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Sri Temasek

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Sri Temasek
ஸ்ரீ தெமாசெக்
Sri Temasek 4, Jan 06.JPG
Sri Temasek, photographed on 31 January 2006
General information
TypeDetached house
LocationNewton, Singapore[1]
Coordinates1°18′14.41″N 103°50′34.84″E / 1.3040028°N 103.8430111°E / 1.3040028; 103.8430111Coordinates: 1°18′14.41″N 103°50′34.84″E / 1.3040028°N 103.8430111°E / 1.3040028; 103.8430111
Current tenantsPrime Minister's official residence
Completed1869; 151 years ago (1869)
OwnerGovernment of Singapore
Technical details
Floor countTwo
Floor area1,600 m2 (17,000 sq ft)
Design and construction
ArchitectJ.F.A. McNair
Awards and prizesUrban Redevelopment Authority Architectural Heritage Award (2008)
Designated14 February 1992

Sri Temasek is a two-storey detached house built in 1869 which is sited within the grounds of the Istana in Singapore. During the island's colonial era, it served as the residence of the Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary. Since the establishment of the State of Singapore in 1959, it has been the official residence of the Prime Minister of Singapore, though none of Singapore's Prime Ministers have ever lived there. Together with the Istana, it was gazetted a national monument on 14 February 1992.


The name of the house, Sri Temasek, means "splendour of Temasek" in the Malay language. The Malay word seri or sri means "charm; quintessence; splendour; glory"[2] or a "cynosure"[3] (something that attracts attention by its brilliancy or beauty; a centre of attraction, interest, or admiration)[4] Temasek, which means "sea town" in Javanese, was the name of an early city on the site of modern Singapore. Today, it is used as an epithet for Singapore.[5] The house was originally merely known as the official residence of the Chief Secretary of Singapore (or the Colonial Secretary of Singapore/the Straits Settlements) and did not have its own name. The State of Singapore was proclaimed and the first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew assumed office in June 1959, after which the house, which has become the official residence of the Prime Minister, has been officially named Sri Temasek, while the Government House has been officially renamed as the Istana, which means palace.[6]


The construction of the Istana Singapore (then called Government House) and Sri Temasek was ordered by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Harry St. George Ord, after the original governor's residence had to be demolished in 1859 to make way for Fort Canning on the hill that bears its name.[7] Sri Temasek was designed by John Frederick Adolphus McNair (1829–1910), a civil engineer who was appointed Executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts of the Straits Settlements, and built largely using Indian convict labour from Bencoolen. It was completed in 1869.[7][8][9]

A 1,600-square-metre (17,000 sq ft) two-storey detached house – often called a bungalow in Singapore – with European and Asian features, Sri Temasek has a symmetrical layout consisting of deep verandahs surrounding central living spaces. Notable architectural features include arches on its upper level, an intricate timber arcade with a mixture of eastern and western decorative motifs, and a Chinese moon gate (a circular gateway) on the building's second floor.[8] Although few records exist concerning the moon gate's construction and usage, it is known to have made its appearance in the house in the 1960s and to have been designed and built by William Swaffield, a pre-World War II Comptroller of Government House and a professional furniture designer. It is constructed of chengal, teak and meranti wood.[10] In the middle of the driveway in front of the house, there is a brick pit that was originally used by horse-drawn carriages.[8] The house was gazetted together with the Istana as a national monument on 14 February 1992.[11]

Sri Temasek was not used for a number of years and fell into disrepair.[12] It then underwent restoration between 2006 and March 2008 by CPG Consultants under the supervision of architect Maureen Soh. As the original hand-crafted timber arches and railings on the first-storey verandah had been damaged by termites, replacements moulded from the originals made with an aluminium-cast alloy were used. Details on railings, doors and windows were restored, and several pintu pagar (traditional wooden half-doors) and wooden flooring reinstated. The former servants' quarters at the rear of the building were turned into a heritage gallery. The restoration works on Sri Temasek won the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Architectural Heritage Award in Category A (national monuments and fully conserved buildings) in 2008.[8]


A stone plaque bearing the name Sri Temasek in the grounds of the Istana Singapore – photographed on 31 January 2006

When first built in 1869, Sri Temasek was the residence of the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements (later Colonial Secretary/Chief Secretary of Singapore). All holders of the position had resided in Sri Temasek from 1869 to 1959.[13] It is currently designated as the official residence of the Prime Minister of Singapore since 1959, though none of the past and present holders of the post, Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong, have lived in it as a family home.[8] In the 1998 book Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas,[14] Lee Kuan Yew said that when he became Prime Minister in 1959 he and his wife Kwa Geok Choo decided not to move into Sri Temasek with their three children, who were then aged seven, five and two, because the couple "did not want them to grow up in such grand surroundings with butlers and orderlies to fuss over their needs". The family did stay there in 1965 for a short time for security reasons when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia. Apart from that, according to a 2000 Straits Times interview with Kwa, the Lee children often played in the grounds of the house in the evening while their father played golf or made use of the practice tee and putting green.[12][15]

Sri Temasek has been used mostly for official functions, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. Prominent visitors included Tunku Abdul Rahman, the founding Prime Minister of Malaysia; Spiro Agnew, the Vice-President of the United States; Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; Denis Healey, British Defence Secretary; and King Hussein of Jordan. Sri Temasek was the venue for a party hosted in 1962 by Lee Kuan Yew to thank trade unionists and civil servants for their help with the referendum on Singapore joining Malaysia, and in 1983 the body of the late Minister for Finance Hon Sui Sen lay in state there.[12] On 8 August 2008, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day message from Sri Temasek for the first time.[8][16] The wake for Madam Kwa Geok Choo, mother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the wife of Singaporean statesman Lee Kuan Yew, was held at Sri Temasek in October 2010.[17] In March 2015, a private family wake for Lee Kuan Yew was held there. [18]


  1. ^ "URA Maps". Urban Redevelopment Authority.
  2. ^ R[ichard] J[ames] Wilkinson, ed. (1955), "seri", A Malay–English Dictionary (Romanised), London: Macmillan.
  3. ^ Richard [Olaf] Winstedt, ed. (1963), "seri", An Unabridged Malay–English Dictionary (5th ed.), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Marican & Sons.
  4. ^ "cynosure", OED Online (2nd ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, retrieved 8 October 2008.
  5. ^ "Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics" by Victor R Savage,Brenda Yeoh, published by Marshall Cavendish (2013).
  6. ^ "Premier will entertain at 'Sri Temasek'". The Straits Times. 8 August 1959. p. 4.
  7. ^ a b The Istana and Sri Temasek, Frommer's, retrieved 10 October 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Tay Suan Chiang (4 October 2008), "Heritage winners: Sri Temasek, the Prime Minister's official home, is an architectural heritage award winner this year", The Straits Times (Home), p. E10 at E11.
  9. ^ Vernon Cornelius-Takahama (17 April 1999), Istana, Singapore Infopedia, National Library Board, archived from the original on 9 October 2008, retrieved 10 October 2008.
  10. ^ Architecture, Istana Singapore: Office of the President of the Republic of Singapore, 28 April 2006, archived from the original on 6 November 2008, retrieved 8 October 2008.
  11. ^ 55 gazetted national monuments of Singapore (PDF), Preservation of Monuments Board, 2006, archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2012; Tommy Koh, ed. (2006), "Istana and Sri Temasek", Singapore: The Encyclopedia, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 259, ISBN 978-981-4155-63-2.
  12. ^ a b c Lee Siew Hua (15 August 2008), "Silent star of Singapore", The Straits Times (reproduced at AsiaOne), archived from the original on 15 June 2015.
  13. ^ Sutherland, Duncan (25 February 2011). "Sri Temasek". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board.
  14. ^ Han Fook Kwang; Warren Fernandez; Sumiko Tan (1998), Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings [and] Times Editions, ISBN 978-981-204-049-7.
  15. ^ See also Lee Kuan Yew's interview with Talk Asia on CNN, CNN (archived at Singapore Window), 9 February 2002, retrieved 10 October 2008. During the interview, Lee said: "My official residence was at Sri Temasek in the Istana grounds where there are butlers and waiters galore. We decided to stay at home and not take the official residence which I used for entertainment purposes because we both believe that if they [our children] had so many waiters and helpers picking balls for them, doing things for them, it will give them an inflated and a false idea of what life would be like."
  16. ^ S. Ramesh; Lee Siew Hoon (8 August 2008), Singapore cuts 2008 GDP growth forecast to 4%–5%, Channel NewsAsia, retrieved 10 October 2008.
  17. ^ "Madam Kwa Geok Choo's casket to be carried on ceremonial gun carriage", Channel NewsAsia, 10 May 2010.
  18. ^ Yong, Charissa (23 March 2015). "Mr Lee Kuan Yew's body comes to rest at Istana for private family wake". The Straits Times. Retrieved 23 March 2015.

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