Former Victoria School building
The former Victoria School building is an architectural landmark on Tyrwhitt Road in Jalan Besar. The building initially housed the all-boys Victoria School (1933–1984) and later the Christ Church Secondary School (1985–2001) before serving as the People’s Association (PA) headquarters from 2009. Designed by architect Frank Dorrington Ward and constructed in 1933, two blocks of the former school were gazetted for conservation in 2007.1
Founded as an English class for a handful of Malay students in 1876, Victoria School has had a long and remarkable history. The school is well known for its excellent academic record and has produced many eminent alumni over the years, including three of Singapore’s former presidents: Yusof bin Ishak, C. V. Devan Nair and S. R. Nathan. Other notable alumni include poet Edwin Thumboo, Olympic sprinter Kesavan Soon and football coach Choo Seng Quee.2
The school was first located in Kampong Glam before it moved to Syed Alwi Street Road was renamed Victoria Bridge School in 1901. It became a secondary school in 1931 and moved to Tyrwhitt Road on 18 September 1933.3 The building on Tyrwhitt Road was designed by Public Works Department (PWD) architect Frank Dorrington Ward, who also designed the former Supreme Court and former Traffic Police Headquarters buildings.4
During the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), the school was renamed the Jalan Besar Boys’ School. It was one of the few schools selected to teach a Japanese-language-oriented school syllabus while the use of English as a language of instruction was disallowed. A hospital occupied the building for a short period after the end of the Occupation.5
In 1950, R. F. Bomford, a former science teacher who became headmaster of Victoria school, designed and opened the Science block, which was a first for Singapore schools. In the following year, modern sanitation facilities were added to the school building.6
In 1967, the hall and canteen block was added to the campus. This block was one of the PWD’s early school design prototypes. It was characterised by a multipurpose hall built above a naturally ventilated canteen. In addition, four laboratories and another block of classrooms were constructed.7
Victoria School left the Tyrwhitt Road site in 1984, and the departure was marked with a 2.3 km march by some 1,500 current and former students, teachers and principals from Tyrwhitt Road to the school’s new premises in Geylang Bahru.8
The next occupant of the Tyrwhitt Road site was Christ Church Secondary School, which used the building between 1985 and 2001.9
In 2007, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) gazetted the main classroom and administrative block, and the hall and canteen block for conservation. Two years later, the building received a URA Architectural Heritage Award.10
New home for the People’s Association
In 2004, plans were announced to move the PA headquarters, which had been based at Stadium Link in Kallang since 1960, to the former VS site on Tyrwhitt Road. Work on the new PA complex started in January 2007. The PA spent a sum of S$47 million to renovate the site, with S$6.7 million set apart for conservation work.11
The new complex integrated some old buildings of the former school. Classrooms were transformed into modern offices and the former hall and canteen block became a dance studio and storage space for Chingay and National Day props. A new five-storey extension block was also constructed behind the old school, while a large lawn faced the complex. The building also incorporated a number of eco-friendly features, including a naturally ventilated atrium and roof gardens to cool the building, thereby reducing energy consumption for air-conditioning.12
After completion of the restoration and refurbishment works, the PA moved into the new complex in June 2009. It was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 29 January 2010.13
In 2012, the site was added to the enhanced Jalan Besar Community Heritage Trail, which was one of the first trails launched in 2006 as part of the National Heritage Board’s efforts to commemorate historical and iconic landmarks in Singapore.14
As the headquarters of the PA, the building continues to be an important heritage landmark with many community-bonding activities and mass rehearsals held on its premises. The building’s official address has become 9 King George’s Avenue, which is where the new main entrance of the headquarters is located. The heritage trail site marker is also located outside this entrance.15
The former Victoria School building boasts a number of interesting architectural features characteristic of its construction. Architect Frank Dorrington Ward surfaced the building with Shanghai plaster, and the structure is regarded as well-proportioned. One of the few school buildings in the city area left standing today, the building also consolidates design features from before and after World War II in a single site.16
The original main classroom and administrative block is a flat-roofed building designed in the neoclassical style. It is characterised by a long frontage and an upper-storey corridor that goes around the classrooms. A school hall with concrete-arch structures is attached to one end of the block.17
The hall and canteen block, built in 1967, is modern in style and is an example of the PWD’s early post-war models of attractively designed school buildings that could be constructed quickly. The multipurpose hall above the canteen has a practical but aesthetically pleasing facade. It is the only known school hall still standing in Singapore that features this design element.18
Architectural Heritage Award
In 2009, the PA complex won a URA Architectural Heritage Award for its efforts in the conservation of the original site and integration of a new building. Among the conservation works carried out was the repair of the building’s damaged grey Shanghai plaster, which required the engagement of an expert to ensure the correct mix and colour of the material.19
The original design of the building’s timber doors with metal-mesh transoms and the second-storey corridor with its unique cross balustrade were also restored. To meet minimum height requirements, existing balustrades and railings had to be altered. Link bridges were also constructed to connect the new five-storey office block seamlessly to the conserved school building.20
Conservation efforts were aided by the fact that the original building’s simple neoclassical and Art Deco designs were easy to replicate. It also helped that original blueprints and photographs of the classrooms and canteen were available for reference.21
1. “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” National Heritage Board, 2012. 24–25.
2. Cheryl Tan, “Standing Tall,” Straits Times, 6 October 2009, 42 (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24; National Heritage Board, “Visit Jalan Besar’s Hidden Gems in Enhanced Community Heritage Trail,” press release, 4 August 2012. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 20120811001); Lim Eng Chong, “A Walk Down Memory Lane – The Old Victoria School Building at Tyrwhitt Road,” 17 August 2012,
3. ‘Milestones,” Straits Times, 15 October 1983, 11. (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24; National Heritage Board, “Visit Jalan Besar’s Hidden Gems in Enhanced Community Heritage Trail.”
4. Carol Lim, “Old School Charm,” Skyline, (July–August 2007), 1–2; Lim, “A Walk Down Memory Lane”; “Heritage Schools: Former Victoria School,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2010.
5. “Milestones”; Chan Kwee Sung, “When Victoria School Was Renamed Jalan Besar School,” Straits Times, 30 September 1996, 34 (From NewspaperSG); “School History: Milestones,” Victoria School, 2012; National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24.
6. “Milestones”; Victoria School, “School History: Milestones”; National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24.
7. “Milestones”; Lim, “Old School Charm”; National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24; Victoria School, “School History: Milestones.”
8. Matilda Gabriel, “Victorian Farewell…,” Straits Times, 19 November 1984, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
9. National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24.
10. Tan, “Standing Tall”; Nur Dianah Suhaimi, “A Grand Old Building for PA,” Straits Times, 20 January 2010, 12/13. (From NewspaperSG); Lim, “Old School Charm”; Urban Redevelopment Authority “URA Unveils Eight Winners for the 2009 Architectural Heritage Awards,” press release, 5 October 2009.
11. S. Ramesh, “Work on New People’s Association’s HQ Kicks Off,” Channel NewsAsia, 20 January 2007 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); “9 King George’s Avenue Category B Winner,” Straits Times, 6 October 2009, 43 (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24; Joyce Teo, “People’s Association Kallang HQ to Move,” Straits Times, 4 December 2004p. H3 (From NewspaperSG); Suhaimi, “A Grand Old Building for PA.”
12. “PA to Move Out of Kallang Site after 40 Years,” Straits Times, 21 January 2007, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Suhaimi, “A Grand Old Building for PA”; Lim, “Old School Charm.”
13. National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24–25; National Heritage Board, “Visit Jalan Besar’s Hidden Gems in Enhanced Community Heritage Trail”; Suhaimi, “A Grand Old Building for PA.”
14. National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail”; Lim, “A Walk Down Memory Lane.”
15. National Heritage Board, “Jalan Besar Heritage Trail,” 24–25.
16. Lim, “Old School Charm.”
17. Lim, “Old School Charm”; Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Heritage Schools: Former Victoria School.”
18. Lim, “Old School Charm.”
19. Tan, “Standing Tall”; “Awards for 8 Restoration Projects,” Straits Times, 6 October 2009, 30 (From NewspaperSG); Urban Redevelopment Authority, “URA Unveils Eight Winners for the 2009 Architectural Heritage Awards.”
20. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “URA Unveils Eight Winners for the 2009 Architectural Heritage Awards”; Heng Chan Yeng, “Faithful Makeovers,” Skyline (March–April 2010)
21. “9 King George’s Avenue Category B Winner.”
The information in this article is valid as at 6 June 2013 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 resources on the topic.