Red Dot Traffic building to turn off-white

ST VIDEO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
Restoring the Red Dot Traffic Building (right) to its off-white hue will allow it to blend in with Maxwell Chambers (left).
Restoring the Red Dot Traffic Building (right) to its off-white hue will allow it to blend in with Maxwell Chambers (left). ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Red Dot Traffic Building to be restored and will be part of expanded Maxwell Chambers

They painted the building red when part of it became the Red Dot Design Museum in 2005.

But soon the Red Dot Traffic Building in Tanjong Pagar will turn off-white: The Ministry of Law (MinLaw), which is taking over the 1928 conservation building at 28 Maxwell Road, will be restoring it to its original hue.

It is part of the ministry's plans to expand Maxwell Chambers - an integrated dispute-resolution complex - next door. The $25 million restoration project is expected to start in May and finish in early 2019, said the ministry during a briefing yesterday.

Heritage conservation expert Ho Weng Hin of Studio Lapis, who has been appointed for the project, said the neutral colour will showcase the neo-classical building's "original splendour", as seen for instance in the ornamental plasterwork of its pediments and the floral and geometric patterns on its facade.

In an analysis of the building's former colour schemes, Mr Ho found six layers of hues for its walls, including apricot, pale yellow and off-white.

The property had served as the Singapore Traffic Police Headquarters for more than 70 years till 1999.

In 2005, it reopened in the striking red hue to house the Red Dot Design Museum as well as eateries and creative companies.

The lease of The Traffic, the master tenant, expires on April 30.

The neutral colour will allow the building to blend in seamlessly with Maxwell Chambers, said award-winning architect Mok Wei Wei, who is leading the effort. Mr Mok is behind projects such as the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and the refurbishment of the National Museum of Singapore.

  • Former home of Traffic Police

  • 1929: The building was completed and used as barracks for the Traffic Police. 1941: Driving tests were introduced at the site, with the space at its back used as a driving circuit. Today, it is a carpark.

    1975: The building reopened as the Traffic Police Headquarters after a major facelift.

    1981: The Registry of Vehicles Licensing and Testing Operations moved in.

    1999: The Traffic Police moved to Kampong Ubi. The Straits Times understands that the building was unoccupied in the interim.

    2005: It was renovated and reopened as the Red Dot Traffic Building.

    2007: The building was gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

    Melody Zaccheus

He added that the restoration will give the building "a new lease of life" and take it back to its more architecturally coherent days.

He said: "This is a very prominent building. Our image of it seems to be dominated by its look for the past decade - it having been painted such a fiery-red colour. It actually has a much longer history."

Designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, the government architect of the Straits Settlements' Public Works Department, the four-storey building is architecturally similar to other stay-in police camps from that era, noted Mr Ho. The others are the Old Hill Street Police Station and Pearl's Hill Barracks, both completed in 1934.

The MinLaw project will involve restoring the building's timber louvre windows. The original cast-iron rainwater downpipes and gutters, now corroded, will be repaired. After stripping away thick paint layers, the team found the downpipes and gutters were from ornamental ironwork maker Walter MacFarlane of Glasgow, Scotland.

Ad hoc awnings and roofs which existing tenants had added will be removed. The compound's courtyards will revert to the original "open-to-sky" design.

A new annexe block and a link bridge connecting 28 and 32 Maxwell Road will be added, said Mr Mok. A thoroughfare will also cut through the building.

MinLaw deputy secretary Han Kok Juan said the restoration will add to the heritage value of the Tanjong Pagar area, which is home to a mix of old and modern structures.

The restored building will house about 50 new offices for international dispute-resolution institutions, arbitration chambers, law firms and ancillary legal services.

The ministry said the complex will support the growth of dispute-resolution institutions, which have seen a significant rise in caseload. Last year, 212 arbitration cases were heard at Maxwell Chambers, up 18 per cent from 179 in 2015.

Discussions are in place on whether the Red Dot Design Museum can return to the restored building in future. Other tenants will be making their own arrangements.

Divisional training officer Said Nasir, 62, who has worked at the former Traffic Police HQ for about 24 years, recalled both good and bad times. For instance, the courtyards were where they would play sports such as basketball. But he had also witnessed the death of a colleague in the line of duty.

"I spent a big part of my life here. I'm very delighted they will be restoring it and tapping our memories of how it used to be," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Fresh hue to emphasise building's new modern role'. Print Edition | Subscribe