New glory for Sultan Mosque and other architectural award winners

Restoration works have brought back the shine to this year's four winning projects

It was a diverse group of winners at this year's Architectural Heritage Awards. A former clubhouse for Chinese businessmen, the iconic Sultan Mosque, a 146-year-old Roman Catholic Church and luxury integrated development Capitol Singapore were honoured at a ceremony on Thursday. They were chosen from nine submissions.

Given out by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the annual awards, which began in 1995, recognise owners, architects, engineers, conservation specialists and contractors who have restored monuments and conservation buildings well.

Projects were judged by a 13- member assessment committee and awards were given out in two categories.

Restoration is for gazetted heritage buildings that were sensitively restored, carefully repaired and had many of their original features retained.

In the Restoration and Innovation category, the design and build teams were awarded for restoring old buildings and integrating new developments well.


  • WHERE: Atrium, The URA Centre, 45 Maxwell Road

    WHEN: Till Nov 30, 9am to 5pm (Monday to Saturday); closed on Sunday and public holiday


South Beach, a mixed-use development in Beach Road, received a special mention for work done on its four heritage buildings, including the former Non-Commissioned Officers' Club.

The project team missed out on an award as judges felt the "rich military heritage of the complex of buildings has not been fully recaptured".

A free exhibition showcasing the four winning projects is now on at The URA Centre until Nov 30.

Church of Saints Peter & Paul

As architect Rita Soh sat on a pew in the Church of Saints Peter & Paul to discuss renovation plans, she got a sign from above - literally - of the state the building was in: plaster was flaking from the ceiling.

A corroded ceiling was just one in a long list of problems the design team and contractors had to fix at the 146-year-old national monument.

The Church of Saints Peter & Paul (above), with its new Peranakan-inspired tiles and white carrara marble altar. ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Originally completed in a tropical Gothic style in 1870, the church in Queen Street underwent numerous extension and renovations over time. A massive overhaul in 1969 - a year before its centennial celebration - saw the church do away with key features of the old architecture and opt for a modern look.

The modern look was nice for the period it was built in, but it doesn't show the eclectic features of the original church.

ARCHITECT RITA SOH on restoring the Church of Saints Peter & Paul to its pre-1969 look

The terracotta roof tiles were replaced with metal sheets, while the floor was hacked and terrazzo slates put in instead. A cast-iron spiral staircase was removed so that a timber loft with a new staircase could be built for the choir.

Over the years, wear and tear got to the facade. When the team took over, the rosette windows were heavily warped due to heat and humidity, and the metal-sheet pitched roof had a termite infestation.

After much research and discussion with the church's building committee and the authorities, a decision was made to restore the building to its pre-1969 look.

Ms Soh, managing director at RDC Architects, worked with Towner Construction on this project. The 57-year-old, also a former Nominated Member of Parliament, says: "We wanted to get back the essence of the church. The modern look was nice for the period it was built in, but it doesn't show the eclectic features of the original church."

The $7-million, year-long restoration gave the ageing church, which won an Architectural Heritage Award on Thursday, a fresh look.

The terrazzo floor slabs were replaced by Peranakan-inspired tiles that mirrored the original look.

The five lance-shaped panels and rosette windows were treated by Italian craftsmen, who fixed cracks and cleaned the glass. A protective glass panel was also installed on the exterior to prevent warping.

The choir loft was taken down, but the architect kept the two timber columns used to support the structure as they were in good condition. The columns became the base for two marble angel sculptures, which now stand among the pews.

There were new additions. Lanterns with the crossed-swords motif of St Paul and St Peter's crossed-keys motif hang above the congregation hall and provide a soft glow.

The piece de resistance is a stunning 200-year-old white carrara marble altar from New York that features a carving of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper at its base. It was made by craftsmen from the Vatican in Rome.

Ms Sohsays parish priest Father John Chua was very hands-on with the restoration project, relating a story of how he climbed the facade to shade the sculptures of the two saints above the church's entrance with paint.

"He found them too clean and wanted to 'dirty' them a little," she adds with a chuckle. "Our passion is multiplied when you have a client like him who is so involved."

The award, given out by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, is the fifth for Towner Construction's director, Mr Er Kian Hoo, 56, who says they "worked very hard for it".

Last week, the church won a Design Award in the Special Category at the annual Singapore Institute of Architects Architectural Design Awards, which are the profession's highest recognition of works that show excellence in architecture.

Goh Loo Club

The mural painting on the side of the Goh Loo Club (above); and old-school green glazed porcelain balustrades. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The mural painting on the side of a shophouse in Club Street is a poignant reminder of the colourful history of the Goh Loo Club.

In the artwork, a samsui woman wearing her iconic red headgear peels away the facade to reveal the activity in the shophouse: businessmen gather on the second level; Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen holds court below; and a Japanese soldier stands guard at the door.

The mural is by artists Benny Ong, Zhao Jian Wen and Didier Ng. The 111-year-old club, whose name means My Abode in Hokkien, was formed as a place for the local Chinese community and dignitaries to gather.

Many of Singapore's founding fathers such as Dr Lim Boon Keng, who was also a writer, and prominent businessman and philanthropist Lee Kong Chian were members.

Today, the shophouse looks new. But it was not always this way.

It was an eyesore.

MS STEPHANIE LEE, a director at Goh Loo Club, on the building's condition before restoration

In the last decade, the building, tucked away in an uphill cul-de-sac among hip bars and restaurants, stood in disrepair. The building - once a hotbed of club activity - also housed illegal stayers and was used as a junk warehouse.

Unsightly air-conditioning units jutted out from windows at the second level, while layers of paint hid the ornamental moulding. The French windows with timber louvres had been modernised - aluminium sliding windows were put in.

The club made the news in 2010, when the committee running it sold a Xu Beihong painting without informing its members. The 110cm by 60cm work by the late renowned Chinese artist, titled Standing Horse, was given to the club in 1938 to thank it for raising funds for the anti-Japanese war effort in China.

The derelict state of the building - and its mismanagement and neglect - was a far cry from the building's heyday. The third- and fourth-generation club members took over in 2012 and were determined to rejuvenate the club.

Ms Stephanie Lee, 31, one of its directors whose great-grandfather was a founding member, says: "It was an eyesore. We wanted a space that can have multiple uses, yet relevant to its time while still retaining its charm."

Architect Chua Soo Hoon, 42, founder of Artprentice, had much to do. Renovation work, which cost about $4 million, started in January last year and was completed in April this year.

Major works included changing the roof, which was made of asbestos, and creating a new roof mezzanine level - the original shophouse has three storeys - for an office.

There were also surprising discoveries during the renovation. Two stone slabs with carvings were found and the owners decided to place them in a wall at the end of the club's five-foot way.

Round decorative columns were found concealed by timber panels. Ms Chua says: "You don't see columns in a shophouse, so these werefeatures we wanted to highlight."

Efforts were made to reuse materials. For example, old bricks that were no longer needed to support the building were used for feature walls.

At the back of the premises, a courtyard was put in and decorative features such as old-school green glazed porcelain balustrades line the side of the walls.

The club also has plans to revitalise itself. The first and second levels are planned for dining establishments, while the third level will be kept for club activities.

Ms Lee says: "We still need to create relevant ideas to pave the way for the younger generation to combine their expertise and resources to better deal with the challenges of today. There is no point developing a club without it being meaningful and preserving its legacy."

Capitol Singapore

The recreated Persian Zodiac ceiling of the Capitol Theatre (above), which is part of Capitol Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

It has been 16 months since the revamped Capitol Singapore made its debut and architects61's chief executive officer Michael Ngu is breathing easy.

Looking back, he says it was a "difficult" project to work on. Renovations took three years and there were many details to fix.

Capitol Singapore in Stamford Road is a mixed-use development that includes a collection of three beloved conservation buildings: the iconic 87-year-old Capitol Theatre; Capitol Building, which was built in 1933; and Stamford House, which was completed in 1904.

The design and concept were helmed by celebrated New York- based architecture practice Richard Meier & Partners Architects, which worked with Singapore firm architects61 on the development.

We had to go through many discovery phases to find out what was behind it.

ARCHITECT MICHAEL NGU on the derelict condition of Capitol Theatre which had undergone many renovations

The architects also had to weave in new developments such as a four- storey mall called Capitol Piazza- Neue, which is connected to City Hall MRT station via an underpass, as well as a luxury apartment project, Eden Residences Capitol.

The conservation buildings were in poor shape when the architects were appointed. For example, they were built on soil, without any proper foundation, which did not comply with modern building codes.

The Capitol Theatre, in particular, needed a lot of work, having been left vacant for more than 10 years. Plaster was falling, ornaments missing and water seeped into its floors.

Mr Ngu, 60, who worked with conservation specialist Studio Lapis, says: "The theatre was in a derelict state for many years. Prior to that, many renovations were done. In a way, we had to go through many discovery phases to find out what was behind it."

They gave the grand dame a majestic makeover and even engaged an artist to recreate the original Persian Zodiac ceiling mural - a familiar icon to patrons of the cinema.

The architects also had to modernise it. Their solution was to install an automated seating system in the theatre that would turn it into a multi- purpose venue. The theatre, which hosted live performances before it became a cinema in 1946, can now host a variety of events.

The Capitol Building now has new shops and restaurants and a part of it, together with Stamford House, houses the yet-to-open six-star hotel, The Patina Capitol.

In its citation, the awards assessment committee wrote: "Overall, the project has revived an important landmark, innovatively creating vibrant new urban spaces, honour(ed) the architecture... and refresh(ed) one of our city's most prominent urban blocks."

The entire project cost about $750 million.

Architects61 has also worked on other historic projects such as the nearby Raffles Hotel and the Fullerton Hotel, a former 1920s government office building and post office.

Now veterans at the Architectural Heritage Awards - the firm won its first award in 1999 and again in 2008 and 2009 - Mr Ngu says: "It has always been very delightful to work with old 'fabric'. It's a good thing that Singapore is catching up to preserve its history and culture. We're glad to be part of it."

Sultan Mosque

The restored Sultan Mosque (above) and the ablution area.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The onion domes and minarets topping the Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam have undergone various colour changes through the years.

The domes were painted green in 1950, while the minarets were pink at one point.

Today, after a 15-month renovation that was completed last October, the domes are a gleaming gold - an homage to the mosque's royal links in its early years. The mosque won an Architectural Heritage Award on Thursday, given by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Mr Timothy Wong, 58, an associate director of architecture firm Interconsultants, which worked on the project, says: "The mosque was built in a time when a king existed. We knew we had to reinstate that feeling of royalty and make it grand."

The mosque was erected in 1824 and completed two years later for Sultan Hussein Shah, Singapore's first sultan. It was a single-storey building with a double-tiered roof.

But almost a century later, the mosque had to be repaired and expanded to accommodate more worshippers.

Architecture firm Swan & Maclaren rebuilt the mosque in an Indo- Saracenic style. The popular look used by British architects in the late 19th century combined Hindu and Mughal elements with Gothic-tinged arches, domes and spires. The new mosque was completed in 1928.

Over the years, it underwent repairs and renovations when needed.

Considered by many as Singapore's unofficial national mosque, it was gazetted as a national monument in 1975. An annexe was built next to the mosque in 1993 and houses meeting rooms and an auditorium.

Work for the latest spruce-up began in 2014. The last major painting work was done in 2004, says Mr Syed Mohamed Varussai, a member of the board of trustees.

Painting the domes required much work as they were discoloured and had surface bubbles. They had to be sanded down and the bubbles removed for a smooth finish.

Several shades of gold paint were tested to get the right one. Then, four coats of the chosen tone were used to get it to the right sheen such that it shimmered in the sun.

Inside the prayer hall, the dramatic arches were highlighted in green so that they now stand out.

The mimbar, the pulpit from where sermons are delivered, also got a fresh look - the layers of old paint were scraped down to its metal structure and repainted.

Most of the old timber windows and doors were refurbished, while those that were badly damaged were replaced.

To help older folk and the disabled reach the second level, a lift was put in. Previously, they had to take the stairs. The glass walls for the lift have the Arabic mashrabiya latticework pattern etched into them.

Water tanks that were installed in the two ablution areas were removed. New tiles were put in for the walls, while the floor was laid with a pebble wash to prevent slipping.

Mr Syed, 70, says the renovation, which cost $4.6 million, had to be done as the mosque gets a good volume of traffic. It can hold up to 5,000 worshippers and draws 12,000 to 15,000 tourists monthly.

Mr Wong, who worked closely with the mosque's board of trustees and its management, says conservation should not be about "keeping the ashes". He adds: "You have to adapt with the times and give the building new life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'New glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe