George D. Coleman, full name George Drumgoole Coleman, is often said to have been Singapore’s first architect. Born in Ireland in 1795, he first went to Singapore in 1822. Acting as an adviser to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles after the founding of Singapore, George D. Coleman played a major part in creating the infrastructure and many new buildings in the new trading post.
He is the person responsible for many of Singapore’s early colonial-style buildings, and also for creating a colonial-design trend that would be followed for many years afterwards.
Whilst a number of his buildings were damaged or demolished over the years, including the country’s first Anglican church of St Andrew’s and the first campus of the Raffles Institution, there are still some fine examples of his work around Singapore. Remaining buildings by George D. Coleman include:
The Armenian Church
The oldest existing Christian place of worship in Singapore, the Armenian Church dates back to 1835. It is dedicated to the first Armenian monk, St Gregory the Illuminator. The pale building is topped by a towering spire, and has a grand entrance that is supported by Roman-style columns. The interior features designs that are common in Armenian churches, such as a small dome on the vaulted ceiling. The church, located on Hill Street, has a peaceful Memorial Garden today. Although there is no longer an Armenian priest to serve the church, it is still an active place of worship. It was listed as a National Monument in 1973.
The Arts House
Now home to an interesting centre for the arts, the Arts House was originally built by George D. Coleman as a grand private home for a wealthy merchant from Scotland, John Argyle Maxwell. It was constructed in 1826, with a colonial neo-Palladian style. It is the oldest remaining colonial building in Singapore. Featuring Italian-esque columns and elegant cornices, the building has a long history.
Used as a court house for several years, and later extended to serve as the Supreme Court, several Victorian features were added over the subsequent years. Used as a storehouse, the Assembly House, and renamed as Parliament House in 1965 following Singapore’s independence, it was listed as a National Monument in 1992. It has been the Arts House since 2003.
Now part of the glorious CHIJMES complex, and, indeed, the oldest building within the group, Caldwell House was built in the early 1840s. Originally constructed as a private home, it was built in a neoclassical style. The roof was designed so as to keep people inside cool in the hot tropical climate, and the building features big French-inspired windows and a curved upper bay.
Once home to nuns, who belonged to the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, the entire complex has now been repurposed into an area for entertainment and leisure, with Caldwell House now containing an art gallery. It is one of Singapore’s National Monuments.
Fort Canning Hill
The cemetery at Fort Canning Hill was the first Christian cemetery in Singapore. In use from the early 1820s to the mid-1860s, George D. Coleman was responsible for the planning. Although only a few gravestones remain today, Coleman himself was laid to rest at Fort Canning after his death in 1844; it is possible to see his grave along with an ornate memorial.
George D. Coleman also designed the grand cupolas within Fort Canning Park.
Other Related Places of Interest
Several places around Singapore have been named in honour of the former talented architect. These include Coleman Street, where Coleman’s own house was once located before being demolished, Coleman Bridge, and Coleman Lane. You can also find plaques erected in his memory in places like St Andrew’s Cathedral.
In addition to being instrumental in the early development of Singapore, George D. Coleman was responsible, in his surveying capacity, for the first detailed map of Singapore, and was one of a small group of men who published a national newspaper. Additionally, George D. Coleman started the use of convict labour in Singapore’s past.