Perched on the Padang—a large, open playing field in downtown Singapore best known for hosting National Day parades—the new, 690,000-squarefoot National Gallery Singapore stands as a dignified presence among the neighborhood’s British-colonial-era buildings and the business district’s sparkling modern skyscrapers. Created out of a pair of adjacent buildings—the former City Hall and Supreme Court—the Singapore government funded the $370 million museum complex, which opened in November 2015 as a highlight of the island-nation’s 50th anniversary as an independent republic.
“The guiding principle was to give the impression that the two buildings were largely untouched and returned to the public as they were, even though extensive technical work had been carried out below and above,” says Jean- François Milou, who led the project’s design team. In 2007, his Paris-based practice, studioMilou, won the international competition to design the museum, in partnership with Singapore firm CPG Consultants. After nearly nine years of careful engineering, construction, and preservation, the result is a contemporary museum of intimate galleries connected by vast indoor plazas and sky bridges and set within two lovingly restored buildings.
The museum is intended for art from around Southeast Asia, mid-1800s to the present, and aims to be a state-of-theart showcase. This goal was a difficult one, since the heritage status of the neoclassical City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, completed in 1929 and 1939 respectively, meant that there were many restrictions. “All external facades and entrances had to be preserved. And some of the rooms could not really be touched,” says Sushma Goh, the museum’s director of project and facilities management.
The architects’ solution entailed joining the two buildings with an atrium covered by a stylized canopy made of cut-aluminum panels and glass that suggests the design of palm-leaf thatching common in villages around the region. This new roof assembly, which is supported by tree-like steel columns, stretches across both buildings, letting in daylight while serving as a screen against the harsh tropical sun. The futuristic yet familiar roof is a contemporary gesture that unifies the complex and establishes its new identity.
From the front of the museum, an awning-like section of the roof swoops out to welcomes visitors into the dramatic main lobby. From there, a grand minimalist stone stair leads down to a lower level for ticketing and other visitor services. The most difficult technical challenges in connecting the buildings lay underground. Milou’s plan called for four new below-grade levels for circulation, moving and storing art, and for parking. Inserting the new floors under the existing buildings required extensive computer modeling, geotechnical testing, and a delicate underpinning operation made more complex by the differing heights of the two structures’ existing foundations.
Aboveground, many of the most historically sensitive rooms—like City Hall’s “surrender chamber,” where the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia was officially ended after World War II, and the offices of the Supreme Court’s chief justice, both paneled in teak—had to be kept as they were. But in other rooms, new, non-load-bearing walls project out from the existing walls to accommodate air-conditioning and other systems necessary for an appropriately climate-controlled modern museum.
The galleries for older art and artifacts—which include photographs, maps, prints, and paintings—are located in the suitably dramatic Supreme Court wing, which features rooms with decorative molding and wooden or painted walls. More contemporary works, including video art and installations, are displayed in the white-walled halls of the former City Hall.
The painstaking restoration work was supervised by Goh and her team, including discreet repairs of the historic buildings’ elaborate colonnaded facades, both of which were covered in “Shanghai plaster”—a stucco that simulates stone common in major buildings in Asia during the 1920s and ’30s. However, in other areas, such as the Supreme Court’s old lobby, they opted to not erase evidence of time’s passage. Here a near-obsessive effort was made to maintain the cracks in the terrazzo floor, since the team did not want to overrestore the buildings; the goal was to preserve the feeling of buildings that had been around a long time, even if the institution—and the country itself—is relatively new.
After all the meticulous conservation and the technological derring-do, Singaporeans were not disappointed. In the first two weeks, the museum attracted about 170,000 visitors. People came to see the buildings and view the art—and to eat. In food-obsessed Singapore, the mix and variety of a dozen or so dining outlets, including a formal French restaurant, a casual café, and a rooftop bar offering dramatic views of the city, have helped make the National Gallery a hit. “Food is, absolutely, very important in Singapore,” says the museum’s CEO, Siak Ching Chong, who maintains that the modern museum needs to be a lifestyle destination.
Milou embraces this view of a more relaxed and approachable museum—one that appeals to a wide audience. He likes to refer to the building as “a kind of living room of Singapore, dedicated to the arts.”
studioMilou architecture in collaboration with CPG Consultants Pte Ltd
CPG Consultants Pte Ltd
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
CPG Consultants Pte Ltd
Mechanical & Electrical Engineer:
Acoustics & AVIT Consultant:
Takenaka – Singapore Piling Joint Venture (TCSP JV)
Hideki Izumi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Facade/ Roof Contractor
Interior Design Contractor
Lift/ Escalator Contractor
Mechanical (ACMV) Contractor
Fire Protection Contractor
Special lighting Contractor
AV equipment Contractor
Office Furniture Contractor
IT Network/ Telephony Contractor
Photographer: Fernando Javier Urquijo, email@example.com
Client: Ministry of Communications and Information
Owner:National Gallery Singapore
Size:690,000 square feet
Completion date:November 2015
Roof and Tree Structure, Aluminum Sunscreens, Glass Skylight
Jangho Group Co. Ltd. Singapore Branch
Architectural Interior Fit-out, including timber acoustic panels
Steel structure :
Bore pliling :
Diaphragm Wall :
Timber Flooring : Wood&Wood Singapore
Stone Flooring : Tan Chiang
Floor coating : Armourflex Coatings Pte Ltd
Raised floor systems : Getz Bros. & Co. (Singapore), Pte. Ltd.
Windows, Doors, Glazing systems
Blast Mitigation Windows and Doors : AJA Enterprises Pte Ltd
Glass Doors and Windows : YJ International
Metal Doors : Positive Engineering Pte Ltd
Acoustic Doors : SIAC Pte Ltd
Fire rated Curtains : K.A. Fabric Shutters Pte Ltd
Ironmongeries : Tiki International Enterprises Pte Ltd
Auto door system : Dorma Far East Pte Ltd
Fire rated glass : Fireland Engineering Pte Ltd
External works : Sing Heng Hoe Construction (1988) Pte Ltd
Restoration of Shanghai Plaster : LWC Alliance Pte Ltd
Restoration of Terrazzo : Asia Mortar Pte Ltd
Restoration of Timber panel : Foo Woodmaking Pte Ltd
Restoration of Timber panel (Stain & Varnish) : Acolite Construction (S) Pte Ltd
Restoration of Metal elements : Global Builders Supplies Pte Ltd
Restoration of Metal elements : Monju Partners Pte Ltd
Restoration of Clay roof tiles : Struts Building Technology Pte Ltd
Restore of light fittings : Shieldinton Industries Pte Ltd
Restoration of Conserved Furniture : Cheng Carpenters & Design Pte Ltd (http://chengcarpenters.com.sg/)
Supplier and Installer: Krislite Pte. Ltd.
Downlights: Modulex UshioSpax
Façade lightings: Tokistar Lighting (http://tokistar.com/), iGuzzini
Gallery lighting: Eutrac (Lighting Track), ERCO lighting (Spotlight, Wall washer…)
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron DALI dimming system
Elevators and Lifts
Elevators/Escalators: KONE Pte. Ltd.
Vertical Truck lift : Siong Ann Engineering Pte Ltd
Plumbing & Sanitary : APP Engineering Pte Ltd
Glass handrails : Wan Sern Metal Industries Pte Ltd
Painting : Industrial Contracts Marketing (2001) Pte Ltd
Sanitary fittings : Rigel Technology (S) Pte Ltd
Toilet cubicles : Resco Surfaces Pte Ltd
Security Bollards : Gunnebo Singapore Pte Ltd
Siphonic systems (RWDP) : Fast Flow Singapore Pte Ltd
Waterproofing : Chin Leong Construction Systems Pte Ltd
Sealant system : GSK Associate Builders Pte Ltd
Wall / Floor Tile : Kings Resources Pte Ltd
Metal works : Heap Heng Metal Pte Ltd
Stainless Steel : Deshin Engineering & Construction Pte Ltd
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