SINGAPORE – A cluster of buildings in Upper Thomson Road that has served as a safe haven for the vulnerable for more than eight decades will soon be conserved.

On Friday (Oct 15), the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced its proposal to conserve six buildings and an entrance archway belonging to St Theresa’s Home.

The structures, which include a chapel, dormitory blocks and an administration building, have stood since 1937 when the home moved to Upper Thomson from a small facility in Derbyshire Road that it had occupied since its inception in 1935.

A recognition of its architectural and social significance

URA said the move is in recognition of the buildings’ historical, architectural and social significance, as well as their contribution to the sense of identity and character of the Upper Thomson area.

They were designed by pioneer architect Ho Kwong Yew, and serve as a rare and intact example of a pre-war purpose-built welfare home, said URA.

At its genesis, the home was known as the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, named after the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order of nuns that established it. The order continues to be one of the world’s best-known charity organisations involved in helping the impoverished elderly.

It ran the home for 68 years, taking in the aged sick regardless of religion or ethnicity – against the norm during the colonial era.

What is being proposed for conservation

After the order left Singapore in 2003, the Catholic Welfare Services – the social service arm of the Catholic Church in Singapore – took over management of the home and renamed it St Theresa’s Home.

Today, the markings of its old name can still be seen on the facade of the home’s entrance archway and gate house, both of which have been proposed for conservation.

Look closely at this photo of the home’s gate house and you can make out the old name peeking out from behind the new ones in blue.


And here’s the same thing on its entrance arch.


Also part of the URA’s proposal are five other buildings.

The first is a two-storey chapel that lies at the home’s heart. The chapel has a reinforced concrete barrel vault ceiling, and its pulpit is in a semi-circular recess that is framed by an arch, giving it depth and focus that draws the eye of the worshippers.


On the chapel’s second floor is a statue of the Virgin Mary, which overlooks the landscape garden. It is framed by an arched pediment and supported by classical style columns.


Two identical two-storey dormitory blocks, one seen in the photo below, which flank the chapel on either side, are also proposed for conservation. They have a distinctive first-storey arcade that rises to form the second-storey parapet, and are topped by a broad roof that hovers above the upper veranda.


The sisters’ quarters and an administration building, located towards the front of the compound, round off the list in URA’s proposal.

The two colonnaded buildings frame the view of the chapel from the landscape garden. The administration building, seen in the photo below, is on the right of those entering the compound.


The photo below shows the sisters’ quarters which are across from the administration building.


Several other buildings in the compound were not included in the proposal. The cluster of buildings are highlighted in this map.


URA said its proposal is supported by the site’s owner, the Catholic Archbishop of Singapore.

It added that the owner has plans for adaptive reuse of the buildings that have been proposed for conservation, as part of its redevelopment plans for the site.

This will involve housing an archdiocesan heritage centre, church archives, church organisations’ offices and a priests’ retirement home in the conserved buildings, where feasible.

“(This) allows the site to cater to modern needs while safeguarding its rich heritage,” said URA, adding that it will work closely with the owner to facilitate the conservation process, and guide it on meaningful uses of the heritage buildings.

According to the National Heritage Board’s conservation portal, Roots, Catholic Welfare Services released plans in 2017 to redevelop the home into a modernised, larger and livelier elder-care facility to be called St Theresa’s Village, at a new site which has yet to be announced.

The proposal to conserve the six buildings and the entrance archway was published on Friday and will be open for public feedback and comments until Nov 13.

URA said the buildings and entrance archway will thereafter be gazetted as conserved buildings.

Last modified: October 15, 2021