Former St Joseph’s Institution (Singapore Art Museum)



Bound by Queen Street, Bras Basah Road and Waterloo Street, the former building of the boys’ school, St Joseph’s Institution (SJI), was completed in 1867. The school premises comprised a cluster of blocks built between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, featuring a classical style reminiscent of the European Renaissance.1 In 1988, the school moved to its current location on Malcolm Road.2 The old building was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992, and now houses the Singapore Art Museum.3

Establishment and extensions
The history of the former SJI building began with Father Jean-Marie Beurel,  who was instrumental in raising funds not only for this boys’ school,4 but also for the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (present site of CHIJMES).5 Beurel raised money for the boys’ school after establishing the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in 1847, as he felt strongly that “a church without a school is like a king without progeny”.6

Beurel’s hopes for a school were fulfilled in May 1852, when SJI was opened at the premises of the first Roman Catholic church in Singapore, which had been built in 1833.7 On 19 March 1855, the foundation stone for the SJI building was laid.8 Due to a lack of funds, however, the building was completed only in 1867.9

In 1865, Brother Lothaire Combes became SJI’s new director.10 He sought to construct a new building, and obtained funding through the sale of the brothers’ property on Mount Sophia through a public appeal, and by borrowing from the convent.11

The American-educated Irish Brother Michael Noctor then took charge of the school in 1900. He is credited for introducing some of the school’s more distinctive features.12 With the help of Father Charles-Benedict Nain, Noctor extended the original building by adding two wings, a dome and various other features for which the building remains well known today.13 Noctor also made further efforts to build another block known as the Anderson Building, which opened in 1907.14 The school’s diamond jubilee (60th anniversary) was celebrated with the opening of King George’s Hall in September 1912.15

Features
Central block
Dating back to 1855, the design of the building’s central structure is typical of French 19th-century religious architecture.16 The rectangular two-storey block had a small belfry, which was replaced by a dome in 1903.17 When completed in 1867, the ground floor of the block included classrooms, while the upper floor served as accommodation for the brothers and student boarders. The hall was an open shed located in the yard, with unpaved ground and shade from a few trees.18

Noctor further developed the central block by adding a dining and study hall on the Queen Street side of the compound. Rising enrolment meant that new classrooms were needed.19 After consultation with the engineering firm Swan & Maclaren regarding the foundation of the building, plans to build a third floor were abandoned. Lateral extensions were made instead with the addition of two wings.20 Arranged in a semi-circle, the wings were designed by Nain in a baroque style, with a two-storey colonnade and a dome uniting the design with the original block.21 Dedicated in February 1903, the expanded building was at the time regarded as one of the most beautiful in the East.22 It also had a porte-cochère and a verandah at the front of the block. The back verandah was added in 1910.23

Anderson Building
Opened on 2 August 1907, the classical Anderson Building was designed by Robert Hamilton.24 Although Noctor managed to raise funds for its construction, especially from wealthy Straits Chinese businessman Tan Jiak Kim, the price of steel had risen so much that the cost exceeded the original estimate by $12,000. An appeal was thus made to then Governor John Anderson, which led to a government grant funding the construction. The building, opened by Anderson, was thus named after him. When completed, the Anderson Building housed classrooms for the rapidly expanding school, and had a central staircase that projected into the courtyard.25

Chapel building
With the completion of Anderson Building, Noctor set about building a new hall and chapel.26 Designed by C. Himsley, the two-storey block had a hall with arches on the ground floor and a chapel above it.27

Named King George’s Hall, the facility was designed as a loggia with columns. It came to be one of the largest school halls in Singapore. In later years, it became a gymnasium, then the Oei Tiong Ham Hall in 1952.28

The completion of the chapel was delayed because its stained glass did not arrive from Europe on time.29 In 1940, a stage and changing rooms were added to the hall below. During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), the stained glass was moved to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, but was never recovered thereafter. In 1951, the chapel building was enclosed with all its arches flattened.30

Brothers’ quarters
In the 1930s, a three-storey art-deco block was added to serve as the brothers’ quarters and to offer more classroom space. It had brick walls and circular windows by the staircase.31

Statue of de La Salle
The former SJI building is well known for its statue of St John Baptist de La Salle, standing with a child on either side. The statue was donated by a descendant of de La Salle, and installed at the building in 1913. Designed by Cesare Aureli, a famous 19th-century sculptor of religious statues, the design was based on a larger version found in St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.32 Even though SJI was moved to its current location in 1988, the statue of de La Salle has remained at its original premises. A replica of the statue made in China was installed at the school’s new premises in March 1988.33

Japanese Occupation
During World War II, the school grounds were used by both the British and Japanese at various times. Prior to the fall of Singapore, the British used the premises for military casualties. The site later became temporary barracks for the Japanese when they invaded Singapore.34 During the occupation, the school was known as the Bras Basah Boys’ School.35

Conservation
SJI was relocated to Malcolm Road in 1988, following which the building on Bras Basah Road underwent extensive conservation work at a cost of S$30 million.36 It was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992 before reopening on 20 October 1995 as Singapore Art Museum.37


During the conservation process, the central block, Anderson Building and chapel were retained, while the brothers’ quarters, badminton hall and building for extra-curricular activities were demolished.38 As the central staircase in the courtyard occupied too much space, it was replaced with two modern staircases in 1950, but these were also removed during the conservation process.39

The conservation work sought to retain as many of the original details as possible, including the plasterwork of the facade at the main entrance, the roof patina, as well as the roof and floor tiles. The conservators and architects were able to be faithful to the building’s original structure while adapting it to the stringent requirements of an art museum. The resultant Singapore Art Museum has 13 galleries, all climate-controlled, as well as an underground storage space below the wing at Queen Street. The chapel was converted into an auditorium, while the hall below it is now known as the Glass Hall.40



Author

Bonny Tan




References
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, pp. 11, 13. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR)
2. Work to convert old SJI into fine arts museum to begin soon. (1992, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Preservation of Monuments Board. (1998, February 28). Gazette of former Tao Nan School, former Ministry of Labour building and Maghain Aboth Synagogue as national monuments [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
4. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum; The Free Press. (1848, June 22). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Caldwell’s house. (1971, October 15). New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (c2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
6. Chandy, G. (1977, February 3). Josephians’ (1852–1977) jubilee. New Nation, pp. 10–11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
7. The priest whose vision gave birth to SJI. (1989, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (c2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
8. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Remembering the old SJI. (1993, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Chandy, G. (1977, February 3). Josephians’ (1852–1977) jubilee. New Nation, pp. 10–11; Remembering the old SJI. (1993, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
11. Brown, F. (1987). Memories of SJI: Reminiscences of old boys and past teachers of St Joseph’s Institution, Singapore. Singapore: The Institution, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 372.95957 BRO)
12. Celebrate 100 yrs. in Malaya. (1952, April 6). Sunday Standard, p. 2; SJI donates portraits of two pioneers to art museum. (1995, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 25; St. Joseph’s has a centenary. (1952, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum; St. Joseph’s has a centenary. (1952, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website:
https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum
15. St. Joseph’s Institution. (1912, September 24). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR)
17. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum
18. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Brown, F. (1987). Memories of SJI: Reminiscences of old boys and past teachers of St Joseph’s Institution, Singapore. Singapore: The Institution, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 372.95957 BRO)
19. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, pp. 38–39. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
20. Brown, F. (1987). Memories of SJI: Reminiscences of old boys and past teachers of St Joseph’s Institution, Singapore. Singapore: The Institution, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 372.95957 BRO); Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
21. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum; Brown, F. (1987). Memories of SJI: Reminiscences of old boys and past teachers of St Joseph’s Institution, Singapore. Singapore: The Institution, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 372.95957 BRO)
22. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
23. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR); Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
24. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR); Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum
25. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, pp. 41, 111. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Brown, F. (1987). Memories of SJI: Reminiscences of old boys and past teachers of St Joseph’s Institution, Singapore. Singapore: The Institution, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 372.95957 BRO)
26. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
27. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR)
28. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum; Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
29. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF)
30. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR); Work to convert old SJI into fine arts museum to begin soon. (1992, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR)
32. Loh, E. (1987, January 15). Dilemma for SJI: Should statue be moved? The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Brown, F. (1987). Memories of SJI: Reminiscences of old boys and past teachers of St Joseph’s Institution, Singapore. Singapore: The Institution, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 372.95957 BRO)
33. Work to convert old SJI into fine arts museum to begin soon. (1992, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 3; Statue sculpted in China gets pride of place at new SJI. (1988, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 57. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR)
35. Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (c2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
36. Work to convert old SJI into fine arts museum to begin soon. (1992, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (c2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
37. Preservation of Monuments Board. (1998, February 28). Gazette of former Tao Nan School, former Ministry of Labour building and Maghain Aboth Synagogue as national monuments [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Phan, M. Y. (1995, October 25). From school to museum: Architect’s labour of love. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1992). The former St Joseph’s Institution preservation guidelines (Vol. 1). Singapore: The Board, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FOR); Work to convert old SJI into fine arts museum to begin soon. (1992, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum
40. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 28). Singapore Art Museum (Former St Joseph’s Institution). Retrieved 2017, February 24 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/1996/singapore-art-museum



The information in this article is valid as at 2000 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
Art museums--Singapore
Public buildings
Museum buildings--Singapore
Singapore Art Museum
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Public Buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings