The need for a National Gallery
With a vision of becoming a global city for the arts, Singapore has carefully nurtured its arts and culture scene over the past two decades. The island city has witnessed increasing attendance and participation in key events and festivals such as the Singapore Biennale, Singapore Arts Festival and Singapore Art Show. These events have helped propel Singapore onto the international scene, highlighting her prominence as an international arts hub – a place where the global arts community can come together for exchange and collaboration.
At his National Day Rally speech on 21 August 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned the government’s plan to convert the former Supreme Court building and City Hall into a new national gallery. On 2 September 2006, Dr. Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts officially announced the setting up of the National Gallery Singapore during the Singapore Biennale 2006 at the National Museum of Singapore.
The then Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) proceeded to implement a process designed to enable stakeholders and interested parties to contribute their expertise and their views to the project. A steering committee, initially chaired by Dr. Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MICA, oversaw the art gallery’s implementation plan. The steering committee was supported by an executive committee and four advisory groups. The advisory groups provided advice on museology, architectural conservation, finance and communications.
On 23 February 2007, MICA, together with the Singapore Institute of Architects, launched a two-stage architectural design competition to identify the most suitable architect and design for the National Gallery. The first stage of the competition called for design and concept proposals, and began on 19 March with a site tour of the two buildings for competing architects to get design concepts and ideas. It drew 111 entries from 29 countries worldwide, with five proposals shortlisted in May 2007. Members of the jury consisted of a panel of eminent local and international professionals headed by Tommy Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and chairman of the National Heritage Board, and included officials from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet in France and the Asian Civilisations Museum.
For the second stage, the shortlisted candidates had to develop their designs, from which the winning proposal would be selected by the jury. Due to the status of the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall as national monuments, certain aspects of the buildings could not be altered, such as the façade, the Surrender Chamber, the office of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister and the panelling in four rooms of the Supreme Court. However, this still left many design options open such as the addition of roof and basement floors. The participants also had to submit entries within a budget of S$320 million.
On 29 August 2007, the seven-member international jury panel named the top three designs out of the five shortlisted. The three firms – Studio Milou Architecture from France, Ho + Hou Architects from Taiwan, and Chan Sau Yan Associates from Singapore – each received $150,000. The jury made their decision after appraising models and digital mock-ups, as well as engaging the five finalists in a presentation and question-and-answer session. The other two firms that were shortlisted in the first stage were DP Architects and Australia’s Smart Design Studio.
An exhibition of the five finalists’ proposals was held at City Hall in October 2007, and the public were invited to give feedback on the designs, programmes and events. The jury’s decision was presented to MICA, which then decided on who to commission to design and build the art gallery. An announcement on the final design was made in the first quarter of 2008.
Competition winner and appointed contractor
In May 2008, Studio Milou Singapore, in partnership with CPG Consultants (Singapore), was appointed to design and build the Gallery.
Studio Milou Architecture is a French architectural firm, with branches in Paris and Singapore that specialise in the design of museums and cultural spaces. Led by principal architect and lead partner Jean-Francois Milou, the firm has a reputation for working with adaptive reuse of historical buildings, seeking imaginative solutions while respecting the building’s historical fabric, meaning and surroundings.
CPG Consultants, a subsidiary of CPG Corporation, is a multi-disciplinary design consultancy firm. Headquartered in Singapore, CPG Consultants has extensive expertise in conservation and preservation of buildings. To date, the company has completed over 20 such projects in Singapore, most of which are gazetted monuments.
Studio Milou Architecture’s design consisted of a linear draped canopy supported by tree-like columns to link the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall at the roof level. The design incorporated an extended staircase linking the basement to the upper levels, making use of solar energy to provide electricity. Fine metal mesh had been proposed to cover most of City Hall. Panel members agreed it had "the most delightful design and appeal", and was ranked first among the top three designs.
On 21 December 2010, the Gallery appointed Takenaka-Singapore Piling Joint Venture as the main construction contractor for the new Gallery. The construction works on the buildings began in January 2011 and is predicted to be completed in about 44 months.
City Hall and the former Supreme Court buildings are national monuments and have played a significant role in Singapore’s history. The buildings face an open field known as the Padang, which is a Malay word meaning "flat field". Through link bridges and a new basement level, the design for the new Gallery integrates the City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings, combining both old and new architecture.
Former Supreme Court
The Former Supreme Court building was built on the site of the former Grand Hotel de l’Europe, one of the most palatial hotels in Southeast Asia that was demolished in 1936. Designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, Chief Architect of the Public Works Department, the former Supreme Court building was built to house Supreme Court offices and courtrooms and was declared open on 3 August 1939.
This building is the former courthouse of the Supreme Court of Singapore, before it moved out and commenced operations in the new building on 20 June 2005.
The architecture of the former Supreme Court building is in harmony with that of its neighbour, City Hall. The general layout of the building exemplifies British colonial architecture, comprising four blocks of offices and courtrooms surrounding a central rotunda with a dome that was originally used to house a circular law library. It was to be the last classical building to be built in Singapore. United Engineers Ltd was the building contractor.
The Corinthian and Ionic columns, sculptures and relief panels were the works of Italian artist, Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli.
The City Hall building was built between 1926 and 1929 and was originally known as the Municipal Building. Designed by the British Municipal architects A. Gordon and S. D. Meadows, it was used to house the offices of the Municipal Council, which was responsible for the provision of water, electricity, gas, roads, bridges and street lighting. From 1963 to 1991, City Hall came to house offices of several government departments and courtrooms. The building was vacated in 2006.
City Hall has been the focal point of many important events in the history of Singapore. It was in the City Hall building that Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, on behalf of the Allied forces, accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces on 12 September 1945. The building also housed the office of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore. Mr. Lee and members of his Cabinet took their Oaths of Allegiance and Oaths of Office on 5 June 1959 in the City Hall Chamber. It was gazetted on 14 February 1992 as a national monument. The original layout of City Hall is a typical example of neoclassical British architecture. The building’s interior is modestly proportioned, but its front façade is distinguished by 18 three-storey-high Corinthian columns facing the Padang.
Consisting of modern and contemporary art, National Gallery Singapore focuses on displaying Singapore and Southeast Asian art from the 19th century to present day. It will be home to two permanent galleries: the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. Through its collection, the Gallery will present the development of Singaporean and regional cultures – telling the story of their social, economic and political histories.
The Gallery mainly draws from Singapore’s National Collection, the world’s largest public collection of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art. The National Collection started with an original bequest of 93 works made to the National Museum in 1976, by the well-known cinema magnate and art patron, Dato Loke Wan Tho. Through careful nurturing over the years, this collection has grown significantly to approximately 8,000 pieces in 2010. The National Heritage Board is presently the custodian of this collection. National Gallery Singapore will feature works by major Singaporean artists such as Georgette Chen, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and Liu Kang. The collection now spans from early-20th-century naturalistic paintings to contemporary video installations. The collection also holds pieces from Southeast Asian artists of international standing, such as Affandi (Indonesia), Latiff Mohidin (Malaysia), Le Pho (Vietnam), Montien Boonma (Thailand) and Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (Philippines).
DBS Singapore Gallery
The DBS Singapore Gallery will be an important platform for studying and presenting the cultural and aesthetic identity of Singapore from the colonial period to present day.
Starting from the 19th century, the narrative traces how local and regional contexts, international influences and individual creativity have shaped and transformed the development of Singapore art. The display will highlight the multiple facets of Singapore art, derived from the interweaving of diverse cultural values and expressions, fluid exchange of new ideas, and continuous experimentation by local artists.
UOB Southeast Asia Gallery
Housed in the former Supreme Court building, the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery will present the history of Southeast Asian art through artistic impulses shared across the region. Starting in the 19th century, the history of Southeast Asian art is characterised by negotiations between the region’s traditions and modernity. Art was conceived as an expanded field whereby Southeast Asian artists sought to incorporate and reinvent local expressions and aesthetic traditions as they approached the age of modern art.
The UOB Southeast Asia Gallery will share a compelling story of human culture, as seen through a region that has been the meeting point of major civilisations, religions, colonial powers, and the focus of struggles towards national independence and modernisation.
Special set of Research Galleries
These galleries will complement the core galleries, providing space for curators and researchers to experiment with ways of presenting materials from the Gallery’s permanent collection, and to encourage greater dialogue between Singapore’s national collection and those of other regional institutions.
Changing gallery spaces
The gallery has approximately 6,000 square metres (65,000 sq ft) of spaces to host international travelling exhibitions.
Facilities and programmes
By day, the Gallery will offer learning and education opportunities for all, through its exhibition displays, artist talks, children’s programmes and other related activities. By night, the Gallery will transform into a venue, with restaurants and cafés, as well as outdoor programmes, events, film screenings and concerts. The Gallery will provide venues for hire for conferences, seminars, film screenings, performances and private functions. It will house a 200-seat auditorium, function and seminar room spaces for various types of events and corporate functions.
Schools and families
National Gallery Singapore will offer learning programmes for students, ranging from pre-school to tertiary education level, to develop their observational and interpretative skills and appreciation for visual arts. Learning opportunities from the Gallery are also available for Educators, with a focus on professional development or planning a museum-based experience for their students. A Teachers’ Club will be established for educators in order to foster a culture of sharing and appreciation of art. The Gallery, in partnership with art practitioners from various disciplines, will hold a wide variety of programmes for families and children. Such activities include a monthly Family Weekend and School Holiday Specials.
Adult learning and community
Opportunities for adults to explore and learn about the arts will be provided by the Gallery through programmes inspired by its collections and resources. These include regular film screenings featuring Southeast Asian stories, theatrical and dance performances, guided tours in both English and Mandarin, art workshops and lectures. From a broader perspective, the Gallery’s Communities and Access initiatives will offer programmes to make art accessible for all audiences through community outreach, workshops and festivals.
One of the public programmes offered by the Gallery is the Docent Programme, a training workshop for individuals who have a passion in art, history and culture and wish to share this with visitors to the Gallery. The programme seeks to cultivate a pool of volunteer guides to act as the Gallery’s “ambassadors”. They are trained in public speaking and have extensive knowledge of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art, and the architecture and history of the Gallery buildings. Docents will serve as art educators by leading scheduled public tours, and will play a vital role in providing a personal Gallery experience by showing visitors the link between the rich history and collections of the Gallery.
Keppel Centre for Art Education
The Keppel Centre for Art Education  is a learning facility for families and schools. The Centre will provide an artistic environment that stimulates imagination, encourages active play and supports independent learning. Children and younger students will experience and interact with original artworks that are specially created to develop observation skills and tactile exploration.
The Centre will be located on the ground level of the Gallery’s City Hall wing and occupy a total floor area of 910 square metres. It will comprise four distinct art spaces including a Children’s Museum and an interactive Art Playscape. The theme for 2015 and 2016 is Homes: Present and Future. Invited artists will share their creative ideas and personal stories in response to the theme, creating new original artworks that encourage open interpretation and dialogue amongst visitors. A spectrum of art activities developed by the Gallery’s educators will provide learning experiences to support different learners and different age groups.
The Keppel Centre for Art Education will also offer programmes including a regular series of Studio-based workshops, artist talks, curator’s presentations, as well as complimentary Drop-in programmes conducted by artists, curators and museum educators.
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