While it is still in the early stages of reconstruction, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) has revealed artist impressions of its new building design, set to be open to the public once again come 2023. Led by the team of architects from SCDA, the new design aims to balance the building’s status as a gazetted national monument, while serving the needs of both artists and visitors for a modern world.
This will also mark the first time that SAM will undergo major works since it was opened in 1996. Aiming to fulfil its mission as a champion of contemporary art in Southeast Asia, the new building design also hopes to help the SAM continue excavating the future in art, examining and enhancing art’s relationship with society from a uniquely Southeast Asian perspective, through active dialogue and collaboration with artists, partners, and audiences.
“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.” said Mr Edmund Cheng, Chairman, Singapore Art Museum.
Key changes that the public can look forward to will include purpose-built gallery spaces, suitable for the presentation of large-scale contemporary artworks and exhibitions. This will include the Sky Gallery which will overlook the former SJI building, as well as a new gallery spaces 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 (at about 1,200 square metres), 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 total space afforded with the new design will exceed the old one by about 30% or more.
While there was plenty of good about the old design, there were also many gaps in design. The museum’s new design then primarily aims to provide more exhibition space to house the constantly evolving and multidisciplinary nature of contemporary art. “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,” said Mr Chan Soo Khian, Founding Principal and Design Director of SCDA Architects Pte Ltd.
“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.”
The original entrance of the museum and former driveway along Bras Basah Road will also 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.
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, continuing its legacy of education for young museum visitors.
As custodian of the former SJI and CHS heritage buildings, SAM’s redevelopment efforts will ensure that the historic integrity of these buildings is respected. Preservation and restoration works will be carried out on the much older, former SJI building to ensure that its heritage architecture will be carefully maintained for future generations to enjoy. These works will include preserving in-situ key architectural features and materials that are intact such as the interior of the SJI building chapel which is highly ornamental which feature 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 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, to be confirmed and revealed at a later date.
Says Ms. Chong Siak Ching, Vice Chairperson of SAM: “With the new design, there is a need to balance the building’s heritage with the needs of a contemporary art museum, and bring out the best of both worlds, and a design that both helps the artists and enhances the visitors experience. We will have have enhanced accessibility, dedicated workshop spaces for participants, and really, the aim is to design an experience that best serves the public.”
In the meantime, without a permanent home, SAM continues to maintain its nomadic nature as it finds new spaces and collaborations with partners both within Singapore and overseas. As of now, SAM’s international exhibition partnerships include its first collaboration with Kuala Lumpur’s ILHAM Gallery, and a co-curated presentation with National Museum of Art Osaka at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Contemporary running from February to May 2020. In Singapore, the SAM Mini Mobile Museum will present Singaporean artist Melissa Tan, as well as a performance and multimedia work by Singaporean artist Choy Ka Fai.
The Singapore Art Museum will re-open in 2023. For more information on the re-development and other exhibitions, visit their website here