Marking 150 years: Step inside the Istana and explore unusual spots, with ST multimedia guide

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, ST editor Warren Fernandez, President Halimah Yacob, and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, at the launch of the ST multimedia website on Istana.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, ST editor Warren Fernandez, President Halimah Yacob, and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, at the launch of the ST multimedia website on Istana.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
(Second from left) ST editor Warren Fernandez, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, President Halimah Yacob, and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, with the ST team behind the project.
(Second from left) ST editor Warren Fernandez, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, President Halimah Yacob, and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, with the ST team behind the project.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Fly by the grand facade of the Istana's iconic main building, walk under the brightly lit chandeliers of the State Room, and explore unusual spots in the sprawling estate of the President's official residence.

Readers can now experience the sights and sounds of one of Singapore's most well-known landmarks - all without taking a single step onto its grounds.

They can even see the main Istana building up-close in augmented reality (AR), as part of a new multimedia website created by The Straits Times in collaboration with the Istana.

Titled Inside the Istana, the project was launched at the Istana's open house on Sunday (Oct 27) by President Halimah Yacob and ST editor Warren Fernandez.

It is part of a series of events and projects to mark the Istana's 150th anniversary.

Through the use of interactive and multimedia features, readers can learn about the rich history and unique architectural features of the national monument, known as the Government House when it was completed in 1869 at its current site in Orchard Road, which used to be a nutmeg plantation.

At the launch of the project on Sunday, Madam Halimah said visitors to the Istana can now leverage the technology of augmented reality and virtual tours to have an even more immersive and interactive experience while visiting the Istana.

She hopes these initiatives will bring the Istana closer to Singaporeans and encourage them to visit during the Istana open houses.

“I hope that this will be a memorable experience for them, this is a very important institution, it is a part of our legacy, a part of our independence. It is a part of our story.”

 

During the open house, Madam Halimah also launched updated editions of four books on the Istana: The Istana, Gardens of the Istana, Birds Seen in the Istana, and Trees of the Istana.

The new editions contain additional illustrations and photographs of the Istana’s buildings and grounds.

She also unveiled a new orchid hybrid, the Papilionanthe Singapore Bicentennial, to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Mr Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay and Tamil Media Group, said: "Our latest multimedia project takes you on an insider tour of a national treasure - the Istana - uncovering stories about the people and events that make it so special. Through this interactive project, it's like having an open house every day at the Istana.

"We were very grateful to be given such great access to the Istana and delighted to collaborate with the Istana on this special project to mark its 150th anniversary."

Key highlights of the project include never-before-seen aerial views of the beautiful Istana grounds which boast more than 40ha of sprawling greenery.

Those who want a closer look can activate the AR feature by viewing the multimedia site on the ST mobile app. Users can place the AR model of the main building on their desks and rotate it by swiping on the screen.

The interior of the Istana are also brought to life with 360-degree photos.

 
 

From the exquisite blue and beige Persian carpeting of the Reception Hall where dignitaries are received, to the Italian marble-paved floors of the Banquet Hall, users can learn more about the splendid rooms of the main building as they are taken on a virtual tour.

Besides the well-loved green spaces of the Istana, users can also explore lesser known spots tucked away from the sight of visitors during official visits or open houses.

These unusual spots include an air-raid shelter dating back to World War II called the "bunker", and a brick well on the less-visited side of the main building.

Want to know what it is like to work at the Istana?

Readers also get to meet the team that help attend to visiting dignitaries, keep the gardens gorgeous, and even cook for Madam Halimah and her guests through a series of video interviews.

To complete a project of this scale and depth was no minor feat.

It took a team of designers, developers, journalists and photojournalists about three months, though the idea and planning started as early as last September.

 
 

The ST team made multiple trips to the Istana to capture the aerial shots and 360-degree photos.

Said ST digital editor Ong Hwee Hwee, who oversaw the project: "We hope the immersive guide allows people to step into the Istana, without even stepping out of their homes."

Additional reporting by Cara Wong