Not many people, other than researchers, are aware that a nondescript and dowdy 1959 building in the civic district houses Singapore's millions of historical records.
Over time, the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) building at 1, Canning Rise - of which the administration block is conserved - has suffered from wear and tear, including water-seepage damage and paint peeling from its walls.
A year-long revamp will enhance its appearance, upgrade the facilities and make the building more friendly for the public, in time for NAS' 50th-anniversary celebrations starting next year.
RSP Architects' Keith Goh, who is the project lead, said that from September, his team will start work to reinstate the building's original concrete scallop canopy and veranda, push back its street fencing and introduce public walkways at its front, as part of a collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
These changes will allow it to better complement neighbours such as national monuments The Armenian Church and the Central Fire Station.
Mr Goh said: "The enhancement of its urban frontage and the public space is in line with what the URA requested as part of its efforts to pedestrianise Armenian Street."
The repository section of the building will also be given a new facade to act as a thermal barrier to protect the "priceless" materials, he added.
The building, which was originally the Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), will have its Oldham Theatre expanded from a 44-seater to seat 135. NAS is collaborating with the Asian Film Archive to explore the possibility of the revamped theatre serving as a venue for film screenings.
This is its first major upgrade since the archives moved in in 1997.
NAS, an institution under the National Library Board, is the custodian of archived materials of national and historical significance, and works towards making Singapore's history more accessible to everyone.
The building is home to records including more than 170,000 audiovisual recordings, 4.73 million photographs, almost 44,000 private records and copies of records from overseas, and 7,500 Straits Settlements Records, and Federated Malay States and other volumes.
Highlights in its collection include one of the oldest commercially produced pieces of music in Singapore - a shellac recording of a Malay song, Lagu Dari Nandoeng Sayang.
Researchers can look forward to improved computer terminals and microfilm machines with higher-resolution viewing in its revamped Archives Reading Room.
NAS will also be expanding its IT server facilities to allow it to handle the increased volume of digital records from other public agencies and improve its capability to preserve digital materials.
A biometric security system will be installed for its repositories as well to enhance security.
NAS declined to reveal the cost of the revamp.
Its director, Mr Eric Chin, explaining the purpose of the revamp, said: "We have records that date back to the 1800s, government records, the broadcast archives of Singapore, and the oral history centre records are also here.
"In our tropical climate, one of the challenges we face is the temperature and humidity that cause deterioration to a lot of media types. Besides other enhancements, the revamp will equip us with the latest environmental control systems that will be more energy- and cost-efficient."
Part-time school coordinator Deborah Conceicao-Loi, 52, visits the archives at least twice a month. She is tapping into NAS' records to build her family tree. She said: "I'm looking forward to a brighter and warmer atmosphere and with new, user-friendly machines."
The Archives Reading Room will be relocated temporarily to the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library in the National Library building from Oct 9. NAS is likely to reopen in November next year.