Keeping history intact.
That is the impression one gets when one walks through the interior of the former Supreme Court wing. The National Gallery Singapore, the most anticipated addition to Singapore's visual arts scene, opens this November occupying both the City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings. While work on the former Supreme Court wing is in its final stages, refurbishment of the adjacent City Hall wing is still ongoing.
Construction of the museum is being led by studioMilou Architecture, a Paris-based firm which specialises in museum design and the adaptive re-use of historical and heritage buildings, and its Singapore partner, CPG Consultants.
A recent media tour of the Supreme Court wing revealed that historic architectural elements such as arched windows, neo-classical columns and even wooden plaques bearing the name of past Chief Justices have been retained.
Several of these have been restored to their old glory, with new touches such as shiny new marble and granite floorings.
Extensive care has been taken by studioMilou architects to maintain the building's historic interiors while adding fixtures to meet modern building codes. This is apparent even in the additions such as lighting and fans. It took nearly a year for the architects to design ideal lighting systems that matched the aesthetics of the building.
A key part of the conservation has been paying attention to existing timber finishes as well as wooden furniture which can be seen in several parts of the building including the Chief Justice's chamber, office, the historical lobby and the rotunda library.
The facade conservation needed major care too. After 80 years of exposure to the elements, stains, deposits and contaminants needed to be cleaned up from the outside. Special attention was needed for the five sculptural friezes and over 50 Corinthian and Ionic columns which adorn the buildings. The focus here has again been on preservation.
The biggest element of surprise, though, is the simple line of the roof which defines the gallery. Starting at the Supreme Court wing, extending over the former alleyway between the buildings and running atop the length of City Hall, the flat glass, steel and aluminium structure links the two monuments as one institution. More than 15,000 perforated aluminium panels of varying patterns and perforations in varied shades of gold allow for a stunning play of light on a bright day. Supporting the roof and the veil of panels are five tree-like steel structures which are between 12m and 30m tall.
The National Gallery will house the largest collection of South-east Asian art in the world. There are more than 10,000 artworks in Singapore's national collection and the new museum will display about 1,000 of them at a time. The project cost is $530 million. With a floor area of around 60,000 sq m, it will be comparable in size to the Musee D'Orsay in Paris and the Museo Nacional Del Prado in Madrid.