Frank Dorrington Ward
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Frank Dorrington Ward (b. 17 April 1885, Hastings, England - d. unknown) was chief architect of the Straits Settlements Public Works Department from 1928 until 1939. The versatile Ward was responsible for such prominent landmarks as the Kallang airport terminal, Hill Street Police Station, Clifford Pier and most famously the Supreme Court building.
Ward studied at Kent College, Canterbury, until he was eighteen and became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1909, joining London County Council’s Architectural Department that year. He served in the Royal Engineers from 1915 until 1919 and demobilised as a lieutenant.
Architectural career in Singapore and Malaya
In 1920 he moved to the Straits Settlements and became Chief Assistant Architect in the Public Works Department. He helped to found the Institute of Architects of Malaya in 1923 and was its secretary for sixteen years. Ward was promoted to Government (chief) Architect in 1928 and became a Fellow of the RIBA the following year.
Customs House, Clifford Pier and SVC Drill Hall
His Customs House and Post Office on Maxwell Road opened in 1930 and remained in government use until 1989. It is now called Maxwell Chambers and houses an international arbitration centre. He designed Clifford Pier (1933) on Collyer Quay to replace the smaller, aging Johnston’s Pier. A notable feature was the hall’s arched ceiling across which concrete trusses formed an attractive riband pattern. After closing in 2006 when sea traffic moved to Marina South Pier, this gazetted national monument has become a restaurant and bar.
The headquarters for the Singapore Volunteer Corps, commonly called the Drill Hall, was another major project of Ward’s. Opened in early 1933 it included offices with sea views, social facilities, and an impressive 140-feet long column-free drill hall with a 40-feet high barrel-vaulted ceiling. Decorating the exterior was an elegant vertical window which incorporated the regimental badge and overlooked Beach Road. The military used the camp until 2000 and the Drill Hall (Block 9) is now a gazetted monument awaiting redevelopment.
A number of police buildings owed their designs to Ward, including Marine Police Station near Cavenagh Bridge and Robinson Road Station which was home to the Criminal Investigation Department. His barracks for married junior officers on Maxwell Road became the Traffic Police headquarters in 1928 and served this role until 1999. It is now called red dot Traffic and houses a design museum.
The most famous of these was Hill Street Police Station and Barracks (1934). This was the government’s tallest building though the station itself only occupied the ground floor, while the upper five floors accommodated almost 1000 single and married policemen. Typical of Ward’s structures were two internal courtyards (one used as a parade ground) which brought light and fresh air into the surrounding rooms. The exterior had an Italianate Renaissance feel, with rusticated surfaces, bay windows and loggias (verandahs) supported by carved scrolls. Also striking was how it appeared to wrap around the corner of the block. The police left in 1980 and it has since been used by various statutory bodies – currently the main occupant is the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts. It became a national monument in 1998.
He was responsible for Malaya’s most modern hospital, Malacca General Hospital (1934), which had a ward simply called ”Dorrington Ward” in his honour. During his tenure as Government Architect, the Public Works Department also built Changi Prison (1936).
In order to divert commercial flights from Royal Air Force Seletar Air Base, work began on Singapore’s first civil airport in 1931. The two-storey terminal building was Ward’s most contemporary work, combining elements of Art Deco and Modernism with green windows, walls of transparent glass and gleaming Vitrolite, horizontal streamlining and cantilevered balconies. To some observers the cylindrical glass control tower resembled an elevated cockpit while the flanking parallel concrete roof slabs and floors evoked the wings of a biplane.
Opening in 1937, it was hailed as one of the finest airports in Asia and the Empire but the rapid growth in commercial flying meant it was outgrown and replaced just eighteen years later. The terminal served as the People’s Association’s headquarters from 1960 until 2010, when they moved to another Ward building – the former Victoria School in Jalan Besar (1933). The 2011 Singapore Biennale will see the former terminal used as exhibition space.
In contrast to the airport’s modernity, the Supreme Court was not only Ward’s final work but also Singapore’s last neo-classical building. He drafted eight different proposals and the successful plan featured four blocks surrounding a circular domed library, with a much larger dome over the portico and columns at the front. To minimise the effect of traffic noise Ward did not locate rooms overlooking High Street.
Britain’s rearmament drive caused a steel shortage and delayed construction until 1937. At the building’s opening in August 1939, it was variously acclaimed as Ward’s masterpiece, Malaya’s finest building, and an inspiration for future architects, though some later commentators have criticised its proportions. The economic depression ruled out extravagant interiors but the exterior boasted a handsome dome which enhanced Singapore’s skyline, historical reliefs on the portico, and Rodolfo Nolli’s figurative sculptures on the tympanum and plaster Ionic and Corinthian columns. These complemented the Corinthian columns of the neighbouring Municipal Building (now City Hall). Both buildings were gazetted as national monuments in 1992 and vacated in 2005. From 2013 they will form the National Art Gallery.
A month after the court’s opening a model of Ward’s Padang master plan was exhibited. He proposed a Treasury matching the Municipal Building on the court’s left, a riverside legislative council building, and a grand plaza on the site of Victoria Memorial Hall. This plan had been in development for two years but by the time of the display he had retired to Kent and it never proceeded. He left Singapore 0n 25 August 1939 after almost 20 years with the Public Works Department.
Ward was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1941.
Married with a child.
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List of images
Thian, Y.S., Chong, C.C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002). In session: Supreme court of Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people (p.11). Singapore: Supreme Court.
(Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN)
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.