Step into Istana without stepping out of your house

President Halimah Yacob and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, with (from left) Straits Times photojournalist Lim Yaohui, executive photojournalist Benjamin Seetor, acting video editor Yeung E-Von (partly hidden) and editor Warren Fernandez
President Halimah Yacob and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, with (from left) Straits Times photojournalist Lim Yaohui, executive photojournalist Benjamin Seetor, acting video editor Yeung E-Von (partly hidden) and editor Warren Fernandez at the launch of Inside The Istana, a new multimedia website created by ST in collaboration with the Istana, at the open house yesterday.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

ST website lets users tour its interior and vast grounds via multimedia, interactive features

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 yesterday by President Halimah Yacob and Straits Times 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 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 yesterday, President Halimah said visitors to the Istana can now leverage the technology of AR 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 it during the open houses.

 

Madam Halimah said: "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."

Mr Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/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 sprawling and beautiful Istana grounds, which boast more than 40ha of 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.

President Halimah Yacob unveiling the new Bicentennial Orchid at the Istana yesterday with Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development. They are flanked by Madam Halimah's husband, Mr M
Bicentennial Orchid unveiled at Istana: President Halimah Yacob unveiling the new Bicentennial Orchid at the Istana yesterday with Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development. They are flanked by Madam Halimah's husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, and National Parks Board chief executive Kenneth Er. Around 11,000 people visited the President's official residence, which was open to the public yesterday for Deepavali and decorated for the occasion with a floral rangoli design. Besides Deepavali-themed performances, there were guided nature walks and face-painting booths. A new multimedia site on the Istana, created by The Straits Times in collaboration with the Istana, was also launched yesterday. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The interior of the Istana is also brought to life with 360-degree photographs. 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 while being 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 bunker dating back to World War II, and a brick well on the less-visited side of the main building.

Users also get to meet the Istana 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.

Completing a project of this scale and depth was a major accomplishment.

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

 
 

The Straits Times 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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2019, with the headline 'Step into Istana without stepping out of your house'. Print Edition | Subscribe