Heritage Spotlight

Built at different times over the years, the Ramakrishna Mission in Bartley has myriad styles

The blue-and-cream Sri Ramakrishna Temple is one of three conserved buildings at the Ramakrishna Mission.
The blue-and-cream Sri Ramakrishna Temple is one of three conserved buildings at the Ramakrishna Mission.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
The blue-and-cream Sri Ramakrishna Temple is one of three conserved buildings at the Ramakrishna Mission. The Ramakrishna Mission Boys' Home (above) and cultural centre (top).
The Ramakrishna Mission Boys' Home and cultural centre (above).ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
The blue-and-cream Sri Ramakrishna Temple is one of three conserved buildings at the Ramakrishna Mission. The Ramakrishna Mission Boys' Home (above) and cultural centre (top).
The Ramakrishna Mission Boys' Home (above) and cultural centre.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Built at different times over the years, the Ramakrishna Mission in Bartley has myriad styles

New condominiums, private homes and an MRT station have sprung up along Bartley Road, but an institution built more than half a century ago remains a landmark of the area.

Behind the gates of 179 Bartley Road is the sprawling grounds of the Ramakrishna Mission, a branch of the Ramakrishna Order of India, a worldwide spiritual and welfare organisation.

At the end of a tree-lined driveway are three buildings - a temple, a boys' home and a cultural centre - which stand side by side on a hill.

The architectural collective was built between the 1950s and 1960s and display a transition of architectural styles from Art Deco (the boys' home and temple) to Modern (cultural centre). They also boast good craftsmanship - the work showcases considered detailing and ornamentation.

All three buildings were gazetted for conservation in October 2006.

Ms Cheah Hui Ren, a planner from the conservation planning department of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, says the buildings were constructed around the time when India gained independence, "so everything about the buildings' design was very forward-looking".

"Many details were uncommon. Often, traditional motifs were stylised and modernised," she adds.

The site also houses a kindergarten and a counselling centre, which are run by the mission.

The mission's first home in Singapore was in a building along Norris Road in Little India, but as it took on more roles, more space was needed and it moved to Bartley Road.

Besides being a place for devotees who go to the temple for prayers, the mission opens its doors to offer weekly yoga lessons and free homeopathy sessions.

The original mission at 9 Norris Road and Tamil Girls' School at 38 Norris Road are conserved as part of the Little India Historic District.


HIGHLIGHTS

1. SRI RAMAKRISHNA TEMPLE

The mainstay of the Ramakrishna Mission's premises is a two-storey temple, which sits in the centre of the trio of conserved buildings.

The blue-and-cream building combines architectural features borrowed from different religions and Indian culture. For example, jaali, or latticed screens with ornamental patterns, carved out of the concrete exterior, is a common motif in Islamic architecture. Meanwhile, the design of the three domes that top the building are influenced by Buddhism.

Swami Vimokshananda, 70, president of the Ramakrishna Mission here, says: "For us, all paths lead to the same goal. So we wanted the building to reflect all systems."

Ms Cheah Hui Ren, a planner from the conservation planning department of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, also points out the building's Art Deco features such as the thin, rounded concrete eaves instead of typically sharp-edged ones.

2. CULTURAL CENTRE

On the other side of the temple sits the mission's cultural centre, which houses a library, an archive, residences for monks and its offices.

The two-storey Modern-style building has a symmetrical stepped facade. The edges of the building and concrete window frames that pop out from the facade are accentuated in a matt red hue. Six columns of glass windows were put in above its entrance to allow light into the building.

The first floor has a concrete pre-cast screen, designed with circles for a lace-like effect. Ms Cheah says this was done to break up the large block form of the building and make the imposing structure look "lighter".

3. THE RAMAKRISHNA MISSION BOYS' HOME

This two-storey building, a rectangular block, resembles a military barrack, although it has some ornamentation.

Firstly, the entrance, which is in the centre of the block, features a stepped pediment. And instead of a dome to top the structure, three minimalist finials, with curved bases and elongated spires, were put in.

Next, ochre - an earthy orange the colour of the robes of the mission's monks - is used to highlight details such as the edges of the building and the pre-cast concrete balustrades along the parameter on both floors.

Sun-shading louvres and green glass windows reduce the glare of sunlight, keeping the interior cool.

•This is a monthly column on conservation buildings.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2017, with the headline 'A reflection of the times'. Print Edition | Subscribe