MacDonald House



Located not far from the Istana and the Cathay Building, MacDonald House has a relatively plain and nondescript facade. Completed in 1949, it was the first office building in Southeast Asia to be wholly air-conditioned, and was construed to symbolise optimism and confidence in postwar Singapore.1 The building is perhaps most remembered as the site of a bombing on 10 March 1965 during the Indonesia–Malaysia Konfrontasi, or Confrontation (1963–1966).2

Features
MacDonald House was built to be the new branch office of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). Land was procured for the project at the end of 1946, and architectural firm Palmer and Turner was hired to design the building.3 It was named after then Governor-General of Malaya Malcolm John MacDonald, whose wife laid the foundation stone of the building on 22 November 1947. Buried beneath the stone were the following items: a 1866 balance sheet; a copy of the day’s The Straits Times newspaper; photos of the MacDonalds; and several Malayan currency notes and coins.4


Constructed from 1948 to 1949, the 10-storey building was fitted with an air-conditioning system that not only cooled the entire building but also allowed individual temperature control in every room – a revolutionary feature at the time and a first in Southeast Asia. Its design and construction paved the road towards the complete air-conditioning of buildings in Singapore.5

At its completion, MacDonald House was one of the tallest buildings in Singapore and a prominent landmark on Orchard Road, which was then lined with shophouses. In addition to HSBC’s branch office, there were also commercial office spaces on the building’s upper floors and private apartments on its highest level.6 HSBC opened for business at its new home on 4 July 1949.7

Architecture
Designed by architect Reginald Eyre of Palmer and Turner, the building is an example of utilitarian, modernist architecture with eclectic features. With a skeleton work of reinforced concrete, the modernist structure shows a preference for straight lines and perpendicular edges, and lacks the ornate caps and bases typical of more traditional architecture.8 Green glazed Chinese tiles were used to adorn the building’s flat roof.9 Two tall marble columns, carved and polished in Singapore by skilled Indian craftsmen, stand on either side of the entrance.10


The iconic red facade with white window frames is characteristic of neo-Georgian architecture, which was popularised in the mid-20th century. A total of 279,000 special sand-faced bricks from local company Alexandra Brickworks were used to finish the building’s exterior walls.11

Although HSBC is no longer located in MacDonald House, some remaining elements serve as reminders of its occupancy: On the building’s facade is a large plaque embossed with the bank’s logo, which comprises the United Kingdom’s royal coat of arms above an image of three men and two Chinese junks. Two projecting balconies flank the logo, each bearing an HSBC monogram. Another interesting feature is the old night safe placed just beside the main entrance.12


Indonesia–Malaysia Konfrontasi
From 1963 to 1966, Indonesia launched a series of armed incursions and acts of sabotage in Singapore in opposition to the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.13 On 10 March 1965, at the height of Konfrontasi, or Confrontation, two saboteurs planted a bomb that exploded near the lift on the mezzanine floor in MacDonald House, killing three civilians and injuring more than 30 others.14 Two Indonesian marine commandos were later arrested and hanged under murder charges.15


Conservation and recent developments
In August 2003, HSBC sold MacDonald House to an Indonesian investor for S$36 million.16 On 23 June 2005, Citibank opened its flagship branch in MacDonald House, occupying four floors.17

On 10 February 2003, MacDonald House was gazetted as a national monument by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Under the preservation scheme, the building’s owner cannot alter the facade of MacDonald House.18



Author
Preservation of Sites and Monuments, National Heritage Board



References
1. Malaya’s first completely air-conditioned building. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Ong, S. F. (2014, February 6). A primer on the MacDonald House bombing that shook Singapore in 1965. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
3. MacDonald House is a testimony to courage. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. G.G. foresees a greater Singapore. (1947, November 23). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Malaya’s first completely air-conditioned building. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. MacDonald House is a testimony to courage. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank’s new building. (1947, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Page 2 advertisements column 7. (1949, July 1). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. 1st class bricks from Singapore. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; $$2½ million on contracts [sic]. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8 Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Killed in ’plane crash, win $3,000. (1951, June 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. MacDonald House is a testimony to courage. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
10. Marble makes stately columns. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. 1st class bricks from Singapore. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; $$2½ million on contracts [sic]. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 126. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS]); MacDonald House is a testimony to courage. (1949, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 282. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 127. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
14. S’pore govt gives reasons for ‘no’ to pleas for mercy. (1968, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Frost, M. R., & Balasingamchow, Y-M. (2009). Singapore: A biography. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Museum of Singapore, pp. 411–413. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 FRO); MacDonald House blast: 2 charged. (1965, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Rashiwala, K. (2003, August 4). HSBC finds buyer for MacDonald House. The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Citibank opens new branch in Orchard. (2005, June 24). The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yep, C. (2008, January 6). The boss at your service. The Straits Times, p. 95. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Three national monuments added. (2003, February 11). The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Rashiwala, K. (2002, April 4). Historic MacDonald House up for sale. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 14 September 2015 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

Subject
Ethnic Communities
Streets and Places
Heritage and Culture
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places

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