Heritage Spotlight

Old drill hall in South Beach now renamed The Grand Ballroom

1. Sombre facade
1. Sombre facadeST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

Once the headquarters of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, the old drill hall in South Beach is now renamed The Grand Ballroom

The old drill hall of the Singapore Volunteer Corps is now a swanky ballroom that plays host to wedding dinners and corporate events at the new South Beach development.

But for those old enough to remember, it bears memories of the sacrifices of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, which was formed in 1854 to keep Singapore safe during periods of turmoil such as the two world wars.

Built in 1933 and designed by architect Frank Dorrington Ward, who also designed Clifford Pier, the Art Deco-style building in Beach Road was the headquarters of the militia group, which was later absorbed into the Singapore military forces.

Known simply as Block 9, it was a place for volunteers to practise their drills and for other social and military functions.

Today, the conserved building is part of South Beach, a 1.65 million sq ft mixed development that opened in 2015, and has been renamed The Grand Ballroom. It is available for function bookings through the JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach.

Mr Kelvin Ang, the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) director of conservation management, says: "Back then, multi-purpose halls were unique. This would have been a pioneering example."

Like most military buildings, the oldhall is mainly functional, with few decorative features, and was designed to accommodate a large crowd. Optimum ventilation was also a key element - necessary in a tropical climate when air-conditioning did not exist yet. This was achieved with the hall's high ceiling, which allowed hot air to rise up and out.

The two-storey reinforced concrete building, which stands at 16.64m excluding the flag poles, has a high-ceiling arched hall on the second floor. The ground floor would have been used for administrative functions, says Mr Ang.

•This is a monthly column on conservation buildings.


HIGHLIGHTS

1. SOMBRE FACADE

The front facade is severe and foreboding, which is suitable for a military building as it adds a sense of gravitas and formality.

Mr Kelvin Ang, the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) director of conservation management, says: "Architects must consider the public image and function of the buildings when they design."

The blue glass in the cast-iron framework - which is in the middle of the facade - helps to diffuse the glare from the afternoon sun. Below the framework is the original brass plaque that commemorates the volunteers.

While the URA did its best to guide the restoration of the building to its original look, it chose not to keep the original grey Shanghai plaster facade was not kept as it was too severe-looking. Instead, the building was given a coat of white mineral paint, save for the facade borders, which kept their Shanghai plaster.


2. OPTIMUM VENTILATION


2. Optimum ventilation. ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

Ventilation was an important and necessary feature of the hall. Apart from the natural cooling effect of having a 12m-high ceiling, the timber louvre windows, which pivoted at the top instead of their sides, ensured continual air flow even during wet weather as they prevented rain from entering the hall.

The windows were replaced with cement ventilation blocks in the 1970s, similar to those used in school stairwells, but the URA guided the restoration of the original windows.


3. UNUSUAL MAIN ENTRANCE


3. Unusual main entrance ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

The building's main entrance is an arched doorway done in the Neo- classical-style plasterwork that was popular in the 1900s, with timber lattice framework above the doors. It is out of sync with the design of the building - which was created in the 1930s Art Deco symmetrical style - but Mr Ang speculates it could have been done on purpose.

"It's a balance between accommodating community expectations (of what a military building should look like) and its function, as well as the preference of the architect."


Correction note: In an earlier version of the story, it was stated URA restored the drill hall. The correct version should be "guided the restoration". 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'From drills to dinners'. Print Edition | Subscribe