Gd Coleman Singapore’s First Architect

Following the establishment of modern Singapore in 1819, Stamford Raffles released his Town Plan in 1822 to help plan where buildings would be constructed. The proposal was intended to assist urban development in order to guarantee that physical expansion followed a systematic pattern. The city was laid out on a grid basis, with zones clearly demarcated as residential areas for the various ethnic groups.

Several professionals were consulted by Raffles, including an Irish civil architect known as George Drumgoole Coleman. Coleman’s involvement went far beyond that of a consultant. Coleman was an architect and town planner who designed and built many of the most beautiful colonial structures, some of which are still standing.

Coleman Bridge. Image Source (AddGrainOnEarth)
St Andrew’s Cathedral and a house built by GD Coleman. Image Source (National Archive of Singapore)

In part for his significant role in the planning and construction of much of civic infrastructure during this time, Coleman has been regarded as Singapore’s first architect.

Some of Coleman’s structures have already been demolished and rebuilt, as is the case with Singapore’s rapidly changing cityscape. There are numerous locations in Singapore named after him, including Coleman Street, Lane, and Bridge. The first Coleman Bridge was a brick bridge built in 1840.

David Coleman’s early architectural projects in Singapore were to create residences for Europeans, including the Government House on Fort Canning Hill, a Palladian house for David Skene Napier in 1826, and a palatial brick home for John Argyle Maxwell in 1826, which has been preserved as part of the Arts House at the Old Parliament complex.

Coleman was in charge of the works of the Entrance of Old Christian Cemetery at Fort Canning Park. Image Source (Flckr)
He designed The Armenian Church of St. Gregory, Singapore. Image Source (Wedding & Events Decor and Coordinator)

In 1845, Coleman built a home for H.C. Caldwell, which was sold to Rev. Father Jean-Marie Beurel and subsequently incorporated into the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus complex of structures in 1852. The mansion at Caldwell House in CHIJMES is today known as Caldwell House.

Coleman also designed and erected churches for European clients. He built the Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Enlightener in 1834, as well as the first church of St. Andrew’s a year later.

Coleman was named the first Chief of Public Works for the United States. He utilized convict labour in the construction sector at a time of labour scarcity, employing the Public Works Department and the Convict Department.

Coleman conceived the plan of using convict labour in the construction of public works as Superintendent of Public Works and Convicts. Image source (Eventfinda)
Coleman’s former home at Coleman Street. Image Source (National Archive of Singapore)

The former government offices on Empress Place and Istana, the Fort Canning battlements, and Cavenagh Bridge are all examples of such structures.

In 1828, he built his own house, the Coleman House at Coleman Street, which is regarded as one of his greatest achievements. However, it was razed in 1965 to make place for the Peninsula Hotel and Shopping Complex.

Designed as places of rest by GD Coleman Cupolas, Fort Canning Green, Singapore. Image Source (Wikimedia Commons)
The tablet on Fort Canning Hill honours Coleman’s role in Singapore’s architectural history.

Coleman was in charge of the building of several structures at the Old Christian Cemetery on Fort Canning Hill, such as fences and iconic gateways. He went to Europe in 1841, but he came back to Singapore in 1844. He was sent back to Britain and died shortly after his arrival. He was buried at the cemetery on the hill, where he had been previously interred.

There is a memorial stone on the hill to commemorate Coleman’s role in Singapore’s architectural scene. It is perhaps fitting that Sir George William Emil Hammam was buried on the hill overlooking his contributions to Singapore, which he designed. He was a prominent figure in Singapore’s early history and helped establish many of the city’s first buildings.

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