Swan & Maclaren




The famous colonial architectural firm Swan & Maclaren had its beginnings in 1887 as Swan & Lermit, a firm of civil engineers. It is one of the pioneer architectural firms in Singapore. Two engineers, Archibald Swan and Alfred Lermit, started Swan & Lermit, but the latter left the partnership in 1890. In 1892, James Waddell Boyd Maclaren joined as a partner and the firm was renamed Swan & Maclaren. Maclaren had been trained as a civil engineer in Edinburgh. The firm has since contributed to the architectural greatness of several historic buildings in Singapore such as the Teutonia Club, which is today Goodwood Park Hotel, and the Victoria Memorial Hall.

Early history
Regent Alfred John Bidwell was an important member of the firm. With his talent, the firm became dominant in its field and built the Teutonia Club (1900) (today's Goodwood Park Hotel), Victoria Memorial Hall (1905), etc. Bidwell joined in 1899, and was instrumental in many of their works until 1911 when he left the firm to start his own practice. He was a member of the Architectural Association in London and is considered Singapore's second true professional architect after number one George Drumgoolde Coleman, who had arrived in 1822. Previously, he had worked at the London County Council, and the Public Works Department in Kuala Lumpur. Bidwell was famous for his classical designs, reflected in the mansion he designed in 1903 for the Jewish merchant Ezekial Saleh Manasseh on Lady Hill, and also in more public works like the Victoria Memorial Hall (1905). 

There was a move towards modernism in Singapore in the late 1920s, and unsurprisingly, Swan & Maclaren had a hand in it, thanks to one of its architectural assistants, Frank Brewer, who joined in 1922. He was also notable for being Singapore's first university-educated architect, having graduated from London University. One of Brewer's famous modernism-influenced residential works is the Belmont House on Belmont Road. He also designed Flagstaff House, now known as Command House, at Kheam Hock Road. Brewer remained with the firm until 1932. 

New construction techniques in the 1920s also saw the introduction of steel-framed buildings of larger scale. Swan & Maclaren constructed several of these, including the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Building, Union Building, and Mercantile Bank Building. Such buildings retained a touch of the classical ala the colonial period, but their simplicity of design was synonymous with the shift towards modernism. 

Later developments
Before World War II, the European elite, including prominent civil servants or wealthy individuals like Manasseh, often commissioned Swan & Maclaren to build grand residences. However after the war, the firm   faced more competition and became less dominant. Still, they contributed to the industrialisation of Singapore, building factory complexes for Texas Instruments and GE Hermetic Motors. Today the firm is an inter-disciplinary practice, providing services like architecture, interior design, urban and structural planning. 

In May 1999, the firm was chosen to design the new National Library at Victoria Street after it won a tender organised by the National Library Board, beating 29 other firms in the process. However, the team designing the building split up in 2001, when leader and Malaysian architect Ken Yeang ended his partnership with Swan & Maclaren. This led to the firm being released from the project by the National Library Board. The library itself was eventually completed by another firm, and officially opened to the public on 22 July 2005.   

Timeline (selected major architectural works)
1888 : Church of Our Lady of Lourdes
1899 : Made extensive additions to Raffles Hotel
1900 : Teutonia Club
1905 : Victoria Memorial Hall
1907 : Telephone House (on Hill Street)
1906-1912 : Built the present St. Joseph's Church
1923 : Union Building in Collyer Quay
1924 : Sultan Mosque on Muscat Street
1925 : Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Building in Fullerton Square
1927 : College of Medicine
1929 : Mercantile Bank Building at Raffles Place
1934 : Singapore Turf Club
1952 : Designed and built the War Memorial Wing at St Andrew's Cathedral

Christopher Ong 

Beamish, J., & Ferguson, J. (1985). A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city. Singapore: Graham Brash Pte Ltd.
(Call no.: RSING q722.4095957 BEA)  

Corfield, S., & Corfield, R. S. (2006).
Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR - [HIS])
Doggett, M. (1985). Characters of light: Early buildings of Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 DOG)  

Edwards, N. (1990).
The Singapore house and residential life: 1819-1939. New York: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 728.095957 EDW) 

Koh, T., Auger, T., Yap, J., & Ng, W. C. (Eds.). (2006).
Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didiet Millet (in association with the National Heritage Board). 
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN - [HIS]) 

Lee, K. L. (1988).
The Singapore house: 1819-1942. Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 728.095957 LEE)  

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991).
One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1, pp. 65, 487). New York: Oxford University Press. 
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE - [HIS]) 

Singapore Institute of Architects. (1987).
Singapore architects 87: Exhibition of works by Singapore architects. Singapore: Golden-Day Enterprise.  
Tan, M. P. (1999, May 22). Swan and Maclaren to design National Library. The Business Times. Retrieved on January 16, 2009, from Factiva database. 

Teo, L. (2001, January 18). National Library design team splits.
The Straits Times. Retrieved on
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Tom, K. (2005, July 23). New National Library opens.
The Straits Times. Retrieved on
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Further readings
Death of Mr R. A. J. Bidwell. (1918, April 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), p. 10. Retrieved on December 6, 2010 from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings
Architectural firms--Singapore
Historic buildings--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
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