Windows 1.0

7 11 2010

One of the simple things that I love is how light streams through the frosted or textured panes of an old window, casting a soft and somewhat surreal glow on the space it is meant to provide light to. For me, being bathed in that soft glow, often tinged with a green coloured tint the glass is given somehow brings with it a sense of calm, a calm that exudes a surprising coolness that allows one to take refuge from the warm and oppressive heat that lies beyond the translucent panes. It is for me a light so beautiful that it always draws me to the space that it illuminates – a light that somehow we have in our quest to erect the new edifices of glass and steel, we have long forgotten about.

Soft light streaming into a room of a building that was designed in the mid 1900s.

I guess many of these windows came from a time when necessity dictated that windows would provide light necessary to illuminate a space in the day, serving as a means to ventilate as well as keep out the heat and glare of the tropical sun. Most would have been frosted or textured to provide for the latter consideration as well as for privacy – something that perhaps is achieved for practical reasons with adornments to windows such as the blinds that are commonplace with the windows of today.

Soft light streaming from textured windows of a shophouse from the 1930s in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.

The frosted or textured panes of glass, sometimes coloured, sometimes not, always succeeds in evoking a sense of nostalgia in me, a nostalgia for a time when I sat in the warm glow of the green frosted and textured windows of the primary school that I attended. It was a time for me when there was much to discover through the eyes of a child with the wonderment of world at his feet, and when many of the friendships made have lasted through the half a lifetime that has since passed. I guess those were the formative years that made me the person I am today, and gave me the eyes with which I now look at the world through.

Green coloured frosted glass adds a cool and calm to the light that filters through them.

The green coloured versions somehow casts a tranquility that envelops the space, something that is very much in evidence in the grand old Supreme Court building. It is in providing Singapore with a masterpiece of his architectural genius, that Frank Dorrigton Ward, makes wonderful use of frosted as well as clear glass windows and skylights, that makes it unnecessary to use artificial lighting during the day. What is simply brilliant about the work is that the soft light that filters through, bathes the internal spaces such as the Rotunda Library, the Courtrooms, Judges’ Chambers and passageways with a glow that speaks of a calm that only seeing can describe. This was something that I was fortunate enough to savour on a few visits to the grand old building before work begins to transform it into the National Gallery of Art. It is certainly comforting to know that once the transformation is complete, we will still see much of the magnificent light that it is now bathed in, comforting in the sense that there is still a place to which I can go to feel the glow that only those wonderful windows of old can bring.

Soft light on the main staircase of the old Supreme Court.

Another view of the staircase of the old Supreme Court.

Soft light entering the former Chief Justice's Office in the old Supreme Court.

The soft light of the Rotunda Library.

The old Supreme Court features strategically placed skylights and windows that allow filtered natural light to illuminate its corridors and chambers.

Even the lobby of the prisoner holding area is bathed in a wonderful soft light that streams in through the windows.

A coloured frosted window in the old Supreme Court.

Coloured frosted windows of the old Supreme Court.

A window to a light well in the old Supreme Court.

Soft light of a room illuminated by light filtered through the frosted glass panes of a window.

Textured and frosted glass is commonly used in older buildings of the pre-glass and steel days.

A close up of textured and frosted glass panes.

Timeless old world illumination reflected off the instrument of illumination of the new world.





We’re having our day in Court …

8 10 2010

It’s wonderful that the National Art Gallery of Singapore (NAG) has decided to open the doors of the old Supreme Court and City Hall to members of the public to allow us a lasting last impression of the grand former civic buildings as it would have been like before they are transformed into the future art gallery. While there would be some of the rooms of the buildings that would be kept as they were for historical reasons, such as the City Hall Chambers and the Chief Justice’s Courtroom and Chambers, most of the internal areas of the buildings would be made over and given to the display of art works, with the former Supreme Court being reserved for the South East Asian collection, and the Open House this weekend offers a rare opportunity not just to have a feel of the buildings, but also to photograph them as they were. City Hall Chambers in particular, is of historic significance. This was where the Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of the Second World War on 12 September 1945, and is as well the venue where Mr Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister and the first Singapore cabinet were sworn in in 1959 on the occasion of full self-government. Other rooms that will be preserved include the Chief Justice’s Courtroom (Courtroom 1) and Chambers and the Court of Appeal.


The old Supreme Court and City Hall seen from the Padang - then (c. 1950) and now ... both buildings are being converted into the NAG which will open in 2012.

The Open House will feature guided tours (access to the old Supreme Court Building would only be through the guided tour) for which overwhelming response was received, as well as exhibition displays that portray what the galleries would look like after the makeover. There will also be film screenings, a photo exhibition and lots of activities for the family. Visitors to the City Hall will get a glimpse of areas that include City Hall Chambers and the former Law Restaurant, while those on the guided tour will see among other things the magnificent foyer, the Chief Justice’s Courtroom and Chambers, the Rotunda Library, the Court of Appeal, and the Holding Cells.

There would be free access to City Hall during the open house.

City Hall Chambers: once the grandest room in Singapore, was where the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII in Singapore was formalised, and also where the first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and the first cabinet of Singapore were sworn in.

The Chief Justice's Office.

The Chief Justice's Chambers.

Courtroom 1.

One of the wonderful things you will see inside the old Supreme Court is not just the sheer magnificence of a building, once referred to as “undoubtedly the finest Malayan building”, erected at a time when materials were in short supply, but how light flows softly into the building providing natural illumination without much of a need for lighting in the daytime – brilliant work by the architect Frank Dorrington Ward and certainly worth braving the crowds for this weekend.

Old Supreme Court lobby.

Old Supreme Court lobby.

Stairway - old Supreme Court - love how the soft light streams in!

The Rotunda Library under a minor dome.

Prisoner holding area.

Windows at the Old Supreme Court.

The view from the Chief Justice's Office.

Holding Cell.

Holding Cell.

Lock on the door leading to the Holding Cells.

Skylight inside old Supreme Court.

Former Law Restaurant in City Hall.

Courtyard inside City Hall.

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