Former Empress Place Building (Asian Civilisations Museum)



The former Empress Place Building is one of the architectural treasures in the Empress Place civic area overlooking the Singapore River. It was completed in 1867 and had originally been planned to be used as a courthouse but instead functioned as government offices until the late 1980s. Subsequent restorations and extensions have stayed faithful to the original neoclassical Palladian architectural style. Gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992, it is now known as the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM).1

History
The building was designed by colonial engineer John Frederick Adolphus McNair, who was also the superintendent of convicts. Convict labour was employed to construct the building, which started only in 1864 even though the project had been approved in 1855. The delay was due to the Singapore’s resources being diverted to military needs.2 It was originally designated to be the new Court House, but upon its completion in 1867, various government departments moved in and occupied the building, such as the Government Secretariat, the Public Works and Medical departments, Treasury and Stamp Office. As a result, the building came to be known as the Government Office.3 Three major extensions were added in 1880, 1908 and 1920, though the overall look remained faithful to McNair’s original design.4 The building was renamed Empress Place Building in 1907 when the Municipal Council renamed the adjacent pedestrian space in honour of Queen Victoria who had died in 1901.5


The building continued to be used by various government offices after Singapore attained self-government in 1959. These included the Immigration Department, the Registry of Births and Deaths, and the Singapore Citizenship Registry.6 In the late 1980s, the offices moved out when the Empress Place Building was earmarked for restoration and conservation.7 After a 14-month renovation, the building reopened on 7 April 1989 as an art museum called the Empress Place Museum. Its first exhibition was on the furniture and artefacts of the Qing dynasty.8

The Empress Place Museum, however, failed to attract the following that it needed to stay afloat. After six years of operation, it closed in 1995.9 The National Heritage Board then took over the building to make it part of the ACM.10 In 1998, the Public Works Department began to restore and extend the building.11 The Empress Place Building reopened as the second wing of the ACM on 1 March 2003. The first wing was located on Armenian Street, though this was closed in 2005.12

Facelifts
The Empress Place Building wears a neoclassical Palladian style.13 Although the white two-storey building has undergone a series of renovations and extensions, its original architectural style has been retained.14


During restoration works in the late 1980s, contractors unearthed parts of the original foundation and found an iron ring that could have been used to tie up horses. Nine layers of paint were also found painted over the original structure, and these were removed manually to reveal carved details.15

The next major round of renovations took place when it was being converted into the second wing of the ACM. The S$83-million renovation saw the floor area extended to 14,300 sq m.16 The restored building won the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 2003 Architectural Heritage Award.17



Author

Marsita Omar




References
1. National Heritage Board. (n.d.). Former Empress Place Building (now Asian Civilisations Museum). Retrieved 2016, March 17 from the National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/places/sites-and-monuments/national-monuments/former-empress-place-building-now-asian-civilisations-museum
2. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 12–19. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
3. National Heritage Board. (n.d.). Former Empress Place Building (now Asian Civilisations Museum). Retrieved 2016, March 17 from the National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/places/sites-and-monuments/national-monuments/former-empress-place-building-now-asian-civilisations-museum
4. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 12–19. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Uma Devi, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, pp. 24–25. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
5. National Heritage Board. (n.d.). Former Empress Place Building (now Asian Civilisations Museum). Retrieved 2016, March 17 from the National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/places/sites-and-monuments/national-monuments/former-empress-place-building-now-asian-civilisations-museum; T. F. Hwang takes you down memory lane. (1989, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 12–19. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); T. F. Hwang takes you down memory lane. (1989, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 12–19. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Grand new look for Empress Place by 1988. (1986, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Uma Devi, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, pp. 24–25. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN -[HIS]); T. F. Hwang takes you down memory lane. (1989, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Leong, W. K. (1995, May 1). Empress Place Museum closes after six yearsThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
10. Chow, C. (2003, February 27). Asian relics ruleThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Teo, P. (1997, November 5). New life for Empress Place Building. The Straits Times, p. 3; Chow, C. (2002, April 19). History gets a new place. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chow, C. (2003, February 27). Asian relics rule. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Asian Civilisations Museum. (n.d.). Story of our museums. Retrieved 2016, March 31 from ACM website: http://acm.org.sg/about-us/story-of-our-museums
13. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). 1 Empress Place. Retrieved 2016, March 21 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/2003/1-empress-place.aspx
14. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 12–19. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Uma Devi, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, pp. 24–25. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
15. The Empress’ new look. (1995, January 13). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Wong, J. (1987, December 8). Finds at Empress Place point to colourful past. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
16. Chow, C. (2003, February 27). Asian relics ruleThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). 1 Empress Place. Retrieved 2016, March 21, from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/2003/1-empress-place.aspx



Further resources
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (p. 379). Singapore: Times Books International, p. 379.

(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])

Ho, J. (1996, December 19). Empress all set for grand reopening. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Leong, W. K. (1995, May 1). Building may get a new lifeThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Liu, G. (1999). Singapore, a pictorial history 1819–2000. Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 45.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])

Low, C.-A. (2004). Sawankoloke-Sukhothai wares from the Empress Place site, Singapore. The Heritage Journal, 1(1). Retrieved 2016, March 29 from National University of Singapore website: www.epress.nus.edu.sg/nhb/include/getdoc.php?id=24&article=7&mode=pdf

Museum gets $1.5m. (2002, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 31.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Historic buildings--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Monuments
National monuments
Museums--Singapore
Historic buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure