The Fullerton Hotel Singapore
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore is a five-star luxury hotel located near the mouth of the Singapore River, in the Downtown Core of the Central Area, Singapore. It was originally known as the Fullerton Building, and also as the General Post Office Building. The address is 1 Fullerton Square. The Fullerton Building was named after Robert Fullerton, the first Governor of the Straits Settlements (1826–1829). Commissioned in 1924 as part of the British colony's centennial celebrations, the building was designed as an office building by Major P.H. Keys of Keys & Dowdeswell, a Shanghai firm of architects, which won the project through an architectural design competition. The architectural firm also designed the Capitol Theatre, its adjoined Capitol Building and the Singapore General Hospital.
Fort Fullerton and the Singapore Stone
The northern end of the building covers the site of Fort Fullerton, a fort built in 1829 to defend the settlement against any naval attacks. The fort consisted of an Artillery Barrack, a house for the officers, barracks for soldiers and a 68-pounder gun guarding the entrance to the river which used to stand on the location known as Fullerton square. In 1843, the fort was extended after a sandstone monolith, the Singapore Stone, with an inscription possibly dating back to the 13th century was demolished. The Singapore stone was, unfortunately, destroyed by the British. A fragment of this monolith was salvaged and preserved in the collection of the National Museum at Stamford Road. However, there were several criticisms as well as apprehensions regarding the building of Fort Fullerton. Merchants thought that it was a waste to use the prime location of the city for military instead of trading purpose, which would have prevented Singapore from generating more revenue and boosting its trading business. They were also worried that they would be in the direct line of fire if there were any attacks on the fort because the offices along the Singapore River were situated in close proximity to the fort. The fort was also said to be incapable of deterring any potential attacks from the sea, and had very low efficacy. Following these criticisms, the fort was finally demolished in 1873. The fort gave way to the first General Post Office and the Exchange Building in 1874. Plans to erect Fullerton Building were drawn up in 1920. However, due to a lack of funds, construction only began in February 1924. During the initial groundwork, excavations revealed the gun casements of the old Fort Fullerton. In fact, the Fullerton Building was built over reclaimed land. Built at a cost of $4.1 million and after delays of a few months, the building was completed in June 1928.
The Fullerton Building was opened on 27 June 1928 by the Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, who suggested the building be named after Robert Fullerton. The building had five founding tenants: the General Post Office, The Exchange, Singapore Club (now Singapore Town Club), the Marine Department, and the Import and Export Department (later the Ministry of Trade and Industry). It also housed the Chamber of Commerce, and various government departments dealing with agriculture, fisheries and forestry. One of the rooms in the Fullerton Building was where the late Finance Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee, wrote many of his budget speeches for Singapore. The building was designed to utilize natural ventilation, thus has four internal air-wells to cool the interiors.
Fullerton Square was an important commerce area in Singapore attracting many European immigrants and soon became the core of major business activity. Many European businesses were set up at Fullerton Square together with large banks such as the Chartered Bank and Hong Kong and Shanghai Banks. The Fullerton Building was built with Grandeur, Class and being the biggest structure built in Singapore displaying the authority and power of the British Colonial rule. In addition, The Fullerton Building operated with tax payers money meant as a government building, housed the Club for the Colonial Elite which was an exclusive club that took up almost 7,000 sq m of the upper floors which further elaborated the position and authority that the British has in Singapore.
There was also a lighthouse on the Fullerton Building, called the Fullerton Light, which was used to guide the ships ashore and to anchor along the piers. It was built to replace the Fort Canning Light, which was decommissioned in 1979 since it was gradually blocked because of globalization and the construction of more high-rise buildings in Singapore. The location of the previous lighthouse is now being occupied by The Lighthouse Restaurant, to keep up with the modern style of the Fullerton Hotel.
General Post Office
The General Post Office (GPO) was the purpose of the building as envisioned and it was this strategic purpose for which it was commissioned. GPO covered the two lower floors with postal halls, offices and sorting rooms. There were mail drops through which mail would fall to a band conveyor on the basement and dispatched up to the sorting room. One of the most memorable features is its curved service counter which was almost 90m long. The basement was linked to a 35-metre subway, also called the GPO tunnel that ran underneath Fullerton Road to a pier. From there, a lift would bring bags of mail to the Master Attendant's Pier, and then transferred onto ships that were anchored at the pier. Special mail was all sent to the neighbouring countries via sea, which was the main transport back then, thus requiring at least 2 months to reach United Kingdom. This is further delayed by the fact that all mail had to be personally sorted by hands.
Before postal workers were allowed to work, they had to pledge to uphold their integrity. As public servants, they were not allowed to leak any information on what went through them (including the origin of the mail). Everything at work was strictly confidential. In the past, there was no bank transfers available thus people often sent money by post using envelopes without using registered mail due to the higher cost incurred. Thus, it is extremely important that postal workers were honest and did not steal any items that went through the mail. To reinforce the importance of confidentiality, the comptroller of the General Post Office would stand at the gallery above the sorting halls to observe all postal workers and ensure none of the letters or mail were opened while being sorted.
The life of postal workers back then was incomparable with postmen working at Singapore Post today. Fridays used to be the day which overseas mail would arrive from Britain and postal workers had to work overtime with no extra pay, just to wait for the mail to arrive and then sieve through and sort them before ending work. Also, they were not entitled to any days off and had to work around the clock. They are also not required to personally separate local and overseas letters.
An interesting discovery from the history of the General Post Office is the presence of Santa Claus Main Office up till today. During Christmas seasons in the past, the post office would be filled with letters from children, which are all directed to Santa Claus. These letters were then sent to the Salvation Army, who would reply the children on behalf of Santa Claus. Presently, these letters are forwarded to the Santa Claus Main Office which is situated in the Santa Claus Village in Finland. This shows that the British's establishments of fulfilling children's wishes are still present today although many significant changes had occurred.
The exclusive Singapore Club rents premises on the upper floors of the building to provide for their members' need and comfort. It only allowed entry to top European tycoons and British civil servants. There were rooms where members dined, lounged, conferred, and played billiards and cards. Bedrooms on the attic storey provide accommodation for members. When the Economic Development Board (EDB) was formed in 1961, it evicted the Singapore Club from the Fullerton Building. Subsequently, the Singapore Club relocated to Clifford House at Collyer Quay and then to Straits Trading Building on Battery Road near Boat Quay, vacating Fullerton Building for use by EDB and more government offices.
World War II
In the last days before Britain's surrender to Japan in 1942, the building was used as a hospital, with makeshift operation rooms for wounded British soldiers. During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, Governor Sir Shenton Thomas and Lady Thomas sought refuge in the sleeping quarters of the Singapore Club. The Fullerton Building was also where General Percival discussed with Sir Shenton the possibility of surrendering Singapore to the Japanese. Subsequently, Fullerton Building became the headquarters of the Japanese military administration in Singapore.
In 1950s, The Fullerton Building became recognised as the unofficial public monument. It stood out of the City's Skyline as the most prominent feature of the waterfront. On its rooftop stood the lighthouse, whose beacon guided all ships approaching the harbour. In time, The Fullerton became the symbol of Singapore, appearing in every postcard, recognised by traveller and ship captains from all over the world. Singapore was remembered all around the world with the image of The Fullerton Building.
In 1965, Singapore's independence from colonial status to nationhood took place at Fullerton Square. From the majestic background of the Fullerton Building, crowds declared their support for merdeka independence.
From the 1970s to 1995, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore used the building as its headquarters. Internal alterations were carried out on the building by the Public Works Department in 1985. The General Post Office, under Singapore Post, vacated the building in March 1996. Though plans were initiated to conserve the Fullerton Building after that, it was only gazetted as a conservation building by the Singapore Government in 1997.
In 1997, Sino Land (Hong Kong) Company Ltd, a sister company of Far East Organization, acquired the Fullerton Building from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). It spent close to another S$300 million converting Fullerton Building into a hotel and building the two-storey commercial complex One Fullerton opposite Fullerton Road. Renovation works on the Fullerton Building were completed on 8 December 2000. The Fullerton Hotel Singapore was officially opened by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 1 January 2001.
The site, sandwiched between the Civic District and the central business district, was sold together with an underpass and the seafront site on which One Fullerton now stands for S$110 million. The two are linked by an air-conditioned underground pedestrian walkway with travellators. To ensure that the historical Fullerton Building continues to be visible from Marina Bay, URA specified a low building height for One Fullerton across the road. This also ensured that guests at The Fullerton Hotel would have unobstructed views of the sea.
Architecture and conservation
Keys and Dowdeswell was an established British international architecture company, their design works can be seen in buildings throughout China and South East Asia from 1920s to 1940s, some of the most prominent buildings in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore were designed by them. Their design works are usually with major significance to a historical period, geographical place and local culture tradition, with many of their buildings in the classical style.
Major Keys & Dowdeswell were established and distinguished designers of grand interior spaces and classical façades. They followed the principals of 20th-century Beaux-Arts tradition of classicism. Relating to some of their core principals in design, they are largely Monumental and Ornamental.
The grey Aberdeen granite Fullerton Building sits on 41,100 square metres (442,400 square feet) of land. The height of its walls measures 36.6 metres (120 ft) from the ground. The building has Neo-classical architectural features which include a two-storey fluted Doric colonnades on their heavy base, and the lofty portico over the main entrance with trophy designs and the Royal Coat of Arms, crafted by Italian Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli. Originally, there were five distinct frontages, each treated in the Doric order. 14 elevators served the four floors plus the basement floors. A hollow cellular raft foundation was proposed by the original contractors in the 1920s to save cost because bedrock lies directly below the building. The Fullerton Building also possesses the one and only barrel-vaulted, coffered ceiling in Singapore.
The Fullerton Building restoration project from 1998 to 2000 was a difficult conservation project that involved an institutional building. Architects 61, together with DP Consultants, was engaged to convert it into a 400-room luxury hotel. The hotel rooms were designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates.
During its redevelopment, the historical building had most of its exterior architectural features retained and restored. The conservation work was coordinated by the URA, which had certain stipulations that the new owners had to comply with. Several features of the original building had to be restored faithfully. These included the General Post Office gallery area on the ground floor, with bays that corresponded with the building's towering Doric columns on the façade, and the Straits Club Billiard Room. The post office gallery no longer exists, but has been subdivided to provide a bar, a restaurant and the hotel foyer. The Straits Club Billiard Room was kept, but without its wood panelling.
The building's neo-classical columns and high-ceiling verandas were retained. It was clad in Shanghai plaster panels, which have been restored. The owners converted the windows back to be housed in timber frames. Part of the tunnel under Fullerton Road, which was used to transfer mail onto ships waiting in the harbour, has also been kept.
While the building's exterior has been conserved, the architects had also to transform the interior into a five-star hotel. The room on the fourth storey, where the British Governor was first told of the British military's decision to surrender to the Japanese during World War II, was converted to an exclusive lounge. The room has a barrel-vaulted, coffered ceiling, which is the only one of its kind in Singapore, and is the only surviving interior from the original building.
The building's historical lighthouse, which used to guide ships into the port, has been incorporated into a food and beverage outlet. The Fullerton Light, a revolving beacon of 540 kilocandelas mounted on the roof of the building, was installed in 1958 to replace the Fort Canning Lighthouse which was being demolished. The beacon could be seen by ships 29 kilometres (15.7 nautical miles) away. The Lighthouse has been moved to a new location as an artefact near Harbour Front Tower.
The Fullerton Building was designed for natural ventilation before the age of air-conditioning; one of the architectural devices used to provide this was the internal air-wells. There were four air-wells along the central longitudinal axis, divided by three internal bays of offices, linking the front façade with the rear. These no longer exist as most of the interior was demolished to create a single large atrium. It was the largest and the last example of this kind of architecture in Singapore. As air-conditioning became increasingly common, the air-wells became redundant.
Two parallel sets of guest rooms now ring the hotel's central triangular sky-lit atrium. One row faces out towards the harbour and the tall buildings of the central business district. The rooms of the inner ring have views of the courtyard in the centre of the building. There is an indoor garden over the old Straits Club at the centre of the atrium which can double as a venue for cocktails. The main entrance into the hotel, where dignitaries and celebrities are received, is covered with a large glass canopy at the porch.
Structural and foundation works
Although studies carried out before the renovation work began showed most of the raft foundation was still in good condition, water from the adjacent Singapore River had seeped slowly into some of the foundation's cells over the years, flooding parts of the old basement. As a result, a new precast concrete platform was built over the cells, and waterproofing added. Pillars supporting the entire building now rest on the platform. The engineering team installed a new set of five drainage pumps to counteract the slow seepage of river water. As the building sits on solid rock foundation, no additional piling was required.
Gazetting as National Monument
The building was officially gazetted on December 7, 2015, as Singapore's 71st national monument, by the country's National Heritage Board (NHB). With its new status, the building will be preserved under the Preservation of Monuments Act. The former Fullerton Building is one of three icons to be given the national monument status this year. The other two are Jurong Town Hall and Istana Kampong Glam.
The hotel has a 25-metre outdoor infinity swimming pool, fitness centre and a luxury spa. It also has five food and beverage outlets. For business travellers, the hotel has a 24-hour financial centre with the Bloomberg Professional service that provides financial reports and world news, and 15 meeting rooms equipped with conference facilities.
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore won the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List award. On 18 July 2001, the hotel received an architectural heritage award from the Urban Redevelopment Authority for its successful restoration of the former Fullerton Building.
- Melanie Chew (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel Singapore. ISBN 981-04-4777-9.
- William Warren, Jill Gocher (2007). Asia's legendary hotels: the romance of travel. Singapore: Periplus Editions. ISBN 978-0-7946-0174-4.
- The Fullerton Hotel Homepage
- 360° Panoramic view from the roof of the Fullerton Hotel Virtual Tour