#Heritage Atbara and Inverturret
📷 1 and 📷 2: Atbara and Inverturret after restoration (Photos by Kay Ngee Tan Architects)
The grounds of Singapore Botanic Gardens hold two of the oldest surviving colonial-era bungalows in Singapore, at No. 5 and No. 7 Gallop Road. Atbara and Inverturret were designed by renowned British architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Raffles Hotel fame.
Atbara was built first in 1898, named after a river in Sudan where the British won a historic war in the same year. The architectural design extended to the surrounding grounds of Atbara, which adopted the English Landscape style, recreating an environment reminiscent of a scenic countryside in England.
Atbara is one of the earliest known examples of houses in Singapore which adapts various European architectural styles to suit our tropical climate and lifestyle. The bungalow’s raised verandah, commonly found in British Malayan buildings, provides improved ventilation. The Tudor-inspired bungalow’s monochromatic colour scheme influenced the design of black and white bungalows that came later in Singapore in 1920s.
Inverturret was constructed in 1906. The name evokes images of Scottish rivers and streams. Inverturret also features tropical adaptations to make use of natural breezes for better ventilation. The bungalow has wrap-around verandahs, a grand staircase, century-old Carrara marble floors and hand-blown Rondel-glass panels and bay windows.
Atbara was originally owned by John Burkinshaw, a founding partner of one of Singapore’s oldest law practices. It was sold to Charles MacArthur, Chairman of the Straits Trading Company in 1903, who later built the neighbouring Inverturret. The two bungalows were leased to the French government as its embassy and ambassador’s residence from 1939 to 1999.
Both properties were acquired by the Singapore government in 1990 and in 2021, they were relaunched as the Forest Discovery Centre, and the Botanical Art Gallery, respectively, as part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Gallop Extension.
This transformation was planned back in 2015 when the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks unveiled plans for an 8-hectare addition to the Botanic Gardens, which included proposals for both buildings. During the five-year restoration process, the project team carefully protected the landscaping and kept the period aesthetics while sensitively matching new uses to the respective character of each building. The conservation project for both buildings was conferred the Architectural Heritage Awards in 2022 for its restoration efforts, commitment towards long-term building management and community engagement efforts.
Today, Atbara showcases Singapore’s forest ecosystems and forest restoration efforts, and a photo exhibition detailing the conservation efforts for the bungalows. Inverturret highlights the role of botany art in scientific documentation of plants, and houses Singapore’s first permanent botany art display featuring watercolour illustrations of both native and extinct species. The buildings are not only examples of Singapore’s conservation heritage, they elevate the Botanic Gardens’ mission in public education and outreach with grace.
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