All is not black and white at Burkill Hall

Mistaken to be a black-and-white bungalow for more than 50 years, the historic 1868 Burkill Hall at the Singapore Botanic Gardens will soon be returned to its original white palette.

The two-storey bungalow, now a popular wedding venue, will have its black window and door frames, timber beams and railings repainted in January.

This comes after Gardens director Nigel Taylor discovered two years ago that the structure is actually an Anglo-Malayan plantation-style house. It is the last one standing in the region, and possibly the world.

While researching on the Gardens’ structures in the lead-up to its Unesco World Heritage Site bid, he found that Burkill Hall pre-dates the black-and-white style, which appeared here only in 1898.

Photos of Burkill Hall from the late 1800s up till 1959 also showed it clad in white paint. Dr Taylor said the Public Works Department, which likely did not know as much about the building’s history, painted it black and white in the 1960s.

The repainting project will also include giving the Gardens’ iconic 1930s bandstand a fresh coat of paint. It is part of an overall effort to conserve the heritage features and retain the authenticity of the 156-year-old site’s original structures and features.

Work is expected to be completed in February.

Dr Taylor said the repainting project “relates very much to the Unesco accolade because one of the things that Unesco looks for is authenticity”.

On Burkill Hall, he said: “It’s something much older and much more special (than a black-and-white). To recognise that, we now need to redecorate it in the style it was originally decorated.”

The effort will be undertaken and sponsored by paint and coating company AkzoNobel, which declined to provide the cost of the sponsorship.

Designed like a farmhouse, Burkill Hall was built to function without electricity. For instance, it has verandahs on the east and west sides to create a wind-tunnel effect.

Such plantation houses were common in Orchard Road, which was dominated by nutmeg plantations in the 1840s and 1850s.

These homes made way for development alongside the decline of the crop from 1857 due to disease.

Constructed by contracted builder “Ah Wang” at a cost of $4,000, it served as the residence of the Gardens’ superintendents and directors for more than 100 years.

These included its first superintendent, Scotsman Lawrence Niven, who designed and developed the Gardens between 1860 and 1875 for the Agri-Horticulture Society.

Burkill Hall was conserved in 2008, while the bandstand received protected status in 2009.

Volunteer tour guide Chia Bee Lian, 60, who takes visitors to the Gardens, said she supports the National Parks Board’s push to upkeep and maintain the space.

She said: “I think it’s a good idea to put everything back to what it was intended. Tourists usually make a beeline for the National Orchid Garden where Burkill stands, so it will be meaningful for them to see the building in its original form.”


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