A look at the One Historical Map app

6 12 2015

I had a little go at the One Historical Map app that was launched by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) on Friday. The app, while not by any means perfect, is a useful tool – especially for those like me who are in the habit of pouring over old maps in trying to connect old Singapore with the greatly altered Singapore of today.

The One Historical Map app is accessible via the Web Portal (www.oneHmap.sg) or via a Mobile App now available on Android.

The One Historical Map app at the media launch. It is accessible via the Web Portal (www.oneHmap.sg) or via a Mobile App now available on Android.

The currently focus of the app is with the developments since independence and it offers access to five old editions of street maps from 1966, 1975, 1984, 1995 and 2007, along with that of the current year, 2015. Not only is there an ability to refer to these maps – already available on the SLA’s very handy Singapore Historical Map and the OneMap portals, there is also the ability to lay them side-by-side for comparison. This certainly is a powerful tool – a natural progression perhaps from the two wonderful mapping initiatives SLA has undertaken, that will allow the user to view how an area has changed over the years and also provides a very quick tool to determine locations of former landmarks. One thing that would be nice as a future feature is the capability to overlay maps and also incorporate maps from from the National Archives of Singapore.

An added feature of the app is that it allows users to upload and geo-tag personal photographs to it. The app does already come with some 300 images pre-loaded, 200 of which were curated by the National Heritage Board (NHB) who SLA has partnered with in bringing the app to the public this SG50 year. The remaining 100 or so photographs were contributed by SLA’s supporters and geo-historical enthusiasts. One concern that the “crowd-sourcing” of photographs does raise is the difficulty in ensuring the complete accuracy of the information being uploaded to the app, although the SLA has stressed that the intention to do this is more to allow the app to serve as a repository of memories.

SLA is looking at improving the app and as such welcomes feedback on it. While it currently is available only for Android mobile platforms, users on other platforms have access to it via the app’s web portal at www.oneHmap.sg.


Some examples of what the app offers:

In search of old Somapah. The ability to compare maps side-by-side on the go is especially useful. Here we can see how the area around the once bustling Somapah Village has changed, how Somapah Road has since been re-aligned and pin-point the locations of landmarks in the area such as Red Swastika School.

The ability to compare maps side-by-side on the go is especially useful. Here we can see how the area around the once bustling Somapah Village has changed, how Somapah Road has since been re-aligned and pin-point the locations of landmarks in the area such as Red Swastika School.

Laying old and current maps side-by-side provides the ability to see changes to the coastline and in this case where the red cliffs at Tanah Merah Besar (where Tanah Merah Besar Road met Wing Loong Road) now are - buried under Changi Airport.

Laying old and current maps side-by-side provides the ability to see changes to the coastline and in this case where the red cliffs at Tanah Merah Besar (where Tanah Merah Besar Road met Wing Loong Road) now are – buried under Changi Airport.

The search for the lost Mata Ikan village leads to Changi South Avenue 2.

The search for the lost Mata Ikan village leads to Changi South Avenue 2.

Finding where old Tuas Village now is.

Finding where old Tuas Village now is.

The app allows users to upload and geo-tage photographs and provide short descriptions.

The app allows users to upload and geo-tage photographs and provide short descriptions.

Example of an uploaded geo-tagged photograph.

Example of an uploaded geo-tagged photograph.


 





The National Gallery Singapore: a sneak peek

23 11 2015

After five long years, the transformation of two of Singapore most recognisable National Monuments, the former Supreme Court and City Hall into the National Gallery Singapore, is finally complete. The new cultural institution, which oversees the largest collection of modern art in Southeast Asia, will open its doors to the public tomorrow – an event that is being accompanied with a big bash.

Visitors to the gallery can expect to see a display of Singapore and Southeast Asian art drawn from Singapore’s huge National Collection in the permanent exhibitions, Siapa Nama Kamu? – featuring close to 400 works of Singapore art since the 19th Century, and Between Declarations and Dreams, which features close to 400 works of Southeast Asian art from the same period.   There will also be two special exhibitions that can be caught from 26 Nov 2015 to 3 May 2016. One, Beauty Beyond Form, features the donated works of traditional Chinese painter, Wu Guanzhong. The other After the Rain, will see 38 works of one of Singapore’s leading ink painters, Chua Ek Kay on display. Also on display will be the beautifully restored interiors of the two buildings, and the stunning impact the architectural interventions have had on them (see also : The National Gallery, Naked).

More information on the National Museum’s opening celebrations and visitor information can be found on the celebrations brochure (pdf) and also at the National Gallery Singapore’s website. Admission to the National Gallery Singapore will be free for all visitors from 24 November to 6 December 2015.


A Sneak Peek at the National Gallery Singapore

The former Supreme Court, which houses the galleries of the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery

Art in a former courtroom.

Art in a former courtroom.

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The former Courtroom No. 1.

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Manit Sriwanichpoom’s Shocking Pink Collection.

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Reflections on the Rotunda Dome.

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The former Courtroom No. 1.

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The spiral staircase to the main Supreme Court dome.

An art resource centre in the former Rotunda Library.

An art resource centre in the former Rotunda Library.

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Inside the resource centre.

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City Hall, which houses the DBS Singapore Gallery, the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery, the Wu Guanzhong Gallery and several education centres

The Keppel Centre for Art Education.

The Keppel Centre for Art Education.

Chua Mia Te's Epic Poem of Malaya.

Chua Mia Tee’s Epic Poem of Malaya.

Liu Kang's Life by the River.

Liu Kang’s Life by the River.

The DBS Singapore Gallery.

The DBS Singapore Gallery.

Lots to think about ...

Lots to think about …

City Hall Chamber.

City Hall Chamber.

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The red SG50 Steinway.

The red SG50 Steinway.

Not quite a permanent display.

Not quite a permanent display.


Miscellaneous Views (see also: The National Gallery, naked)

The columns of City Hall.

The columns of City Hall.

Corridors of the former Supreme Court - the original rubber tiles, which contained asbestos, had to be replaced.

Corridors of the former Supreme Court – the original rubber tiles, which contained asbestos, had to be replaced.

Another view.

Another view.

The former City Hall Courtyard.

The former City Hall Courtyard.

Roof terrace bars at City Hall.

The roof terrace bars at City Hall …

... provides stunning views of the cityscape.

… provide stunning views of the cityscape.

The view of the Padang, the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands from the roof terrace.

The view of the Padang, the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands from the roof terrace.

 

 





The Magna Carta goes on display

19 11 2015

A 798 year old copy of the Magna Carta, one of four 1217 copies that still exist, goes on display for five days from today at the Supreme Court. The copy, belonging to Hereford Cathedral, is on an eight stop world tour as part of the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Great Charter (see also : See a 13th Century copy of the Magna Carta here in Singapore). The document is also accompanied by the only surviving copy of a 1215 writ, a letter issued by King John to local authorities to announce the issue of the charter.

The display of the 13th century documents is part of the “800 years of Magna Carta” exhibition and is accompanied by an exhibition by the Supreme Court of Singapore “Magna Carta and Us”. The Supreme Court exhibition presents a collage of historical footprints which traces the birth and development of the Singapore Constitution and the rule of law in Singapore to the Magna Carta. Both exhibitions were opened last evening by the British High Commissioner for Singapore, His Excellency Scott Wightman and the Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, Reverend Canon Chris Pullin. A replica of the British Museum’s 1215 copy of the Magna Carta was also presented by the gentlemen to the Supreme Court and was received by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.


Exhibition Details

Date:  19 to 23 November 2015

Time:  8.30am to 8.00pm

Venue:  Supreme Court, Auditorium Level B2, 1 Supreme Court Lane,  Singapore 178879

Admission: Free to all

More information is available at the British High Commision’s website as well as the Supreme Court’s website.


Photographs from the opening and of the exibitions

A close-up of a replica of the 1215 Magna Carta presented by the British Museum to the Supreme Court.

A close-up of a replica of the 1215 Magna Carta presented by the British Museum to the Supreme Court.

A replica of the seal of King John.

A replica of the seal of King John.

The presentation of the replica of the 1215 British Museum Magna Carta.

The presentation of the replica of the 1215 British Museum Magna Carta to the Supreme Court (from left to right: Reverend Canon Chris Pullin, Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral; British High Commisioner to Singapore Scott Wightman; and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon).

A replica of the Hereford Cathedral's 1217 copy - the actual copy, is one of four that now exists and is also on display at the exhibition.

A replica of the Hereford Cathedral’s 1217 copy – the actual copy, is one of four that now exists and is also on display at the exhibition.

A replica of the Hereford Cathedral's 1215 Wirt of King John - the actual copy, is the only one that has survived and is also on display at the exhibition

A replica of the Hereford Cathedral’s 1215 Wirt of King John – the actual copy, is the only one that has survived and is also on display at the exhibition.

A panel at the exhibition.

A panel at the exhibition.

Information presented at the exhibition includes that on the Magna Carta, the Hereford Cathedral's copy and the Cathedral itself.

Information presented at the exhibition includes that on the Magna Carta, the Hereford Cathedral’s copy and the Cathedral itself.

The late Nelson Mandela on the significance of the Magna Carta.

The late Nelson Mandela on the significance of the Magna Carta.

The Supreme Court's accompanying exhibition 'Magna Carta and Us'.

The Supreme Court’s accompanying exhibition ‘Magna Carta and Us’.

The declaration of Independence on display at 'Magna Carta and Us'.

The declaration of Independence on display at ‘Magna Carta and Us’.

 


 

 





Keppel Land’s vintage photo competition

16 11 2015

I have been alerted to a photo competition that Keppel Land has been running since 2 November. The competition, calls for old photographs that depict the transformation of Singapore’s landscape covering the period from the 1960s to the 1990s, with a focus on Keppel Land’s developments.

Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets)..

Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets)..

The developments identified by Keppel Land include the Ocean Financial Centre, Marina Bay Financial Centre, Keppel Bay, Bugis Junction, the Singapore Management University and and the new National Library and the vicinity of these developments such as Raffles Place, Bugis and the Bras Basah area.

The rise of a new Ocean - the Ocean Financial Centre, the fourth Ocean Building on the site (photograph taken with LG Optimus G).

The rise of a new Ocean – the Ocean Financial Centre, the fourth Ocean Building on the site.

The competition is being held in conjuction with Keppel Land’s SG50 50 Day Trail on Singapore’s Landscape Transformation. The competition runs up to 11 December. More information can be found on the accompanying EDM and also at Keppel Land’s campaign page on Facebook. Submission may be made to http://woobox.com/sfh4v2.





See a 13th century copy of the Magna Carta here in Singapore

11 11 2015

The historic Magna Carta, the Great Charter, dates back to 1215. It serves as the foundation of the principles in English Law – later Common Law, which Singapore and the UK both share – that everyone, even the ruler, is subject to the law, and that everyone has certain rights that must be protected by the law. We in Singapore will get to see a rare copy of it when Hereford Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta, just one of four copies from 1217 still in existence, goes on display at the Supreme Court from 19 to 23 November 2015. The document will be accompanied by the only surviving copy of the 1215 King’sWrit, a letter from King John to local authorities announcing the issuing of Magna Carta.

An image of part of the Hereford Cathedral's 1217 copy of the Magna Carta that will be on display at the Supreme Court (source: Hereford Cathedral).

An image of part of the Hereford Cathedral’s 1217 copy of the Magna Carta that will be on display at the Supreme Court (source: Hereford Cathedral).

Brought to Singapore as part of a world tour of nine cities to mark the Magna Carta’s octocentenary, the stop in Singapore is also to mark the island nation’s golden jubilee, and to recognise Singapore’s status a legal hub. The other stops in the tour are New York, Luxembourg, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Malta and Lisbon. The document is being conveyed by British Airways in its First Class flight and airport facilities. Sponsors for the exhibition in Singapore are UK law firm Clifford Chance and its local partner Cavenagh Law LLP.

The display of the Magna Carta in Singapore will be complemented by an accompanying exhibition that the Supreme Court of Singapore is holding, titled “Magna Carta and Us”. This accompanying exhibition will present a collage of historical footprints tracing the birth and development of the Singapore Constitution and the rule of law in Singapore to the Magna Carta.

Details for the exhibitions, which will be held at the Supreme Court Auditorium, will be as follows:

Date:  19 to 23 November 2015

Time:  8.30am to 8.00pm

Venue:  Supreme Court, Auditorium Level B2, 1 Supreme Court Lane,  Singapore 178879

Admission: Free to all

More information is available at the British High Commision’s website and also at the Supreme Court’s website.


Magna Carta Competition: My Great Charter

(run by the British High Commission)

Magna Carta is Latin for ‘Great Charter’. If you could issue a Great Charter of your own, what would put in it?

To enter our ‘Magna Contest’ tell us what rules you would put into your own Great Charter.

These could be both serious or humorous. For example:

Everyone must speak to their neighbours at least once a day.

In order to increase happiness, good food must be shared.

For the benefit of tired eyes, all people to stay in bed an extra hour on Mondays.

Selected entries will receive two cinema tickets to watch the new Star Wars Film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was filmed in the UK. To apply, please e-mail your rules for your own Great Charter to Competitions.Singapore@fco.gov.uk or message us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/UKinSG.


Useful Information related to the Magna Carta:






The estate that Lee Kong Chian built

3 11 2015

Lying at the foot of Bukit Timah Hill is a tiny estate that if not for the Rail Mall that now fronts it and the nearby railway truss bridge, would probably go unnoticed.  The estate of 142 households, launched a SG50 coffee table book on Sunday, an event to which I was invited to and one that also saw the unveiling of a sculpture by Oh Chai Hoo dedicated to the estate. It was at the event that I was to learn that the estate traces its origins to Southeast Asia’s “Rubber and Pineapple King”, businessman and philanthropist Mr Lee Kong Chian, and that the estate had once been home to Mr S R Nathan (who was to become the sixth President of the Republic of Singapore).

Faces of Fuyong Estate, seen on the cover of the SG50 book.

Faces of Fuyong Estate, a SG50 coffee table book produced by residents of the estate.

The name of the estate holds the clue to this origin. Fuyong or Phoo Yong in Hokkien, and the pinyin-ised as Furong (芙蓉), names by which the estate went by, was the village in China’s Fujian province from which the illustrious Lee Kong Chian hailed from. The land on which the estate now sits was purchased by Lee from a Mr Alexander Edward Hughes. Lee, who pioneered a provident fund based housing scheme to allow his employees to own homes was persuaded by Mr Lim Koon Teck, his legal adviser and a Progressive Party politician, to allow much needed low cost housing built for the public there in the early 1950s and Phoo Yong Estate was born.

A page in the book. It was on land purchased by Mr Lee Kong Chian, pictured, that Fuyong Estate was developed to serve as much needed low-cost housing in the mid 1950s.

A page in the book. It was on land purchased by Mr Lee Kong Chian, pictured, that Fuyong Estate was developed to serve as much needed low-cost housing in the mid 1950s.

The row of single storey houses straddling Jalan Asas in 1989. The houses have since been converted into The Rail Mall.

Before the Rail Mall – one of the two rows of single storey houses straddling Jalan Asas in 1989 that have since been converted into The Rail Mall.

Much has changed about the face of the estate and its vicinity since the days when it was known as Phoo Yong, or even in more recent times. In an area once dominated by the factories on the hills, and once where the sounds heard through day included the rumble of trains and the blasts from the nearby quarries, the estate is today set in an area bathed in the calm of the verdant Bukit Timah Hill that now paints a much less rowdy backdrop. The rows of houses by the main road, which had housed a mix of businesses that included a coffin shop, have since the mid 1990s, become the Rail Mall – developed by a subsidiary of the Lee Rubber Company.

The now silent truss bridge, a long-time landmark along Upper Bukit Timah Road.

The now silent truss bridge, a long-time landmark along Upper Bukit Timah Road.

Two of the estate's oldest residents at the launch event cutting a cake with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Two of the estate’s oldest residents at the launch event cutting a cake with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The strong sense of community in the estate was very much in evidence through the launch event, some of which perhaps in embodied in the sculpture that was also unveiled in the estate’s Fuyong Park. Taking the form of the Chinese character for a person looking forward, the artist behind piece, Oh Chai Hoo, intends it as a symbol of the kampong spirit and the resilience shown by our forefathers.

Taking aim to unveil Oh Chai Hoo's sculpture, which takes the shape of teh Chinese character for a person.

Taking aim to unveil Oh Chai Hoo’s sculpture, which takes the shape of the Chinese character for a person.

The coffee table book is a good little read for anyone interested in the estate and in the area’s development. The book traces the estates transformation and also offers many interesting insights into the estate, such as how Mr Nathan became an early resident. One also learns of the meanings of the names of its roads in Malay. Asas for example means foundation, Tumpu, focus, Siap, readiness and Uji, challenge. There is also a little known fact that gets a mention. Having been built as a low cost housing estate, a regular visitor to the estate was the 32 door honey wagon. While there were initial efforts by a resident Mr Palpoo to bring in modern sanitation on a private basis in the early 1960s, it wasn’t until 1969 that the estate would fully be equipped with flushing toilets – something we in in the Singapore of today would find hard to imagine.

A scan from Faces of Fuyong with an aerial view over the estate in 1958. The photograph also shows the railway line, the truss bridge, and Hume Industries and the Ford Factory on the high ground across the road.

A scan from Faces of Fuyong with an aerial view over the estate in 1958. The photograph also shows the railway line, the truss bridge, and Hume Industries and the Ford Factory on the high ground across the road.

The verdant backdrop that bathes the estate in an air of calm.

The estate is set against a verdant backdrop that gives it an air of calm.

Residents pouring over the book.

Residents pouring over the book.

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Beauty isn’t only skin deep

28 10 2015

There is nothing like the sheer elegance of a well crafted article of leather, especially one that comes from a house that has a long tradition of fine craftsmanship in skins. The house, Hermès, which had its beginnings as a master harness-maker and later as saddlemakers, has just that. Founded in Paris in 1837 by Thierry Hermès, the house has come a long way in the business of creating and crafting fine objects of desire from some of the most beautiful skins in the world.

Inside Hermès' wonderful Little Room of Wanders at Empress Place.

Inside Hermès’ wonderful Little Room of Wanders at Empress Place – a rare show of objects from Emile Hermès’ collection which is now a source of inspiration for the house’s designers.

As a treat specially crafted for this jubilee year, the house gives us in Singapore an opportunity to step into the world of fine leather craftsmanship in a exhibition Leather Forever that runs from 25 October to 13 December at the ArtScience Museum. The exhibition, which also includes a prelude to it at the Little Room of Wanders at Empress Place, takes visitors through some of the inspirations behind its creations, to the art and craft of leather working and to the house’s intriguing range of products that include some rather quirky looking items from its Special Orders  Workshop.

A side facing saddle for a woman in the Little Room of Wanders.

A side facing saddle designed to seat a woman in the Little Room of Wanders.

Equestrian objects such as spurs feature in the collection.

Equestrian objects such as spurs feature in the collection.

A intricately decorate trunk from Spain.

A intricately decorated trunk from Spain.

The Little Room of Wanders offers a rare peek into Emile Hermès' collection.

The Little Room of Wanders offers a rare peek into Emile Hermès’ collection.

Especially fascinating is Hermès’ Little Room of Wanders which contains a rare public display of a selection of objects from the incredible collection of Emile Hermès, the grandson of the founder. Emile Hermès, who took over the business in the early 1900s, had spent a lifetime assembling some a 15,000 item collection. Now housed in the private by-appointment-only Emile Hermès Museum, the collection of  objects of art, equestrian objects, ingenious mechanisms, books and the most unusual of knick-knacks has since become a source of inspiration for Hermès’ designers.

A camera shaped flask in the collection.

A camera shaped flask in the collection.

A close-up of a saddle from China.

A close-up of a saddle from China.

A travel case in the collection.

A travel case in the collection.

The exhibition proper, Leather Forever, at the ArtScience Musuem is also well worth a look at. This starts with visitors having a look at some of the background work in Hermès’ creations in its leather reserve seen in the Savoire Faire section. Here an introduction is give to the classification, cutting and assembly of skins. What must certainly be a treat will be a chance to see artisans, flown specially in from the house’s Parisian workshops, at work in recreating some of the house’s iconic leather bags.

An artisan from Hermès' Paris workshop at work at the ArtScience Museum.

An artisan from Hermès’ Paris workshop at work at the ArtScience Museum.

Part of Hermès' Leather Reserve.

Part of Hermès’ Leather Reserve.

A demo of how the leather is prepared for cutting.

A demo of how the leather is prepared for cutting.

Finished objects of desire.

Finished objects of desire.

Speaking of icons, a selection of the house’s range of its legendary Kellys and Birkins, are also conspicuously on show along with variations as well as other leather crafted objects that the house’s icons have inspired. Among the variations of the Kelly, which was re-christened after Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco used it famously to conceal her pregnancy from the paparazzi, or as the house puts it, as a bodyguard for the future Princess Caroline, are five Kellydoll bags on display designed to each represent each decade of Singapore’s independence.

Variations on the legendary Kelly.

Variations on the legendary Kelly.

Horsing around with a rocking Kelly.

Horsing around with a rocking Kelly.

One of the five Kellydoll bags designed to each represent a decade of Singapore's independence.

One of the five Kellydoll bags designed to each represent a decade of Singapore’s independence.

The exhibitions are opened from 10am to 7pm from Saturday to Thursday and from 10am to 9pm on Friday and admission is free. More information on them can be found at http://lfe.hermes.com/sg/en.

The first ever bag with a zipper, aka the

The first ever bag with a zipper, aka the “Hermès Fastener,” fitted to it. Emile Hermès held a patent for the zipper which was fitted to a bag designed to be quickly secured for the age of the automobile.

A saddle leather bustier designed Jean Paul Gaultier for Hermès (notice the Kelly inspired straps).

A saddle leather bustier designed Jean Paul Gaultier for Hermès (notice the Kelly inspired straps).

A baseball glove out of the Special Orders Workshop.

A baseball glove out of the Special Orders Workshop.

An apple carrier (complete with knife and holder) on loan from its owner who commissioned it to allow him to carry his apple a day.

An apple carrier (complete with knife and holder) on loan from its owner who commissioned it to allow him to carry his apple a day.

A gift commissioned by the Duke of Windsor for Wallis Simpson, a leather wheelbarrow, inspired by his observation that the duchess already had

A gift commissioned in 1947 by the Duke of Windsor for Wallis Simpson, a leather wheelbarrow, inspired by the Duke’s observation that the duchess already had “wheelbarrows” of fragrances and gloves.

A winged saddle made at Hermès Sellerie workshop.

A winged saddle made at Hermès Sellerie workshop.

Zouzou, a ostrich skin rhino created by Leïla Menchari for the windows of the 24 Faubourg Saint Honoré store in 1978 at the entrance to the exhibition.

Zouzou, a ostrich skin rhino created by Leïla Menchari for the windows of the 24 Faubourg Saint Honoré store in 1978 at the entrance to the exhibition.

The exhibition gives visitors a chance to horse around.

The exhibition gives visitors a chance to horse around.

A case of miniatures.

A case of miniatures.

A door bolt inspired fastener.

A door bolt inspired fastener.

A flight of fancy on a motorcycle.

A flight of fancy on a motorcycle.

Travel cases from the days when the romance of travel was at its height.

Travel cases from the days when the romance of travel was at its height.

A travel wardrobe.

A travel wardrobe.

A dance inspired leather bag.

A dance inspired leather bag.





Celebrating SG50 and a heritage gem

14 08 2015

One of the joys of living in Singapore, a melting pot of immigrant cultures for over two centuries, is the diverse influences seen in the architecture on display across the city-state.  One area where a concentration of this can be admired is in and around Telok Ayer Street, a street once fronting the bay after which it was named and a point of landing for many of modern Singapore’s earliest immigrants.  Along the street, stand two gorgeously adorned pagodas, possibly the oldest in Singapore, both of which were erected by Hokkien immigrants, one of which takes one from earth to heaven and houses an altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor within what was once the home of the Keng Teck Whay.

The former Keng Teck Whay, now the Singapore Yu Huang Gong.

The former Keng Teck Whay, now the Singapore Yu Huang Gong.

A second pagoda - Thian Hock Keng's Chong Wen pagoda, seen across the roofs of the Hokkien temple from the Keng Teck Way's pagoda.

A second pagoda – Thian Hock Keng’s Chong Wen pagoda, seen across the roofs of the Hokkien temple from the Keng Teck Way’s pagoda.

The Keng Teck Whay, a mutual-aid society, was founded in 1831 by 36 Hokkien Peranakan (Straits Chinese) businessmen from Malacca whose origins can be traced back to Chiang Chew (Zhangzhou), China. The association, membership of which passed from father to eldest son, erected what can be said to be a clan complex around the mid 19th century. Being a very exclusive association, the complex and the fine example of southern Chinese architecture found within it, was kept well hidden from the public eye for much of its long existence.

The ancestral hall where a tablet bearing the names of 35 of the 36 founders - one was apparently ejected. 36 places are however set at the table where food offerings to the ancestors are laid out during the sembayang abu or ancestral prayer sessions - a practice that is now continued by the Taoist. Mission

The ancestral hall where a tablet bearing the names of 35 of the 36 founders – one was apparently ejected. 36 places are however set at the table where food offerings to the ancestors are laid out during the sembayang abu or ancestral prayer sessions – a practice that is now continued by the Taoist. Mission

A National Monument since 2009, the former Keng Teck Whay building – the only surviving example of a Straits Chinese clan complex, has since been taken over by the Taoist Mission. The complex, which was in a state of disrepair when the mission took possession in 2010, was painstakingly restored over a two and a half year period by a team of experts appointed by the Taoist Mission at a cost of some $3.8 million. Having first opened its doors to the public as the Singapore Yu Huang Kong or Temple of the Heavenly Jade Emperor early this year, the newly restored complex was officially opened on 9 August, the day independent Singapore celebrated its golden jubilee.

A view of the central door and the door gods.

A view of the central door (reserved for the Deity) and the door gods.

A view through the opened Deity door.

A view through the opened Deity door.

The opening of the former Keng Teck Whay as the Yu Huang Kong, which was officiated by Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, was a celebration in many ways. Marking the the end of the restoration effort, the ceremony, which also included the commemoration of National Day, was also a celebration of Singapore’s unity in diversity with representatives from Singapore’s many faiths also in the audience.

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There is also much to celebrate about the beauty of the complex and its traditionally constructed structures and decorations. Laid out along a north-south axis, the complex features two courtyards, separated by its rather interesting pagoda. The beautifully constructed pagoda, laid out on a square base with octagonal plan upper tiers, said to represent Earth and Heaven respectively, is thought to have been modelled after the pagoda structures seen in temples to Confucius. It is on the second level of the three tier pagoda that the altar dedicated to the Heavenly Jade Emperor is found. The ancestral hall, housed on the lower level of the rear two storey building, lies across the inner courtyard from the pagoda.

Another view of the pagoda.

Another view of the pagoda.

The entrance building.

The entrance hall.

The altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor.

The altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor.

The iron spiral staircase of the pagoda.

The iron spiral staircase of the pagoda.

Doors, frescos and architectural details of the pagoda, beautifully restored.

Doors, frescos and architectural details of the pagoda, beautifully restored.

The ancestral hall, would have been where the main focus of the gathering of members five times a year to conduct ancestral prayers or sembayang abu, was. The hall is where a tablet inscribed with the 35 names of the association’s founding members can be found. While the name of the 36th founder, who was ejected for reasons unknown, is missing from the tablet, 36 places were still somehow set at the sembayang abu food offering table – a practice that the Taoist Mission continues with. More information on the Keng Teck Whay and the sembayang abu food offerings be found at this link:  http://peranakan.s3.amazonaws.com/2005/2005_Issue_2.pdf.

The curved roof ridge of the entrance hall.

The curved roof ridge of the entrance hall.

The upper level of the rear hall.

The upper level of the rear hall.

Further information on the Keng Teck Whay can be also found at the following links:


More photographs of the Opening and SG50 National Day Commemoration ceremony

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More photographs of the beautifully restored Singapore Yu Huang Kong

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The Fullerton Hotel National Day light up

2 08 2015

As a child, one of the highlights of National Day was the nighttime drive to see the city’s birthday lights. The beautifully lit landmarks, buildings and the fountains that once graced the city, although much simpler then, brought a wonderful burst of colour to the city and its surroundings. Among my favourites were the illuminations of the City Hall, the old Supreme Court, and also the old St. Joseph’s Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum, which always seemed to be bathed in green, and where I would eventually attend school at. The fountains looked especially beautifully lit at night, besides the ones that would be normally illuminated at the roundabouts, there was one located at the filter beds off Bukit Timah Road, close to its junction with Cavenagh and New Cemetery Roads, that would be specially turned on and illuminated for the special occasion.

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Light-ups to celebrate our special days these days, tend to be more than just the simple illuminations of old, involving video projections of both light and sound. One to look out for in the lead up to our nation’s 50th anniversary is the video mapping show that is being seen on the face of the last of the grand edifices of our once glorious waterfront, the grand old Fullerton Building, over nine evenings from 1st August.

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Produced in collaboration with Hexagon Solution Pte Ltd, the light-up, an eight minute long projection entitled “A Celebration of  Our Heritage”, will take the audience through key moments in Singapore’s history and the connection the building, the former General Post Office or GPO, had with some of them. One of these moments are the election rallies Fullerton Square was well known for.

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The light-up is part of a slew of activities in the Marina Bay area, where the focal point of the National Day celebrations will take place. One thing to look forward to will be the fireworks and aerial displays on 9 August – the parade will be screened live on LCD screens around the bay. Also to look forward to is the complimentary kacang putih and potong ice-cream that will be given out by Fullerton Hotel on 7 and 8 August at One Fullerton. The Fullerton is also running a Facebook contest that will see ten lucky winners walk away with a complimentary weekend night’s stay at the hotel – all that is needed to enter is to take a photo of the projection and submit it with a birthday wish to the nation via Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #FullertonSG50LightUp (contest closes on 9 August 2015 at 11:50 pm). More information on this and the light-up can be found on the Fullerton Hotel’s Fullerton Hotel website or Facebook Page.

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The National Gallery, naked

7 05 2015

It has been a long four and a half years since two architectural icons of a lost age went into hiding, cloaked for a large part in a dark shroud. That was to permit a huge and costly transformation of the two, the old Supreme Court and the City Hall, to be performed, a transformation that would turn the two  into a jewel that will crown Singapore’s coming of age. The massive 64,000 square metres of floor area that the two buildings share will provide Singapore with the grandest of showcases its huge National collection as the new National Gallery Singapore. The collection numbers some 10,000 works. Composed primarily of the art of Singapore and of Southeast Asia, it is the largest collection of its kind in the world.

The restored historical lobby of the Old Supreme Court.

The restored historical lobby of the Old Supreme Court.

The re-tiled corridors of the Old Supreme Court.

The new shine of the re-tiled corridors of the Old Supreme Court.

The buildings, both National Monuments and ones that for long characterised the city-scape, hark back to the days of the empire. With significant chapters of our history written within their walls, the two are monuments not just of the nation, but also to the nation and what is nice about the transformation, although it may have altered some of the buildings’ characters, is that its does allows an  appreciation of the buildings’s historic and architectural value by providing us and our future generations with access to them and more importantly to their many conserved spaces.

My favourite space in the two buildings, the Rotunda Library, seen in a new light.

My favourite space in the two buildings, the Rotunda Library, seen in a new light.

I had a chance to look at how the transformation has been managed when the buildings made their debut as the National Gallery without the art during the recent series of Naked Museum tours. Having had a look at the two during the open house held just prior to the closure in late 2010, I was especially interested to see how the character of the many conserved spaces within the two have been preserved.

The gathering of local artists and guests at the launch of the National Gallery Open House in 2010 prior to the renovations (National Gallery photo).

The beautifully restored Foyer of the Old Supreme Court.

The beautifully restored Foyer of the Old Supreme Court.

The old stairway that now leads to a new heaven.

The old stairway that now leads to a new heaven.

One of the first things that did catch my eye however, was how the two have been made to become one. A large part of this, is seen in the interface between the two at the former open plaza. Here, we see one of the larger intervention of the architect, Mr Jean François Milou, in the large enclosed space that has been created, encased by glass panels on a framework of steel. The framework is suspended over the two monuments through the use of a rather intriguing looking tree-like support structure. The space is best seen when the sun shines. That is when it takes on an almost magical quality in the soft light that filters through the specially designed screen of perforated aluminium panels.

The atrium between the two buildings.

The atrium between the two buildings.

The moment of inspiration for the screen came on a sun baked afternoon as the architect pondered over how the buildings could be unified sitting on a plastic chair in the Padang. The play of light and shadow through the patchwork of glass and steel, its tree-like support that is also replicated up on the roof of the old Supreme Court, and the sky bridges that allow communication between the two buildings finds meaning as a whole in providing a stunning visual spectacle in which the new is very much in harmony with the old.

A view of the sky bridges between in the atrium created the two buildings.

A view of the sky bridges between in the atrium created the two buildings.

The upper level sky bridge that connects at Level 4.

The upper level sky bridge that connects at Level 4.

The interventions on the roofs of the two buildings, are also best appreciated from the inside. On the previously empty roof of the City Hall, we now see two reflecting pools over the building’s former courtyards. This, found on Level 5, will be lined with F&B outlets. The upper level (Level 6), is where one can now gaze across the Padang to where the generations before once gazed at the lights of the old harbour from a viewing deck that will be opened to the public.

The lower level (Level 5) of City Hall Rooftop will see F&B outlets lining two reflection pools.

The lower level (Level 5) of City Hall Rooftop will see F&B outlets lining two reflection pools.

The view across the reflecting pool of the City Hall Rooftop towards the new Supreme Court.

The view across the reflecting pool of the City Hall Rooftop towards the new Supreme Court.

The City Hall Rooftop viewing deck on Level 6.

The City Hall Rooftop viewing deck on Level 6.

The view through the aluminium panels of the roof.

The view through the aluminium panels of the roof.

It was the roof across the sky bridge that I found especially appealing. Previously an inaccessible are of the old Supreme Court, it is where one finds the minor dome. The skylights on the dome is what casts the delightful glow on the beautifully Rotunda Library below it. The now covered space has a roof similar in construction to the glass enclosure of the atrium between the two buildings, and it is here that in the sunshine, that we also are able to see the gorgeous play of shadow and light it can create.

The Supreme Court Terrace.

The Supreme Court Terrace.

Another view of the terrace with the rotunda dome.

Another view of the terrace with the rotunda dome.

Reflections on the Supreme Court Terrace.

Reflections on the Supreme Court Terrace.

It is under the two domes of the old Supreme Court that one finds the most wonderful of conserved spaces, including what certainly is my favourite of all spaces, the beautiful Rotunda Library. Also conserved and restored are spaces such as Courtroom No. 1, the beautiful corridors on the second level and their skylights, the main staircase, the Historical Lobby and the Grand Foyer.

The Rotunda Library.

The Rotunda Library.

The Rotunda, see from the ground.

The Rotunda, see from a lower angle.

Courtroom No. 1.

Courtroom No. 1.

The beautiful light of the Old Supreme Court main staircase.

The beautiful light of the Old Supreme Court main staircase.

A skylight.

A skylight.

The corridors now feature gleaming marble floor tiles, laid out in a pattern that mimic that of the toxic asbestos filled rubber tiles that had to be replaced. In the area to the left of the staircase one also finds two holding cells, the only ones that have been retained. In the cells, we see a hint of a very necessary sanitary fitting, its opening sealed in cement. When operational, that could only be flushed outside the cells. What would have been nice to see conserved are the narrow caged passageways along which the cells’ occupants could be led, via a trap door, to the courtrooms. These however, were nowhere to be found.

The eight sided foundation stone under which there is a time-capsule that is meant to be opened in the year 3000.

The eight sided foundation stone under which there is a time-capsule that is meant to be opened in the year 3000.

The entrance to the Holding Cells.

The entrance to the Holding Cells.

Inside one ofthe two holding cells that have been retained.

Inside one ofthe two holding cells that have been retained.

Prisoner holding area.

The caged passageway through which a prisoner would be led to the courtroom.

The caged passageway seen with indicted Japanese soldiers being tried for war crimes being led to the courtroom from the holding cells (source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4999).

The caged passageway seen with indicted Japanese soldiers being tried for war crimes being led to the courtroom from the holding cells during the War Crime trials (source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4999).

Another caged relic I would have liked to see, was the cage lift that I remember from a visit I accompanied my mother on in my childhood to a verbatim reporter friend she would sometimes have lunch with. This proved once again to be to be elusive, although I am told that the lift is still there and in working condition.

A look up to the underside of the main dome.

A look up to the underside of the main dome.

One part of the court building I did not have a chance to see previously is the underside of the empty main copper clad dome. That I got to see by special arrangement. With the ceiling that previously obscured it now removed, there is no more need to ascend the spiral staircase to have a glance at its bare underneath and the riveted steel beams that provides support. This view will be one of the treats we can look forward to when the new gallery opens its doors in November.

A voew of the distinctive copper dome from City Hall Rooftop. The dome is said to be a smaller scale version of the famous dome of London's St. Paul's Cathedral.

A view of the distinctive copper dome from City Hall Rooftop. The dome is said to be a smaller scale version of the famous dome of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A view from the balcony towards the pediment. The space left by a missing coat of arms, thought to be removed during the Japanese Occupation, will be left as it is.

A view from the balcony towards the pediment. The space left by a missing coat of arms, thought to be removed during the Japanese Occupation, will be left as it is.

New galleries in the old building. The old Supreme Court wing will be used to house the South-East Asian collection.

New galleries in the old building. The old Supreme Court wing will be used to house the South-East Asian collection.

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The pediment of the old Supreme Court on which Justice is not blind in Singapore.

The pediment of the old Supreme Court on which Justice is not blind in Singapore.

A pigeon's eye view from the balcony of the old Supreme Court.

A pigeon’s eye view from the balcony of the old Supreme Court.

The City Hall also has several conserved spaces of importance, the most important of which is City Hall Chamber. Once said to be the grandest of rooms in all of Singapore, the chamber witnessed several momentous events of our past, one of which was the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945. Another significant event that took place there was the swearing in of our first Prime Minister in 1959. In its refurbished state, the chamber retains much of its character. The entrance to it is now via side doors that previously were windows to the courtyard.

City Hall CHamber, a.k.a. the Surrender Chamber.

City Hall CHamber, a.k.a. the Surrender Chamber.

The courtyard the doors now lead to had been an open-air served car park. It now finds itself under a reflecting pool (the same pool on the roof terrace) and air-conditioned. As the DBS Singapore Courtyard, it will be used for the permanent display of a collection of Singapore art from the 19th century to the present when the gallery opens.

The former courtyard of City Hall.

The former courtyard of City Hall.

The courtyard will be a new exhibition space.

Shadows from the steel framework of the glass roof over the courtyard.

Moving stairways to the new heaven.

Moving stairways to the new heaven.

The Cor­inthian columns of the former City Hall's façade.

The Cor­inthian columns of the former City Hall’s façade.

The central staircase of City Hall.

The central staircase of City Hall.

In a year during which there is much to look forward to in a Singapore that celebrates its 50th year of independence, the gallery’s opening in November is something that will certainly enhance the celebration. The gallery will by itself be a celebration, one not just of art and culture, but also of our nationhood and of our history and heritage.More information on the National Gallery and the history of the buildings can be found at the National Gallery’s website and some of my previous posts, which contain photographs of how some of the spaces looked before the refurbishment.

A last look at the Rotunda Library.

A last look at the Rotunda Library.