Historic Retreat In The City
Recently garnering an architectural award, the rejuvenated Hotel Fort Canning is a veritable urban oasis and luxuriant boutique hotel housed in a 1920s building.
Brimming with history, the hotel building of some 90 rooms was formerly the British East India Command Headquarters during World War II. Now brimming with scenic perspectives of the city and civic district, it enjoys the greenery of a historic park, and is a stone’s throw from the Orchard Road shopping belt, Clarke Quay entertainment hub, and the central business and civic districts.
Originally called Bukit Larangan or ‘Forbidden Hill’ in Malay, the Fort Canning Hill itself soars 60 metres high and has the distinction of having once been the preferred address in the 14th century of former Majapahit kings. Add to that majestic clout the fact that when Stamford Raffles first arrived in Singapore in 1819, he built his first residence on the hill, a 100-feet long wooden bungalow with venetians and an attap roof.
The historic building itself was constructed in 1926 as the Administration Building of the British Far East Command HQ. In fact, the General-Officer-Commanding, Lieutenant-General Percival, had an office there. It was then occupied by the Japanese military from the years 1942 to 1945. After the war, the British army took it back to use as an administrative centre.
The structure came under the purview of the Singapore Armed Forces when Singapore became independent. In 1995, it housed the Fort Canning Country Club. And in 2002, The Legends Fort Canning Park took over. Fast forward to November 2010, when the restored heritage building was reopened as the Hotel Fort Canning, the hotel wing of The Legends Fort Canning Park.
The hotel was recently conferred the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Architectural Heritage Award (AHA) for carefully preserving and integrating a 1926 heritage icon.The concept of the project started in late 2007 and was completed in November 2010 with a total investment of two and a half years of intensive planning and a SGD$70 million restoration effort.
Oh Chee Eng, chief executive officer of the property says, “We are absolutely delighted and greatly honoured to earn such a prestigious award. This is a remarkable recognition for all of us at Hotel Fort Canning in celebrating Singapore’s heritage in style.” He adds that the property celebrates its first year anniversary this month.
The historic property was meticulously restored by award winning Singapore architectural company, DP Architects. The design philosophy, DP explains, was to highlight the conserved building’s historical legacy, and the original architecture and many distinctive features of the building were retained to celebrate its historic past and timeless design appeal. As well, the modern additions were chosen to complement and enhance the marriage of tradition with modernity.
Jeremy Tan, senior associate director for DP Architects says, “There is probably no other hotel in town that is situated within a National Heritage Park with a history that dates back to the very beginning of Singapore. Our approach was to celebrate the history of the Hill by enhancing the richness of its heritage.
“The building’s rich history and heritage is celebrated through its façade, structural and architectural elements – by stripping away the claddings of yesteryears to reveal its original architectural details, for example, the balustrades, column bases, handrails and window grilles. The colours and tones chosen are subtle and soothing, and evoke an air of sublime elegance and subtle luxury befitting the dignified colonial landmark. These elements seamlessly harmonise with the greenery of Fort Canning Hill.”
He explains that one of the major discoveries during the transformation was the porte coche, previously an enclosed lobby, and now expressed as a grand entrance or a drop off area of the hotel. Tan adds, “The view of the century-old hill and the verandah lifestyle of the past have inspired an unconventional approach to the placement of the living area and bathroom in the guestrooms. It celebrates the rituals of cleansing with an appreciation of views of the park – an ode to the Forbidden Springs on the Hill for royal princesses as told in the Annals of Singapura.”
The historical charm carries over to the hotel, where the lobby area features glass encased floor level archaeological pits filled with 14th and 19th century artifacts unearthed by Dr John N Miksic, resident archaeologist at Fort Canning Park and his team.
Its interiors also exude old world luxe and pampering and are peppered with designer furnishings. My indulgent deluxe room showcased a unique bathroom design set against full-length windows. The lush green landscaping of park and city were captivating. On level one, accommodations open out to well-manicured gardens and sun decks. The Majapahit and Governor’s Suites are especially pleasing, proffering designer furniture pieces, large whirlpool bathtubs, a luxuriously appointed living room and a separate guest receiving room as well.
Dining options include the Glass House, which offers Asian-accented fare. The local food dishes created by executive chef Ivan Lim, like the popular Glass House Chicken Curry and Fried Mee Siam with Boston Lobster are very tasty. Other eateries are Gattopardo Itallian Grill and Pizza Bar, the Tisettanta Lounge, and the Lobby Lounge where in-house guests enjoy all day coffee, tea and evening wines and juices. Guests can also enjoy two beautifully configured swimming pools and a well-outfitted TechnoGym. For celebratory and business functions, there are two ballrooms and three smaller function rooms.
Do visit the well-appointed THANN Sanctuary spa from Thailand, which is notable for its personalized pampering treatments, like the THANN signature massage, which blends Thai and other deep-tissue relaxation techniques. The four Asian-accented and spacious treatment rooms are comfortably large with scenic views of the parkland. Retreating in the city just got easier.