works Department’s plantation style houses on Canterbury and York Roads.
A Former Gillman Barracks Officer’s Mess/Institute of Dental Health
The former Institute of Dental Health at 10 Hyderabad Road was located at the former Officers’ Mess for Gillman Barracks.
Designed in Classical architectural style, the two buildings feature large windows and doors which allowed for proper air circulation and kept their occupants cool in the oppressive tropical heat.
After the British military withdrew in 1971, the buildings were handed over to the Singapore government, who converted the officers’ mess into office buildings for the Dental Health Education Unit in 1973
In 1975, the Institute of Dental Health took over the premise and established a centralised training centre for dental therapists, nurses, dental assistants and technicians as well as providing outpatient dental health facilities. A six-storey annex was subsequently constructed in 1976 to house administrative offices, demonstration surgeries, X-ray rooms, dispensaries, laboratories, sterilising rooms and two dental surgery wings.
In 1978, the former officers’ mess housed the Ministry of Health (MOH), which moved there temporarily after a fire damaged its main building at Palmer Road.
B 3 Canterbury Road
3 Canterbury Road is a plantation-style Black and White bungalow constructed by the Public Works Department. Modelled after PWD bungalows from the mid-1920s, the bungalows feature reinforced concrete frames and whitewashed walls strategically built to combat the relentless tropical weather.
Its foundation borrows from the indigenous Malay architectural style with its high steep roofs allowing ventilation and wide verandas with overhanging eaves to minimise direct sunlight.
C 1 Canterbury Road
Designed in the Art-Deco architectural style, 1 Canterbury Road was constructed in 1933 by the Public Works Department. Similar to 3 Canterbury Road, the house replicates, albeit more in concrete than in wood, the half-timbered plantation style black and white houses built by the PWD before first world war.
D The Plantation House
The Plantation House at 6 Russels Road is believed to be the oldest building within Alexandra Park. It was commonly referred as the “Plantation House” because it once stood at the centre of a plantation plantation. Nonetheless, the building has little association with the typical plantation houses constructed in the mid-nineteenth century, being relatively small and compact and built around a L-shaped layout.
The main floor of the Plantation House is elevated off the ground on brick piers while the walls are timber-framed with brick in-fill. The main entrance of the house was located at one end of the veranda which stretched the full length of the front elevation. At the other end of the veranda, a flight of stairs leads down into the garden, where the veranda is extended outwards slightly to create a kind of cantilevered belvedere or gazebo.
According to architect Julian Davidson, the interior of the house is notable for the extensive use of open latticework, which is incorporated into the doors and walls leading from the main verandah into the principal reception room and other parts of the house. The uppermost portion of the internal partitions of the house has also been left open, save for a loose grid of vertical and horizontal bars. Together, these features not only encourage a good circulation of air through interior of the building but also make for a pleasing play of light and shadow.
E 1 Winchester Road
Built in the mid-1930s, 1 Winchester Road exemplifies the evolved bungalow in Singapore and Straits Settlements, a century and more after its introduction from the British India.
Many features within the Black and White bungalow was strategically constructed to counter the intense tropical weather in Singapore. For instance, the ground floor of 1 Winchester Road is laid with tiles to retain most of its night-time coolness throughout the day. Furthermore, timber was primarily used as the building material for the second floor because it absorbs solar radiation less readily. The high-steeped roofs of the Black and White house serve a dual purpose of controlling rainfall while doubling as a chimney-like system, drawing hot air to the roof and creating a well-ventilated space for its occupants.
F 3, 5, 6 & 7 Winchester Road
The officers’ accommodation at Winchester Road were built between 1936 and 1937 and are typical examples of military-style bungalow of the mid-to-late thirties which are clearly modelled on the archetypal black and white PWD bungalow of the mid-twenties.
In this instance, the house is built directly onto the road there being little through traffic other than vehicles belonging to the residents in the houses further along Winchester Road. A characteristics feature of the houses is their positioning on the side of the slope, with the front elevation of the house being raised on brick or concrete piers and the rear of the house at ground level.
G Former Alexandra Barracks mess
The former Alexandra Barracks mess was one of the oldest houses at Alexandra Park alongside 5 & 7 Royal Road and the Plantation House on Russels Road.
Completed during the first decade of the twentieth century, all three buildings hark back to the previous century, with their symmetrical plans and Classical detailing. The purpose-built officers’ mess, known as Winchester Place, offered dinning and recreational facilities on the ground floor, with accommodation for military officers on the floor above. A series of identical suites of rooms opening onto a common verandah running the length of the building on the second floor provided accommodation for the junior officers.
H Bukit Damai
Bukit Damai (Malay: Peacefull Hill) is a Black and White bungalow built for the commanding officer of Alexandra Barracks in early 1900s. The bungalow stands on the crest of a hilly ridge running through Alexandra Park which afforded spectacular views over the Straits of Singapore.
Bukit Damai features a symmetrical internal arrangement which eschews the timber-frame construction typical of contemporary Singapore house at the turn of the century in favour of load-bearing masonry walls.
Bukit Damai was besieged during the Singapore mutiny of 1915. The house at that time, was the residence of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Victor Martin, commanding officer of the 5th Bengal Light Infantry, garrisoned at Alexandra Barracks.
On the afternoon of 15 February, when the regiment mutinied – It was falsely rumoured that the soldiers were going to be sent to Mesopotamia to fight the Turks, that is to say their fellow Muslims – Martin was holed up at Bukit Damai with three officers and a woman, the wife of a brother officer.
They were subsequently joined by four officers and 81 men of the Malay States Volunteer Rifles and together, they managed to hold off repeated attacks by the mutineers until relieved the following day.