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Singapore: Peranakan houses

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Peranakan houses | Singapore | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

After having a hearty lunch at a food court near Paya Lebar MRT station, we were ready to explore the Katong district directly to the south. The sun was piercing through our clothes, and even Singaporeans were complaining of an exceptionally merciless heat. We were not in a hurry at all, and moved slowly down one of the main streets: Joo Chiat Road. Here, we already saw what we had come for: the Peranakan houses, built by descendants of Chinese immigrants who moved into South East Asia in the 15th and 16th century. Where much of the city centre of Singapore is being converted into a highly modern and flashy metropole, and where other districts of the city mostly have rather uniform, efficient building blocks, the Peranakan houses add a touch of history to Singapore, and with it, character.

Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Great example of pastel Peranakan houses on Koon Seng Road

Many of the Peranakan houses are now shops, bars, banks, or have other commercial purposes. This often means they are well maintained, and some of the shops on Joo Chiat Road were interesting enough to explore from the inside. Walking down Joo Chiat, we arrived at the corner with Koon Seng Road, and immediately noticed that there were two rows of exceptionally beautiful samples of Peranakan houses on both sides, to our left. Luckily, the sun was on its way down now, and the light was losing the harshness it had before. The warm rays of light were highlighting houses that looked alike, yet were different because of their colour: violet, green, blue, yellow, white... Most well maintained, some where the paint was wearing out. Getting closer, we got a great view of the ornaments that make the houses even more beautiful. Stone lions guarding the gates, behind which we saw the typical front garden, flowery ceramics on the walls, dragons, and other details further embellish the Peranakan houses.

Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Worn door frame in Peranakan house

One of the inhabitants, upon seeing us enjoying his street, invited us in, which gave us a good opportunity to see one of the houses from the inside. The architectural style originated in Malacca, where the Dutch had imposed taxes based on the width of the houses; this explains why Peranakan houses are relatively narrow, but very deep - as we now saw. It reminded us of houses in Amsterdam which basically have similar dimensions. The house turned out to be remarkably cool inside, a clever system of natural ventilation provides for a very pleasant interior climate. We even got a refreshing fresh fruit juice before we got out in the street, in time to see the sun set o the pastel-coloured Peranakan houses. Later that week, we would come back to the same district, this time walking down Geylang Road, and adjacent streets. Here, we found more fine examples of Peranakan houses, with worn window shutters and richly decorated façades. While walking the area, we noticed a large amount of prostitutes openly offering their services - Katong certainly is a lively district, with a stronger feel of life than in some other parts of the city.

Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Brightly coloured Peranakan houses in the afternoon sun at Koon Seng Road
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Late afternoon sun casting a warm light on a green Peranakan house on Koon Seng Road
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Close-up of worn window shutter in Peranakan house
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Peranakan house in close-up
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Lanterns and columns at a Peranakan house
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Flowery detail of Peranakan house
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Stone lion at the entrance of a Peranakan house
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Brightly painted house entrances on Koon Seng Road
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Decorations in close-up of a Peranakan house on Koon Seng Road
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Blue and white painted, decorated Peranakan house
Picture of Peranakan houses (Singapore): Peranakan house on Koon Seng Road seen from below

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