Change comes from within. Such advice applies not just to people but to buildings, especially those of a certain age and protected by heritage designation. With this in mind, Soo Chan, principal of the Singapore-based firm SCDA Architects worked from the inside out on the transformation of a Catholic school into Singapore's National Design Centre (NDC).

While mostly restoring the exteriors of the four buildings that make up the former Saint Anthony Convent school, Chan added and subtracted key spaces on the inside. The buildings'three of which date from the 1920s and '30s and the fourth from the '40s'represent a range of styles from British Colonial to Moderne. They sit in the Bras Basah/Bugis part of town, a few blocks from the historic Raffles Hotel and across the street from Ken Yeang's National Library. Three of the structures line up along busy Middle Road and are connected inside, while the fourth sits behind them on quieter Queen Street, separated by just a driveway. The NDC serves as the home of the DesignSingapore Council, the national agency for developing the design sector, and provides tenant space to a variety of private design firms, a prototyping lab, and a design store. An auditorium, a library, a roof deck, a central atrium, galleries, and meeting rooms are available to the tenants for events, making the NDC a hub for the design community.

Chan made his biggest moves inside the 1940s corner building, where he covered an outdoor courtyard with a folded skylight to create a central atrium, and removed parts of old floor slabs to make room for a set of metal-mesh-clad boxes that serve as galleries and meeting rooms. The aluminum-veiled volumes, clustered together on the east side of the building, overlook the new atrium and provide a modern counterpoint to the plaster detailing on the balconies wrapping around the four-story-high space. Originally, Chan wanted to turn the building's east facade into a mostly transparent curtain wall to reveal the gallery boxes floating inside. But preservation officials said he must retain the existing horizontal windows, even though Chan argued that they weren't original. Behind the 1920s and '30s buildings, on the west side of the site, he transformed a passageway into an outdoor courtyard with a reflecting pool and movable tables and chairs.

'My strategy was to be respectful of the old buildings, but introduce a pair of new spaces,' says Chan, referring to the atrium and the rear courtyard. In the process, he created a dialogue between eras, in which an architecture of separate rooms and articulated parts gives way to flowing spaces and a unifying palette of materials and colors. On Middle Road, for example, the individual form of each building in the NDC ensemble is apparent, but a uniform coat of white plaster pulls them together as one composition.

Inside, Chan emphasized the communal nature of the atrium, designing 8-foot-wide pivoting doors that can open perimeter areas'such as the prototyping lab, the design store, and the ground-floor gallery'to the central space. He created upholstered furniture that can be pushed together to form sofas or pulled apart for individual seating, so the atrium can act as a lounge for those who work in the building or for visitors.

Treating the atrium as one open space required some ingenious solutions to technical problems. To connect corridors on the upper levels to the atrium, Chan treated them as internal balconies and installed hidden shutters that can be deployed in case of fire. He worked with engineers at Web Structures to design a cable-tensioned skylight that is unobtrusive, and, with its folded design, sheds rainwater efficiently. Chan used a similar geometry for the new metal-mesh ceiling in the second-floor auditorium, which occupies the space formerly used as a chapel. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Chan says he was inspired by the folded-plate roof of Fumihiko Maki's Steinberg Hall (1960) there. By retaining the ecclesiastical detailing of the old chapel, with its bas-relief saints, Chan created an intriguing tension with the auditorium's contemporary secularism.

Throughout the project, SCDA complemented existing surfaces and detailing, now painted white, with metal mesh and pale wood. The new materials catch daylight and add warmth to the interiors. Shared spaces dominate the first and second floors, while the third floor has studios for design tenants; the fourth is mostly offices for the DesignSingapore Council. SCDA started work on the Design Centre in 2011, and the project opened in March 2014.

Changes to the exteriors were subtle but important. The architects replaced old tiles with new ones on some roofs, repaired crumbling plaster, and installed new low-E glass in windows. To better connect the inside to pedestrian activity on Middle Road, they added a few new windows on the ground floor. A big challenge was designing a new entrance for the complex without disturbing the 5-foot-wide colonnade wrapping around its street-side facades. In the end, they chamfered one corner and inserted an angled Cor-ten wall announcing the NDC. It's a simple but dramatic move that exemplifies Chan's approach to design.


Client: DesignSingapore Council

Owner: Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore

SCDA Architects
8 Teck Lim Road
S(088385) Singapore
Phone: +65 63245458
Fax: +65 63245450

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Soo Chan – Principal (Registered Architect)
Malcolm McCulloch, Darren Yio, Erickson Gopez, Engeland Apostol, John Chia, Eiwa Badilla

Interior designer: SCDA Interiors

Structural Engineer: Web Structures Pte Ltd

M&E Engineer: Bescon Consulting Engineers Pte

Landscape Architect: SCDA Landscape

Lighting: Lighting Planners Associates (S) Pte Ltd

Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon KPK (S) Pte Ltd

General contractor:
Vigcon Construction Pte Ltd
Mr. Michael Hong Phone: +65 64479616

Aaron Pocock +61 417342007 +65 84361129
SCDA Architects


85,000 square feet

Construction Cost:

$19 million

Completion Date:

March 2014



Structural system
Concrete structure for strengthening of existing Building

Steel Frame for new components to existing Building

Exterior cladding
Exterior Plaster and Paint: Vigcon Construction Pte Ltd +65 64479616

Metal Panels:
Expanded Aluminum Mesh Screen Cladding: Lai Yew Seng Pte Ltd +65 62549851

Fixed Glass Panels: Fine Aluminium Pte Ltd +65 64437171

Folded Atrium Skylight: NYC System Engineering Pte Ltd +65 62851102

Sliding doors:
Aluminum Sliding Doors: Fine Aluminium Pte Ltd +65 64437171

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
Fire Roller and Insulated Shutters: CLF Shutters Asia Pte Ltd +65 67479898

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Auditorium Expanded Aluminum Mesh Screen Panels: Lai Yew Seng Pte Ltd +65 62549851

Demountable partitions:
Operable Wall System: Great Year Industries Pte Ltd +65 64823671

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Cabinetry: DHdeco Pte Ltd +65 64726600
Wall & Door Finishing: Rongda Building Contractor +65 67529096

Laminate Wall Paneling: TAK Products & Services Pte Ltd +65 63661212

Resilient flooring:
PU Flooring: Asia Mortar Pte Ltd +65 92695575

Terrazzo Flooring: Earthstone Pte Ltd +65 62816266

Timber Flooring: Supreme Floors +65 65555522

Carpet Tiles: BA Furnishings Pte Ltd +65 68533918

Carpet Tiles: SMJ Furnishings Pte Ltd +65 62611212

Raised flooring:
Raised Flooring: Getz Bros & Co. (S) Pte Ltd +65 68978588

Office furniture:
Modular System Furniture: Teknion Furniture System from Vanguard Interiors Pte Ltd +65 65384688

Reception furniture:
Custom Built Counter: DHdeco Pte Ltd +65 64726600

Fixed seating:
Custom Built Fixed Seating: DHdeco Pte Ltd +65 64726600

Office and Public Area Chairs: Living Elements Interiors Pte Ltd +65 64817688

All Loose Tables except Office Workstations: Living Elements Interiors Pte Ltd +65 64817688

Upholstery: DHdeco Pte Ltd +65 64726600

Upholstery: Living Elements Interiors Pte Ltd +65 64817688

Other furniture:
Retractable Seating: Besco Retractable Seating +65 62860666

Custom Built Shelves: DHdeco Pte Ltd +65 64726600

Rollerblinds: Sunscreen Singapore Pte Ltd +65 62840033

Interior ambient lighting:
LED Strip Lighting: OptiLED Lighting

LED Strip Lighting: OptiLED Lighting

Elevators: ThyssenKrupp Elevator (Singapore) Pte Ltd +65 68901640

Sanitary Fittings: W.Atelier Pte Ltd +65 62708828

Sanitary Fittings: Rigel Technology (S) Pte Ltd +65 68440660

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Green Wall: Uniseal Singapore Pte Ltd +65 67550055

Landscape Contractor: Nyee Phoe Flower Garden Pte Ltd +65 67936500

Air-Conditioning: Daikin ACMV System from Natural Cool Airconditioning & Engineering Pte Ltd +65 64545225