Built between 1930 and 1933 by the Public Works Department (PWD) Custom House is representative of the style and architecture of buildings designed by the PWD under the leadership of Frank Domington Ward, the Chief Architect. The original design of the building was centred on a courtyard partially surroundod by rooms with ample windows to allow for light and air. This concept worked well in Singapore's climate before the days of air conditioning.
The design of its curved main entrance facade is a good example of how a building can ‘turn a corner' and contribute to the visual identity of the street. Dorrington also designed the old Supreme Court, old Hill Street Police Station (today's Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts Building) and old Traffic Police Headquarters Building (Red Dot Museum today).
Like many other buildings commissioned by the PWD, Custom House was built to house administrative offices. The building was most notably known as Customs headquarters from June 1932 to August 1989. Other offices which had occupied parts of the building included the Film Censor's Office at the rear and the Maxwell Road Post Office on the ground level.
During the Second World War in 1941, Custom House provided shelter to expatriate customs officers fleeing Malaya. They and their families sought refuge on the ground floor of Custom House.
Shelter was also provided to a number of Australian soldiers who were rescued from the sea after being attacked by Japanese troops.
Between 1959 and 1973, the Custom House underwent several rounds of renovation. In 1959, the entrance hall was renovated and a new lift was installed. The hall provided a fitting entrance to the building and accommodated the reception area and officers from the then Entertainments Duty Department. Due to the growing numbers of customs staff, the building was again renovated in 1967 to increase its floor area by 1.060 sq meters. Finally, in 1973, the building was fully air-conditioned to provide a more conducive working environment.
In 1989, the Customs headquarters was moved to the then World Trade Centre at Maritime Square and the 57-year-old Custom House was re-designated for commercial use and renamed as the White House. The Custom House was gazetted by the URA as a conservation building on 2nd April 2007, in recognition of its architectural and historical contribution to the area. It was renamed another time as Maxwell Chambers in 2010 and houses the world's first integrated dispute resolution centre for international arbitration cases. Singapore Customs is now located at Revenue House and has the vision of assuring the integrity of the trading system to make trade easy, fair and square.