Host of events to mark Conference Hall's 50th year

Iconic Shenton Way building stood at centre of many historic events in nation's early years

The Singapore Conference Hall in Shenton Way was the site of many a May Day Rally, including this one in 1973. It was also where the Speak Mandarin Campaign was first launched.
The Singapore Conference Hall in Shenton Way was the site of many a May Day Rally, including this one in 1973. It was also where the Speak Mandarin Campaign was first launched.ST FILE PHOTO

The Singapore Conference Hall, now home to the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), has just turned 50.

The iconic building in Shenton Way was host to many historic events in Singapore's recent history. It was opened by the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in October 1965 when the headquarters of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was housed there. The building was also known as Trade Union House before NTUC moved out in 2000. It was gazetted as a national monument in 2010.

This week, the SCO is marking the 50th anniversary with events to evoke memories of the building and as a nod to its impact on Singapore's social and community life; politics and trade union movement; arts and cultural scene; as well as architectural history.


A pictorial exhibition featuring more than 100 photographs from the building's past is now on at the foyer until Dec 31.

It is open between 9am and 6pm daily. Admission is free.


On Wednesday, a free public talk on what goes into staging a concert was given by two SCO technical staff members at the concert hall. It was attended by some 80 people.

Tomorrow, architect Lim Chong Keat will share his experiences and the inspiration behind the building's design, such as its unique mosaic walls.

Datuk Lim was a member of the original team from the then Malayan Architects Co-Partnership which won a national contest to pick the best design for the building in 1961. The talk will be held at the concert hall from 3pm to 4pm.

In the evening, the SCO will stage a special concert with a programme that includes Dick Lee's Home and music of yesteryear. It will be staged with a screening of a montage of photographs on the history of the conference hall.

"Three of the pieces are local compositions which were performed at the conference hall by community centres' Chinese orchestras many years ago," said SCO resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong.

SCO executive director Terence Ho said the history of the conference hall is worth noting because of the significant role it played in Singapore's early years.

For instance, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held there in 1971. It was also where the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew launched the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979, and Mr Ong Teng Cheong became Singapore's first Elected President there in 1993.

Many May Day and National Day rallies were held there, as were major international labour conferences and other important events.

Today, the venue is still popular for community events such as concerts, art exhibitions and graduation ceremonies.

"We hope the public, especially the young, who come to the pictorial exhibition and our events this week will learn about and appreciate the conference hall's past," said Mr Ho.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline 'Host of events to mark Conference Hall's 50th year'. Subscribe