National Library Building (Victoria Street)

The National Library Building at 100 Victoria Street is the headquarters of the National Library Board (NLB). Opened in 2005, the Victoria Street premises replaced the old National Library Building on Stamford Road. The 16-storey complex houses mainly the collections of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, with the Central Public Library occupying the first of three basement floors. Designed by ecologically conscious architect Ken Yeang, the building is replete with environment-friendly architectural features, and has garnered many accolades both at home and abroad.1

Development of the building
In March 2000, then Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan announced that the National Library Building on Stamford Road would be demolished to make way for the construction of a new road tunnel and a new Singapore Management University campus. Members of the public petitioned to have it preserved, but the Preservation of Monuments Board deemed the architectural and historical merits insufficient for the building to be gazetted as a national monument.2

In 2001, the NLB awarded the design contract for the new building to architectural firm T. R. Hamzah and Yeang, following a competitive tender. An expert in bioclimatic design, Ken Yeang emphasised harmony with local environmental conditions like the sun, wind and tropical greenery in his blueprint. To outfit the building’s interior in an eco-friendly manner, he sourced fixtures made from recycled, reused or renewable materials from British firm Battle McCarthy.3

At the foundation-stone laying ceremony on 15 September 2003, the NLB announced that the Lee Foundation, set up by the late Lee Kong Chian, would be donating S$60 million to defray the building’s construction cost and that the National Reference Library would be renamed Lee Kong Chian Reference Library to honour this contribution.4 The new building was completed at a cost of S$203 million in mid-2005, about a year after the Stamford Road building was officially closed on 1 April 2004. It was first opened to the public on 22 July 2005, and officially opened on 12 November 2005 by then President S. R. Nathan.5

Building features
Located on an 11,304-square-metre site, the building is approximately 103 m high and has a gross floor area of about 58,800 sq m. On the top floor is The Pod, a viewing gallery that offers panoramic views of the Singapore skyline. The public can access The Pod only during special functions or while attending guided tours conducted by the National Library. Level 14 houses the corporate headquarters of NLB, while the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library spans Levels 7 to 13. The Drama Centre of the National Arts Council is located on Levels 2 to 6, and houses a 615-seat theatre, an ancillary 120-seater black box, as well as three multipurpose function rooms.6

The National Library Building consists of two adjoining blocks linked by bridges on the upper floors, creating an atrium in between that funnels air through to facilitate natural ventilation. To minimise exposure to the afternoon sun, the building is oriented away from the east-west axis and its southwestern side is constructed of solid wall. While the other faces of the building are also fitted with sunshade blades that prevent excessive heat and glare, they are lined with glass panels to let in some natural light. Light shelves that reflect sunlight deeper into the building also help to maximise daylighting, thus reducing usage of indoor lighting.7

An architectural highlight of the building is the incorporation of environment-friendly technologies such as intelligent sensors that help reduce energy consumption. For instance, rain sensors reduce the amount of water channelled to the irrigation systems for the indoor gardens during rainy days, while light sensors dim or switch off indoor lights when there is sufficient sunlight entering the building. Motion sensors are also installed within escalators and toilet taps so that they switch on only when being used. Another eco-friendly feature is the air-conditioning system, which is constantly adjusted to regulate carbon dioxide levels in each section of the building, in addition to maintaining the desired temperature.8

There are 14 landscaped gardens in the complex. Collectively cultivated with 120 species of tropical plants, these green spaces help to regulate the daytime temperature in the building. Only two gardens are accessible to the public on a daily basis. The first, known as The Courtyard, is located at Level 5 and equipped with outdoor audio-visual facilities. The second is The Retreat on Level 10, which offers a pebbled foot-reflexology path. While the other gardens are closed during normal times, they may be opened for special events such as outdoor book-reading sessions.9

Located just outside the Central Public Library, the bamboo garden at Basement 1 features a brick wall constructed using red bricks taken from the former National Library on Stamford Road. It was built to preserve memories of the old building. The garden also has several sculptures of people engaged in reading, which are works of local artist Chong Fah Cheong. Another relic retained from the Stamford Road building is a geometric floor-pattern known as the St Andrew’s Cross. Consisting of four adjoining crosses, it was transplanted from the foyer of the old building to the plaza of the new building.10

Accolades and VIP visits
The National Library Building on Victoria Street has garnered several awards recognising its ‘green’ features. These include the Green Mark Platinum Award by the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore in 2005, and the top prize in the ASEAN Energy Efficiency Award in 2007.11

Since its opening, the library has been visited by such dignitaries as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, former First Lady of the United States Laura Bush, and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan.12


Yong Chun Yuan

1. Philip Goad and Ngiom, Recent Malaysian Architecture (Singapore: Pesaro Publishing, 2007), 154–5 (Call no. RART 720.9595 REC); “Intelligent Building,” Straits Times, 2 August 2005, 10 (From NewspaperSG); “About The National Library Building,” National Library Board, accessed 3 March 2011; National Library Board, Singapore, Self-Discovery Tour of the National Library (Singapore: National Library Board, 2005), 1–5 (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SIN-[LIB]); Yvonne Tan, “Library for the 21st Century,” Straits Times, 12 December 2001, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Lydia Lim, “National Library Building to Go,” Straits Times, 7 March 2000, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Tan, “Library for the 21st Century.”
4. “$60M Donation for National Library HQ,” Straits Times, 16 September 2003, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Azizah Sidek et al., eds., The People’s Library: 50 Years of National and Public Library Services (Singapore: National Library Board, 2007), 5. (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SIN-[LIB])
5. David Chew, “More Than Just Books,” Today, 14 November 2005, 33 (From NewspaperSG); National Library Board, Singapore, Self-Discovery Tour of the National Library, 1; Azizah Sidek et al., People’s Library, 4; Adeline Chia, A-Z Guide to the New National Library,” Straits Times, 2 July 2005, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
6. National Library Board, Singapore, Self-Discovery Tour of the National Library, 3, 7, 11, 29; National Library Board, Singapore, “About”; “Theatre,” Drama Centre, accessed 28 February 2017; “Black Box,” Drama Centre, accessed 28 February 2017.
7. Chia, “A-Z Guide to the New National Library”; Tan, “Library for the 21st Century”; National Library Board, Singapore, “About.”
8. “Intelligent Building”; “$60M Donation for National Library HQ”; Tan Hsueh Yun, “National Library Building Will Not Be Conserved,” Straits Times, 27 March 1999, 51 (From NewspaperSG); Tan, “Library for the 21st Century”; Kristina Tom, “New Library Is Smart – and Full of ‘Green’ Stuff,” Straits Times, 25 June 2005, 9 (From NewspaperSG); National Library Board, Singapore, “About”; National Library Board, Singapore, Self-Discovery Tour of the National Library, 3, 9, 15.
9. National Library Board, Singapore, “About”; Tay Suan Chiang, “Green and Bear It,” Straits Times, 23 July 2005, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Chia, “A-Z Guide to the New National Library”; National Library Board, Singapore, Self-Discovery Tour of the National Library, 9.
11. Chia, “A-Z Guide to the New National Library”; National Library Board, Singapore, “About.”
12. Azizah Sidek et al., People’s Library, 98–100.

Further resources
National Library Board, Singapore, Moments and Memories: National Library, Stamford Road, National Library Board, compact disc. (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SIN-[LIB])

Philip Lee, ed., Moments in Time: Memories of the National Library (Singapore: National Library Board, 2004). (Call no. RSING 027.55957 MOM-[LIB])

Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, Diary of a Nation: National Library (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, 1988. (Call no. RSING 027.55951 DIA-[LIB])

The information in this article is valid as of 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.

National libraries--Singapore
Library buildings--Singapore