Adaptive reuse Architecture Art Culture Public Institution

Singapore Art Museum to get major facelift helmed by SCDA Architects; completion expected in 2023

January 21, 2020

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) is undergoing major refurbishment work – first time since it opened in 1996, which is being led by acclaimed local architecture firm SCDA Architects.

Recently revealed artist’s impressions present a bold new design that will introduce a contemporary character to the museum’s heritage buildings – the former St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI) building which is a gazetted national monument, and the former Catholic High School (CHS) building which is a conservation building – to create an architectural landmark in the heart of the Bras Basah Bugis precinct.

The redevelopment will also feature new inclusive spaces for the public to experience and engage with art, and increase accessibility for visitors with special needs. The project is slated for completion by 2023. The redevelopment is expected to increase the overall space in the museum buildings by about 30 per cent.

The design strategy takes cues from SAM’s vision to be a pivotal museum of contemporary art in the region, and promote greater understanding of art from a Southeast Asian perspective. To accomplish this, there was an urgent need for more exhibition space to house the constantly evolving and multi-disciplinary nature of contemporary art.

Artist impression showing Singapore Art Museum’s new building design, featuring the front view of the former St. Joseph’s Institution building with a new purpose-built Sky Gallery and pedestrianised green space for art, Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

“The Singapore Art Museum is Singapore’s first museum dedicated to the visual arts. Since we opened our doors in 1996, we have actively introduced visitors to art from Singapore, Southeast Asia and the world – a mission we will continue with our new museum buildings. The new building design will have public spaces that are open and welcoming to all, inviting engagement and collaborations with artists, curators, local and overseas museums, and the general public. We will also carefully preserve the histories and stories of the museum’s buildings and reflect them in the new design. We hope to combine heritage, contemporary art and architecture that places SAM on the world stage and create an iconic museum space that Singaporeans and visitors will love.” – Edmund Cheng, Chairman, Singapore Art Museum.

Artist impression showing Singapore Art Museum’s new building design, featuring the front view of the former Catholic High School building with new exhibition spaces and gallery-bridge, Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

New features at the revamped museum will include purpose-built gallery spaces, suitable for the presentation of large-scale contemporary artworks and exhibitions. It will include the Sky Gallery which will overlook the former SJI building, as well as a new gallery space in front of the former CHS building. There will also be a new Queen Street entrance for SAM that will transform the inner courtyards of the museum – Queen and Waterloo courtyards – now encompassed below the Sky Gallery, into a large high-volume atrium to welcome visitors. Visitors arriving from Bras Basah MRT Station will be immediately greeted by a generous outdoor plaza, welcoming them into Singapore’s new contemporary art museum.

“The design response was to float a large box above the existing courtyards of the former SJI building. This would provide the museum with a large, column-free exhibition space within the box, thus liberating the historical school building from the stresses of displaying large artwork. The new façade on Bras Basah Road will feature a series of reflective glass panels running along its length, with each panel progressively angled towards the historical building’s dome – creating multiple and displaced reflections that shift as one moves past it. The former CHS building on 8 Queen Street – previously separated from the main museum – is now connected with a link bridge, providing seamless access between the two buildings. A second floating box is also introduced there to increase the museum’s much-needed capacity for art presentation.” – Chan Soo Khian, Founding Principal and Design Director of SCDA Architects Pte Ltd.

The original entrance of the museum and former driveway along Bras Basah Road will be transformed into a fully pedestrianised green space for art for the public to enjoy. The two SAM buildings – currently separated by Queen Street – will be linked by a gallery-bridge to create a seamless museum experience, as visitors view exhibitions, attend museum events and programmes across both buildings.

Artist impression showing Singapore Art Museum’s new Queen Street courtyard, Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

The refurbishment works will take place in tandem with preservation and restoration works of the heritage buildings where SAM is sited. These works will be carried out on the much older, former SJI building to preserve its heritage architecture, and will include preserving in-situ key architectural features and materials that are intact such as the ornamental interior of the SJI building chapel which features stamped metal ceilings and wall panels, and the 1903 pediment with the original Signum Fidei logo which was uncovered during the 1990s restoration. Certain sections of the building will be restored to their original presentation, for example, the ventilated upper floor verandah.

The façade of the CHS building will also be conserved, with the historical school gate posts moved to a permanent position within the plaza where the legacy of the school will be celebrated. The former CHS building will also house the SAM Learning Gallery and workshop spaces for students and school groups. Other public spaces to be housed within the museum include a library, retail outlet and cafe.

The redevelopment will also introduce new features to the building interiors to allow for greater accessibility for museum visitors with special needs. In addition, the new museum will feature learning studios and a library, new public spaces to experience the arts, as well as exciting retail and café spaces.

Photos: All images courtesy Singapore Art Museum

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