Townscape of a Shophouse in Katong (Singapore)
A 20-minute ride on the metro MRT takes from the downtown to Paya Lebar station. A short walk from the station brings to the entrance of Katong where fashionable shops and restaurants are gathering in recent years.
Originally it was cultivated as a coconut plantation in the first half of the 19th century. After that, weekend resort mansions came to stand along the coast. In the 20th century, wealthy people who escaped the hustle and bustle of the downtown moved there and the streetscape of a shophouse appeared.
Now, the shophouses built those days mainly remain along Joo Chiat Road, which was named after Chew Joo Chiat who owned a vast land in the vicinity and donated the land for making a road to the municipality, and Koon Seng Road, which was named after a real estate agent Cheong Koon Seng.
The descendants of Chinese immigrants, who immigrated to Malaysia and the present Singapore since the latter half of the 15th century, and mixed Chinese immigrants and Southeast Asians are called as Peranakan and the peculiar Peranakan culture that Chinese culture was combined with Malay and European culture had been formed. It includes life, clothes, food and architecture. The center of Peranakan culture in Singapore was Katong. The shophouses which were influenced by the Peranakan culture also remain in Chinatown, but, this Katong is lined with this style shophouses continuously and more brilliantly.
The Chinese shophouse didn’t originally had no style to provide with decoration on an exterior wall. But, under the influence of Neo-Classical architecture in Europe, the Peranakan style shophouse, which was decorated excessively with pillars crowned with the classical orders or reliefs of flowers and etc., was born. It is said that some tiles, which was used for a wall and a floor and enameled flowers and various geometric patterns, were imported from France, the United Kingdom and Belgium.
Meanwhile, a part of wall reliefs are designed based on Chinese religious motifs meaning good luck and longevity, such as a deer, a dragon and a dog. The European style is accepted not only by tracing it but also reflecting the local culture.
Although the color of walls and reliefs may change greatly from the original color, colorful tiles tell that the rich and fun colors covering the entire building must be an essence of Peranakan culture.
Many buildings are actually used as an ordinary residence and there are stores for residents. The development of the area is not too tidy and the air of living remains moderately. That creates a good atmosphere slightly different from Chinatown where tourism has progressed.
The state that there are a lot of houses with a narrow frontage derives from the fact that the Netherlands, which had colonized Malacca as the center of the Peranakan culture those days, decided house tax based on the width of the frontage. Instead a house had expanded to the back side across the courtyard.
It seems that it was designated as the heritage district in 2011. However, the area had an ordinance to build a building up to four stories on the back side behind the courtyard if an owner preserves the building of the Peranakan style on the street side. So, on the back side, apartments that are often found in other places in Singapore sometimes stand. The present preservation policies tend not to include the residential form but only to be applied to only the facade like a stage setting. It is the streetscape to represent the Peranakan culture, which has developed richly in Singapore, and to ought to be remained with the form close to the original.
10 minutes walk from "Paya Lebar Station" to the entrance of Katong.
Architectural Heritage Singapore(APD Singapore,2004)
Guide Plate in Katong
2010.02 Photos in English version, and photos and text in Japanese version
2018.01 Change of photos
2018.05 Text in Japanese Version and English Version