National Library Courtyard

by Zaubidah Mohamed

The National Library Courtyard was an open-air area of 300 sq m located at the former Stamford Road premises of the National Library. It was opened to the public on 19 January 1998. In helping to build a gracious nation the courtyard is an avenue for cultural and artistic events to showcase talents and provide library visitors with the opportunity to appreciate culture and the arts. The opening of the courtyard has made the National Library an information and cultural hub.

The courtyard was constructed as part of the National Library Building, opened in 1960. The area was not open to the public then, and it appears that no (staff and public) activities took place there. The courtyard was renovated in 1997 when the National Library Building went through major renovation and upgrading works. In January 1998, it opened with a new look, featuring a café and a Renaissance fountain. The courtyard can accommodate up to 120 people.

In keeping with the trendy coffee culture in Singapore, the National Library is the first in Singapore's public libraries to have a café in its courtyard. The area of the café is 59 sq m and can accommodate about 100 seats. With a fountain in the heart of the courtyard, one can read a book from the library while sipping designer coffee and enjoying the lovely ambience.

Renaissance fountain
Then-chairmain of the National Library Board, Tan Chin Nam, mooted the idea of a having Renaissance fountain in the middle of the courtyard in keeping with the notion of Singapore enjoying a renaissance of the arts. The fountain design is constructed using pre-manufactured components. The base is a quatrefoil and superimposed square, emblematic of the transition from the medieval or gothic into the quattrocento (the totality of cultural and artistic events and movements that occurred in Italy during the 15th century, the major period of the early Renaissance). This design was also used quite extensively by Italian artists of the period. The fleur-de-lis at the top is unique, as it is the symbol of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Xpressions @ The Courtyard
The opening night for Courtyard programmes was on 29 May 1998, and Xpressions @ The Courtyard was launched on 19 June 1998. Programmes under the Xpressions banner were held every Friday from 7 pm to 8.30 pm. The programmes were geared towards bringing alive the arts and culture, such as live bands, performances by upcoming artistes, readings and staging of sketches by local writers, book launches, calligraphy displays, discussions and screening of films, Malay theatre, Indian classical dancing, travel photography, talks and cooking demonstrations. 

Wellness @ The Courtyard
These programmes were focused on health and lifestyle issues and was launched on 6 January 1999. The events were held every Wednesday from 7 pm to 8.30 pm.

Biz @ The Courtyard
This series debuted on 27 July 1999. Programmes were targeted towards budding entrepreneurs, featuring talks on business-related topics concerning Singapore and the Asia Pacific region. The programmes were held on the last Tuesday of every month from 7 pm to 8 pm.

Life Sciences @ The Courtyard
This effort was launched on 16 January 2001 by Phillip Yeo, then chairman for the Economic Development Board and co-chairman for the National Science and Technology Board. This was a series of talks jointly organised by the National Library Board and the Imperial College Alumni Association of Singapore. The events were held on the third Tuesday of every month from 7 pm to 8 pm. The series showcased various experts on life sciences and was meant for anyone with an interest in the life sciences.

Recent developments
The National Library moved from Stamford Road to its current premises on Victoria Street in 2005. The new building features an outdoor garden area called the "Courtyard", where events are held.

Zaubidah Mohamed

All abuzz over biomedical sciences. (2001, January 18). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

National Library Board. (2014, August 28). Facility specifications: Courtyard. Retrieved from National Librard Board website:

Soh, N. (2001, January 18). Making Singapore a biomedical hub. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, J. (1999, July 10). Library learns to put down book and Xpress itself. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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