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An interactive panel showing the transformation of the former Supreme Court and City Hall into the National Gallery.

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A 360-degree interactive tour of parts of the Gallery.

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Some of the artefacts found during a 2009 archaeological excavation on site.

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The white earthenware lid of a toothpaste jar dating back to the late 1800s.

A journey back to our glorious past

A new exhibition showcases the architectural beauty of the former Supreme Court and City Hall, and their transformation into the National Gallery Singapore.
Jun 30, 2017 5:50 AM

MOST Singaporeans know the National Gallery Singapore is housed in the former Supreme Court and the City Hall. But not many may know what the Civic District was like before these two buildings were built.

A new exhibition, titled Listening to Architecture: The Gallery's Histories and Transformations, takes visitors on a journey back in time, illustrating the rich histories of the two buildings and their change into the art gallery.

Listening to Architecture is housed in the new ArchiGallery, located on level four of the National Gallery. This is ArchiGallery's inaugural exhibition. In time to come, the National Gallery hopes to host more exhibitions showcasing the building's architecture.

The idea to have an ArchiGallery came about after hearing feedback from visitors on their curiosity about the buildings' history. The ArchiGallery is also a way for the Gallery to acknowledge the effort to transform the two buildings into what it is today.

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Listening to Architecture is split over two galleries. ArchiGallery 1 explores the history of the site and the architectural plans of the two buildings.

Between the 1300s and 1600s, the sites of the former Supreme Court and City Hall lay within the core of Temasek, an ancient port settlement that predated present-day Singapore. Archeological discoveries made during the construction of the Gallery attest to the diversity of Temasek's material culture including the torso of a porcelain Buddhist figurine which dates to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).

When the British colonised Singapore in 1819, the land was leased to European settlers for private use. Three bungalows were built and one was later even converted into The Grand Hotel de l'Europe - once the main rival to Raffles Hotel.

During the 1920s when there was rapid economic growth and development in Singapore, the government took back the land to build City Hall, which was completed in 1929. A decade later, the former Supreme Court was completed.

Also in this gallery are drawings and blueprints of the architecture of the two buildings, including the dome of the Supreme Court and its friezes.

Visitors also get the chance to see artefacts from a 2009 archaeological excavation in the former car park between the two buildings.

Some 375kg of artefacts were collected including a white earthenware lid of a toothpaste jar dating back to the late 1800s.

Over at ArchiGallery 2, visitors see how the two buildings were transformed into the Gallery by French architecture firm studioMilou, which won the job in an architectural competition. The work involved building a new basement, as well as preservation of the two buildings, and the construction of a canopy to connect the two.

Along the walkway connecting ArchiGallery 1 and 2 is a timeline of the site's historic moments since the 14th century, such as the surrender of the Japanese army in 1945 at City Hall; and in 2007, when the architectural competition was launched to find an architect for the Gallery.

At the walkway, keep an ear out for Resident Frequencies, an accompanying soundwork by sound artist Zai Tang that evokes the memories that the site holds.

Listening to Architecture also allows visitors to virtually navigate two spaces that are inaccessible - the Gallery's main dome and the walkway leading from the holding cells to the courtroom in the former Supreme Court. This is done through an innovative 360-degree tour projected onto the wall.

Low Sze Wee, the Gallery's director for curatorial, collections and education, says: "Through the exhibition, we hope that visitors will learn about the little known histories of the sites, the philosophies and symbolic elements of the two buildings; their changing roles over time; and the challenges involved in transforming them into the Gallery."

  • Listening to Architecture: The Gallery's Histories and Transformations is on display at ArchiGallery, Level 4, City Hall Wing, National Gallery Singapore. Admission is free