The Istana is the official residence of the President of the Republic of Singapore. It is located along Orchard Road in Singapore’s prime shopping district. The Istana was previously known as Government House and was the residence of the Governor of the Straits Settlements and later the Governor of the Colony of Singapore. It was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992.

The first Government House was a wooden house with a thatched roof built on Bukit Larangan (present-day Fort Canning) shortly after the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles. It was later extended and redesigned in the neoclassical style by George Dromgold Coleman, Singapore's first architect. It was demolished in 1859.

In 1867, with an initial sum of $100,000 approved by the Legislative Council, Sir Harry Ord, then Governor of the Straits Settlements, ordered that land be purchased for a new Government House (the present Istana). About 106 acres of Charles Robert Prinsep's nutmeg estate was bought for this purpose. Construction began in the same year, with the foundation stone laid by Lady Ord. Indian convict labour was brought in from Bencoolen for the project, to serve as stone masons, stone cutters, plumbers, carpenters and painters.

In February 1869, the Legislative Council approved an additional sum of $40,000. Finally, at a cost of $185,000, the building was completed in 1869, just in time to receive the Duke of Edinburgh who visited Singapore that year. It became the official residence of colonial governors, housing a total of 21 governors during colonial rule in Singapore. It was renamed Istana Negara (“state palace”) in 1959 when Singapore gained self-government.

The building was designed by John Frederick Adolphus McNair, who planned a well-proportioned building in the shape of a cross. It was similar in architecture to many 18th century neo-Palladian style buildings designed by British military engineers in India. It had a layout like a Malay house suited for the tropics: verandahs, louvred windows and panelled doors, to promote a cool, airy interior.

Within the grounds are three other houses: Sri Temasek (1869), the Istana Villa (1938) and the Lodge (1974). Sri Temasek used to be the Colonial Secretary's residence.

Vernon Cornelius

Preservation of Monuments Order 1992 (Republic of Singapore Government Gazette Subsidiary Legislation Supplement Notification No. S 56/92).
(Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)

President's Office. Republic of Singapore. (2001). Istana Singapore. Retrieved February 1, 2005, from

Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore's heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 8-10). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)

The Istana Singapore: Its grounds and landscape. (1994). Singapore: President's Office.
(Call no.: RSING 725.17095957 IST)

Further resources
Istana and Sri Temasek. (2010). Retrieved October 25, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website:
Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore (pp. 20-37). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)

The Istana: The jewel of Temasek [Motion picture]. (1996). Singapore: Television Corporation of Singapore.
(Call no.: RAV 959.57 IST)

Wan, M. H. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 124-125). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.

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Official residences--Singapore

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