As Singapore prepares to hold its biggest-ever birthday bash to mark its 50th anniversary, the city state is also about to receive a giant birthday present befitting of such a grand occasion — the new National Gallery. Quotient takes a first glimpse of Singapore’s newest museum in its birthday suit ahead of its October opening in an exclusive Naked Museum tour recently conducted by the National Gallery.
The National Gallery is Singapore’s latest attraction set to house one of the world’s largest art collections from Southeast Asia and Singapore from the 19th century till the present. Unsurprisingly, this important and ambitious institution is housed in two local monuments with immense historical significance — City Hall and the old Supreme Court. After all, the City Hall was the site of many milestones in Singapore’s history, being the site where Mr Lee Kwan Yew sworn in as the first prime minister of Singapore, and where our national flag and anthem were unveiled for the first time.
After a S$530 million makeover, the two historic buildings are given a new lease of life with gleaming restored interiors. Gone are the crumbling pillars and dusty floors of the City Hall. Also gone are most of the foreboding and desolate-looking holding cells of the Supreme Court that once held some of Singapore’s most notorious criminals.
While the National Gallery is looking more radiant than ever with its facelift, it still retains much of its original character — she is pretty much the same dame decked out in a newer set of clothes.
Cracked rubber tiles, made of absorbent material meant to absorb the sound of feet echoing through the vast corridors, have been replaced with sparkling clean marble flooring.
Courtroom 1 of the old Supreme Court has been preserved with the original furniture intact, and will be converted into one of several Southeast Asian art galleries in the new museum. Just behind the courtroom is the Chief Justice’s Chamber, dominated by a unique Y-shaped table where the Chief Justice held meetings with his subordinates.
The Library, which once housed more than 20,000 publications, is set to become a historical archive and is found within the Rotunda Dome, which can only be seen when inside the building.
In a nod to Singapore’s colonial roots, much attention has been given to preserve the Supreme Court’s façade. The exterior, right down to the Corinthian columns and bronze capitals have been given some much-needed dusting and cleaning.
Besides restoring the place, there was also the challenge of combining two separate buildings into one institution. To overcome this, architect Jean Francois Milou exercised innovation in his design, creating a connecting basement and two sky bridges to provide seamless access between the two buildings.
The old dame has to keep up with the times too. In this new age where environmental sustainability takes precedence, it features more than 15,000 gold-coloured perforated aluminium panels, which form a manmade canopy across the ceiling illuminating the building with natural sunlight. From afar, the panels are reminiscent of the thatched roofs of atap houses in the past.
Stripped bare of artworks, the National Gallery already proves to be just as alluring with its spanking new restored interiors. When it finally opens, the grand dame will take on yet another look when adorned with artworks by some of Singapore’s most illustrious artists such as the late Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen. While the City Hall and Supreme Court may have played important political and judicial roles in Singapore’s early history, they now look set to make a new mark in Singapore’s art and tourism scene.
Indeed, one can age and still stay relevant. Old is after all, the new black.