Just 16 bungalows like Lee Kuan Yew's house left in Singapore: Heritage Board

The home of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at 38, Oxley Road. Of the more than 200 bungalows in Singapore conserved to date, only an estimated 16 bungalows belong to the same style and era as 38, Oxley Road.


SINGAPORE - Of the more than 200 bungalows in Singapore conserved to date, only an estimated 16 bungalows belong to the same style and era as 38 Oxley Road.

This was one of the findings in the National Heritage Board's (NHB) 31-page research report on founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's home, released on Monday (April 2).

The "early style' bungalow, which has a complex architectural typology dating back to 18th century colonial India, has distinctive, rare and well-preserved features, said the report.

It is also associated with key national events, testifying to the formation of a new government for Singapore. "The individuals who gathered in the basement of 38 Oxley Road became key players in the politics of that era, and altered the destiny of the country," said the report.

In the 1950s, people from all walks of life visited the late Mr Lee, then a lawyer, at the house. These included then vice-president of the Malayan Democratic Union John Eber, who discussed Singapore's then constitutional politics in November 1950, British Observer journalist Dennis Bloodworth, a sympathiser to the anti-colonial struggle, and a group of students from the Chinese Middle School, who asked him to represent seven students who had been arrested for rioting on May 13 1954.

The verandah, basement room and study also became locations where nationally significant events took place.

In the lead up to the People's Action Party's (PAP) inauguration in November 1954, as many as 20 members of the new political party huddled around the house's basement dining table for secret discussions, including founding fathers like Dr Goh Keng Swee and Dr Toh Chin Chye. Such political meetings were forbidden by the internal security regulations. The house is thus notable for its rarity, said the report, as 38 Oxley Road was the only meeting place for discussions that led to the PAP's formation.

Unionists and postal workers spent days preparing posters and election manifestos on the verandah ahead of the PAP's first election in 1955, while the study was where the late Mr Lee worked on the contents of his iconic red box - a 14cm artefact that held his papers, speech drafts, letters, readings, and a whole range of questions, reflections, and observations and other things that he was working on in his political career.

In 1955, the family home also became the de facto PAP headquarters, based on an account by the late Ms Kwa Geok Choo, Mr Lee's wife. It also hosted press conferences, and over time, became a symbolic landmark in depicting a cultural identity, or perpetuating a collective memory, said the report.

"No. 38 Oxley Road stands for the values that he and his wife exemplified both in their public and private lives - frugality and discipline in particular. The architectural simplicity of the house is reflective of the times, the site it sits on, as well as the values of its historic occupants."

The bungalow is also notable for its authenticity, as no major structural changes have taken place over the last 30 years, apart from security features and rails that were added to the porch stairs for accessibility's sake.

It has unique local influences that distinguished it from the Anglo-Indian style bungalow, and could be classified as an "Anglo-Malay bungalow" that bears features such as lofty ceilings, tiled roofs, broad verandahs, and deep overhanging eaves, said the NHB report.

The first description of this new type of bungalow was recorded in 1865. Features such as full length French windows and fretted timbre balusters -features popular in bungalows of its time that are not commonly found today - also give it aesthetic value.

Quoting a point made by sociologist Terence Chong and architectural historian and conservator Yeo Kang Shua in an opinion piece that was published in The Straits Times in 2015, the NHB report also noted that the house is a "rare and unique" type of bungalow. While it used to have a "twin" bungalow on 40 Oxley Road, the house was demolished, thus making this bungalow the only of its kind left on the road.

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