The black and white houses were originally built by British colonial families. The design, sometimes referred to as Tudorbethan Style, combines tropical and art deco elements with a traditional Victorian style home. Inspired by the Malay practice of building homes on stilts, the black and white houses sit on elevated platforms – this was popular with British expats who wanted to distance themselves from dangerous tropical insects and also alleviated concerns about flooding during the rainy season. Other elements that are characteristic of the black and white houses are large verandas and overhanging roofs. The houses were designed with high ceilings, shutter-style windows and open-concept layouts in order to amplify any breeze that passed through the house.
The usual occupants of these homes were Singapore’s elite: powerful businessmen, lawyers and high-ranking government officials. They enjoyed the wide-open green spaces combined with the privacy that the estates these homes were built on gave them. However, in 1942 when the Japanese successfully invaded Singapore, most of these homes were abandoned and either left deserted to fall into disrepair, or they became living quarters for Japanese soldiers.
Due to Singapore’s rapidly growing population, many of these homes have been destroyed in favour of more space-efficient housing, however, about 500 Black and White houses remain to this day, some in central neighbourhoods Dempsey Road and Adam Park with others in outlying regions like Seletar and Sembawang.
These homes continue to be very popular, especially among British and other expat families, despite sometimes having a dark past. For example, the Black and White houses in Adam Park were used as POW camps during WWII. Regardless, their scarcity and extravagance keep them in high demand. Rentals are available for some of these properties and start around $5,000/month on the low end and can go as high as $35,000/month for high-end properties in central locations.