Former Supreme Court building



The former Supreme Court building was the seat of Singapore’s highest court from 1939 to 2005.1 It was located at St Andrew’s Road in an area spanning 5,110 sq m.Conceptualised by Frank Dorrington Ward, it was the last classical building constructed in Singapore between 1937 and 1939.2 The building was gazetted as a national monument in 1992.3 Restored together with the adjacent City Hall building, with connecting bridges and a rooftop canopy, to become the National Art Gallery, it has since opened in 2015 as the National Gallery Singapore.4

History
The building sits on the site of the former house of James Clarke of Guthrie and Company Ltd, and later that of Edward Boustead, founder of Boustead and Company.5 Boustead’s house, built in 1823, was then remodelled to serve as the London Hotel. Subsequently, it was renamed Hotel de l'Esperance and thereafter Hotel de l’Europe. The hotel was demolished in 1900 and rebuilt as the Grand Hotel de l’Europe (completed in 1905), otherwise known as the Adis Building after its owner.6 It was demolished in 1934 to make way for the then Supreme Court Building.7

In 1935, the government acquired the 76,344 sq ft of the hotel site for a new Supreme Court building.8 Modelled after the Old Bailey in London, the building was designed by Ward, then chief architect of the Public Works Department, in his typical classical style.9 It was built by United Engineers at a cost of $1,750,000.10 The foundation stone of the building was laid on 1 April 1937, and to commemorate the event, a time capsule cylinder was placed beneath it. At a ceremony on 3 August 1939, the building was declared officially open by Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Shenton Thomas, and handed over to Chief Justice Sir Percy McElwaine.11 The time capsule contains six Singapore newspapers dated 31 March 1937, and currency from the Straits Settlements. It is to be retrieved in the year 3000 with the smashing of the foundation stone.12

The building was the site of war crime trials of members of the Japanese military in 1946.13

Gazetting and conversion
In recognition of its architectural significance, the former Supreme Court building was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992.14 It was vacated in 2005 with the opening of a new Supreme Court building located behind it, and subsequently used for occasions such as the Singapore Biennale 2006. Slated to be converted into the National Art Gallery, Singapore, a design competition was launched in February 2007 to select a design concept for its new identity.15 In May 2008, based on their design proposal, French firm Studio Milou Architecture and local engineers CPG Consultants were appointed the principal consultants for the project.16

In January 2011, a ground-breaking ceremony marked the beginning of restoration and construction works to refurbish and link the old Supreme Court building and the City Hall building next to it. The cost of the project was initially estimated at S$320 million, but was revised to S$530 million in December 2010.17

Features
The building previously contained five courtrooms, a Court of Appeal, a library, a registry and offices.18 Its intricate Corinthian sculpture, columns and facings are the work of Italian artist Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, whose sculptures can also be seen at Raffles Hotel and the King Edward VII College of Medicine building.19 The imposing building is complemented by two sets of Ionic columns on either side of the front porch.20 The building is topped by a distinctive rotunda, beneath which sits the library furnished with carved furniture designed by William Swaffield. Inside the building, the corridors are laid with Art Deco rubber tiles.21



Authors
Vernon Cornelius & Joanna HS Tan



References
1. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 71. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Kwek, M. L., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Hall of justice: Supreme Court Singapore. Singapore: Supreme Court, Republic of Singapore, pp. 106, 110. (Call no.: RSING q347.5957035 HAL)
2. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 375. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Doggett, M. (1985). Characters of light. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 DOG)
3. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 71. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
4. Tan, C. (2010, September 10). A supreme makeover. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Helmi Yusof. (2015, November 24). PM Lee unveils S$532m National Gallery; The finest home for S’pore and South-east Asian art opens its doors on Tuesday. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
5. Singapore’s buildings, our heritage. Goodwood Journal, 4th Qtr., 25. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ)
6. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 375. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
7. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
8. 1,340 acres for RAF. (1936, May 25). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Uniteers get new Supreme Court contract. (1937, January 19). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Colony cavalcade. (1937, April 4). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ceremonial opening of the new Supreme Court building, Singapore, by His Excellency Sir Shenton Thomas, Thursday, 3rd August 1939. (1939). Singapore: Government Printing Office. (Call no.: RSING 725.11095957 SIN); Dignified pageantry at opening of new supreme court. (1939, August 4). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Tan, C. (2010, September 10). A supreme makeover. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The National Gallery Singapore. (2016). History. Retrieved 2016, October 12 from National Gallery Singapore website: https://www.nationalgallery.sg/about/building/history
13. Tan, C. (2010, September 10). A supreme makeover. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 71. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
15. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2007, February 22). Singapore launches architectural design competition for a new national art gallery [Media Release]. Retrieved 2016, October 12 from National Gallery Singapore website: http://nationalartgallery.sg/wp-content/uploads/11_Press_Release.pdf
16. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (May 28, 2008). Appointment of architect for Singapore’s National Art Gallery [Media Release]. Retrieved 2016, October 12 from National Gallery Singapore website: http://nationalartgallery.sg/wp-content/uploads/8_Media_Release_28_May_2008.pdf
17. Shetty, D. (2010, December 23). Concern over higher Art Gallery cost. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Supreme Court to be chief feature of Singapore’s new civic centre. (1937, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Thian, Y. S., et al. (2002). In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN)
20. Singapore’s buildings, our heritage. Goodwood Journal, 4th Qtr., 25. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ)
21. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (2002). In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, pp. 42, 48. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN)



Further resources
Doggett, M. (1985). Characters of light. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 4–5.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 DOG)

Former Supreme Court. (2010). Retrieved 2010, October 25 from Preservation of Monuments Board website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-supreme-court

Governor hands over new court to Chief Justice. (1939, August 4). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lloyd, R. I. (1990). Singapore: State of the art. Singapore: R. I. Lloyd Productions, p. 87.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5705 LLO-[HIS])

Supreme Court supplement. (1939, August 2). The Straits Times, pp. i-viii. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Uma Devi, G. (2009). Resonance: Songs of our forefathers. Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, pp. 86–92.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 RES)



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 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, British colonial--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Public buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Civic and Administrative Buildings
Appellate courts--Singapore
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore