Bold and Beautiful – in line with its theme for this year, the ever so magical Singapore Night Festival, is back! This year’s festival, on for two Fridays and Saturdays on 22 and 23 August and 29 and 30 August 2014 across the arts and cultural Bras Basah. Bugis Precinct, sees it being organised around five key zones, that will include for the first time, a Festival Village at Cathay Green – which will not be short of delectable offerings, entertainment and shopping opportunities. Two venues will also feature for the first time at the Night Festival, with the historic Armenian Church seeing two Night Lights installations and the National Design Centre (the former St. Anthony’s Convent), which will see a mini interactive exhibition with a ceiling of white illuminated helium filled balloons as well as two light installations.
The Singapore Night Festival is back – bolder and more beautiful and sure to pull-in the crowds.
The highlight of this year’s Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn.
The highlight of the festival has to be the William Close performing on his Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn – one of several spectacular performances being lined up for the Pretty Arty festival zone based at the museum. The Earth Harp Close creates for the Night Festival, sees the huge harp strung across to the National Museum’s façade – the use of architecture as part of his harp, is inspired by a quote “architecture is frozen music” from Frank Lloyd Wright. Close, who was a second runner-up in the seventh season of America’s Got Talent, will collaborate with several local and international artists such as Singapore’s drum group ZingO and songstresses in the form of Sound of Sirens as well as the fire and lights of Austrian collective Phoenix over both festival weekends.
Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.
ZingO – a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.
Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.
The festival sees the return of Singapore’s very own Starlight Alchemy, playing not so much with fire this time, but with light and acrobatics beside the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Information Systems in a zone intended to reach out to Young Hearts around SMU Green. The acts will include AcroYogis – an acrobatic partner yoga presentation in which the audience can participate in, as well as Illuminated Playtime in which participants will be invited to play with LED lights.
AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.
Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.
Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.
The 10 DJs on stage.
Always a crowd-pleaser, Night Lights, will also return – this time doubling in scale – with installations spread across the festival’s zones. Night Lights never spares the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), a building I always enjoy seeing bathed in light – like outstretched arms its wings are always welcoming as it had been when I went to school there all those years ago. This year the façade of the SAM will be see a nature inspired multi-media presentation, Spirits of Nature, by WeComeInPeace from France.
Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.
The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.
One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers …
… the installation requires one to pause – only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.
Greenhouse Effect – another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.
Other eye-catching Night Lights installations I got to see a preview of include Cyanea, inspired by the Cyanea capillata – one of the largest jellyfish in the world, spread across Cathay Green. The installation, illuminated by a set of colour-changing lights, with smoke and sounds for effect, is being put up by Cumulus Collectif also from France.
Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.
Back to the SAM, where the Roundabout Midnight zone is based around, there are several installations to look out for. These include, The Cloud of Unknowing by Ho Tzu Nyen in the Chapel on 29 and 30 August, 2014 – a cinematic exploration of the cloud as image, metaphor and carrier for divine illumination; a NOISE Weekend @ SAM on 22 and 23 August at 8Q Plaza, SAM at 8Q that will feature emerging bands and musicians from NOISE Singapore’s Music Programme; Darker Than Wax DJs at SAM on 29 August; and The Local People x SAM Night Market on 30 August, 2014 – where visitors can eat, listen and shop at the art market along Queen Street.
Cyanea from its inside.
A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.
The last zone, Block Party @ Armenian Street, will see a wild and happening Armenian Street where parties to late will be taking place. The parties will include one that will see much excitement with a ring put up on the second weekend right in the middle of Armenian Street (which will be closed to traffic from 8 pm to 2 am on festival nights). The ring will see wrestling bouts that will pit stars of Singapore Pro Wrestling – another first at the Night Festival.
And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.
A performance that might be worth catching at Block Party is How Drama ’s Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap, in Something Borrowed, Something New at The Substation Theatre, which will probably have you in stitches – not just because of the speed performance of 31 plays in an hour by the Singapore based improvisational performers, but also for their rather amusing take on current happenings. The performance, which will see the audience determine the sequence, has the audience laughing at the funny side of issues such as the much talked about Singapore Tourism Board’s “Honey, Look!” video advertisement as well as the National Library’s tango with the removal of children’s books from the shelves.
Admission to the Singapore Night Festival (including to the participating museums) is free. More information, including the festival guide, details of the performances, installations and also the artists, can be found at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
Try as he might the stadium announcer at Saturday’s Singapore Selection versus Juventus football match couldn’t quite coax the crowd into reaching the decibel levels of the long unheard Kallang Roar. The roar, named after the thunderous noise of cheering supporters literally rocking the stsaium’s structure in days when the original National or Kallang Stadium was packed to capacity in playing host to Malaysia Cup matches (it would be packed with as many as 70,000 fans during its early years, before that was reduced to 55,000). Much feared by Singapore’s footballing opponents, much was made of it as the twelfth man in the many games Singapore played against the Malaysian State teams in the competition.
The impressive roof, a section of the crowd, and a view of the colours of the sunset.
The purr was, I guess, to have been expected. It is early days yet with the first football match being played a non-competitive one with terraces half-filled. And while the brand new stadium may have lacked the atmosphere of the old and the pitch showing obvious signs of not being completely play-worthy, it does impress, not just from a perspective of its architecture, but also in many areas that matters to the spectator – especially so the ventilation system and the seating.
There were obvious signs of bare sandy patches on the pitch.
Whether the roar will return is left to be seen. This we may have a sense of in a few months when Singapore co-hosts the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in November. What then is heard during matches involving the Singapore team, will perhaps serve a more accurate barometer of whether with the new stadium, the Kallang Roar will make its return.
Despite the goalkeeper’s acrobatics, the Singapore Selection let in five goals without reply.
First match, first casualty …
Adoring Juve fans …
And the man they came to see, Andrea Pirlo.
Numero cinque going in.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
Back for a fifth time, the biennial Singapore Garden Festival (SGF), as on previous occasions, promises visitors a visual feast of beautifully conceived gardens as well as a kaleidoscope of colour. Organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) and Gardens by the Bay (where it is being held for the very first time), the nine-day SGF 2014 (held from 16 to 24 August) sees the introduction of a competitive Floral Table Series and a showcase of Miniature Garden Designs in addition to the mix of designer and fantasy gardens.
The fantsay world of Tartarus by James Basson of Monaco.
The Gardens by the Bay provides the setting for this year’s SGF.
The Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens, with 7 and 8 exhibits respectively this year, are always a treat at SGF. This year’s location provides a somewhat more natural setting for the Landscape Show Gardens which are on display in the open at The Meadow. Among the exhibits in these two categories, I especially enjoyed Tartarus, a Fantasy Garden by Monaco’s James Basson, that has the effect of takes one right into the fantasy world of a secret forest.
A peek into another secret garden – Winter Illusion by Kate Hiller and Dan Rutherford of New Zealand.
Out in the open at The Meadow – one from the Landscape Show Garden category.
The bulk of the displays are at The Meadow.
Beside the Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens, the displays at The Meadow, where the main part of SGF is being held at, include the always delightful Balcony Gardens, 8 of which are on display, Floral Windows to the World, Celebrations! Floral Table Series, the Minature Garden Displays, the Community in Bloom displays and a Learning Garden.
A Balcony Garden.
From the Community in Bloom displays.
The Learning Garden.
A Miniature Garden display.
The Ice Queen’s Spring Breath (Floral Windows to the World).
Passion (Floral Windows to the World).
Dining in Mangrove (Celebrations! Floral Table Series).
Another from Celebrations! Floral Table Series.
Also to look out for this SGF, is the Orchid Extravaganza at the Flower Dome. The display, designed by award-winning landscape architect Jun-ichi Inada, features some 18,000 plants and more than 40 orchid species and hybrids that includes a 10 metre Orchid Kaleidoscope. Also at the Orchid Extravaganza is a gallery of competition orchids put on show by the Orchid Society of South East Asia. Orchid Extravaganza, which opened with SGF 2014, will be on display for much longer, until 21 September.
The Orchid Kaleidoscope at the Flower Dome.
Inside the Orchid Kaleidoscope.
A display of competition orchids at Orchid Extravaganza.
For photography enthusiasts, a photography contest, COLOURS, will be held during SGF 2014. Those who wish to participate may submit photographs that best represent the theme Colours through the contest Facebook app, from 16 August to 7 September. The contest is open to Singaporeans and residents of Singapore who are above 13 years old and have a Facebook account. Prizes include the top prize of a Canon DSLR camera and printer worth S$1528/-. For more information on the contest and SGF (including ticketing), do visit the Singapore Garden Festival’s website or Facebook Page.
More of the orchids at Orchid Extravaganza
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
In celebration of Singapore’s National Day, the Singapore Art Museum is opening its doors to the public with free admission to the museum and participation in various family art activities. Free workshops and activities have been organised to coincide with the newly opened exhibition Sensorium 360º. Visitors are able to create their own artworks, inspired by Singapore’s National Day and the artworks of Sensorium 360º.
ACTIVITY: COLLABORATIVE MURAL
VENUE: SAM Level 2 Lobby
TIME: 11.00 am to 6.00 pm
This collaborative artwork celebrates National Day by involving participants the creation of a mural with cityscape and landmarks of Singapore. Participants can contribute by drawing well-known Singapore landmarks, as well as personal landmarks such as houses, people, cars, etc. This mural will be displayed at SAM throughout National Day.
ACTIVITY: DARK ROOM
VENUE: SAM Gallery 3.7
TIME: 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm
DURATION: 45 minutes
Inspired by Sensorium 360° artwork, Unseen: Touch Field by Alicia Neo, this activity encompasses the experience of craft making in a dark room setting and allows the participants to rely solely on their sense of touch. Participants will create shapes and forms using materials such as beans and beads by following verbal instructions.
ACTIVITY: NATIONAL DAY KALEIDOSCOPE
VENUE: SAM Glass Hall
TIME: 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm
DURATION: 45 minutes
Inspired by Sensorium 360° artwork, The Overview Installation by Eugene Soh, which transforms the way we see the world, participants will create a kaleidoscope to celebrate National Day through intriguing fragments of colours and patterns.
For more details, please visit the Singapore Art Museum website at http://www.singaporeartmuseum.
Unlike its better known northern companion, the isle of Peace and Tranquility, Sentosa, the island of Pulau Tekukor is one that rarely gets a mention. Named in Malay after the rather benign spotted-neck dove - tekukur (as it is spelt today) is derived from the sound the bird makes, the name, so it seems, masks quite a sinister past.
A tekukur in flight.
Pulau Tekukor or Dove Island.
If one of the forgotten stories of our shores are to be believed, a curse was said to have been placed on Pulau Tekukor and despite the island’s welcoming sandy beaches, the island is one that unlike its immediate neighbours, has never been inhabited. The curse, one that left its soil incapable of supporting any useful plant life as well as leaving it without a source of freshwater, as the story goes, is a result of the island’s violent past, a past that does provide a possible explanation as to how the nearby island of Sentosa acquired its mysterious previous name, Pulau Blakang Mati (the island of death at the back).
The paradise end of Sentosa today with Terumbu Buran in the foreground, now an isle for the living.
Pulau Tekukor was once itself, known by another name, Pulau Penyabong. Penyabung (as penyabong is spelt today), as is used in more recent times, has connotations of bloody confrontations, having been associated with the cruel but once popular sport of cockfighting. The fights, however, that were thought to have taken place on the island, so that blood not stain the soils of the more sacredly held islands, involved creatures not of the feathered kind. Pitting keris wielding Malay and Bugis warriors of the old world, these confrontations were duels to the death, for which the reward for the vanquished, was a final journey to be buried on an island that now for some, does seem like paradise on earth.
Another view of Tekukor a.k.a. Penyabong, Sisters’ Islands can be seen to its south-west. The channel on the west of the island, Sisters Fairway is also known as Selat Tanjong Hakim.
Besides the curiously named Pulau Blakang Mati, another name that is thought to be linked to the bloody battles, is Selat Tanjong Hakim (now more commonly referred to Sisters’ Fairway in navigation charts). Hakim being the Malay word for judge – the selat or strait west of Penyabong, would have watched over the duels, in the same way a judge might have presided over the fights.
Another view of the former Pulau Blakang Mati.
As Pulau Tekukor, the island became a commercial explosives storage facility for the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) in the 1980s- after the island was enlarged by reclamation of its western shores. There was also a proposal to turn it into a sanctuary for long-tailed macaques that surfaced in the mid 2000s that did not take off and as of today, there are no known plans for the island and the island remains as mysterious as it long has been.
The sandy beaches and ‘bloodstained’ cliff faces of Tekukor.
In its cliff faces that are still seen today – stained by the blood of the fallen, there perhaps is the only reminder of the story of the island; a tale that, as with the many stories from our islands handed down through the generations telling us of a past we long have discarded, may never again be told.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
The process of acquainting myself with the shores of Singapore for a project I am working, Points of Departure, on has provided me with some incredible experiences. One that I was especially grateful to have had was the experience of paddling through a green watery space that is almost magical in its beauty. Set in the relatively unspoilt lower reaches of Sungei Khatib Bongsu, one of Singapore’s last un-dammed rivers, the space is one that seems far out of place in the Singapore of today and holds in and around its many estuarine channels, one of the largest concentration of mangroves east of the Causeway along the island’s northern coast.
Paddling through the watery forest at Sungei Khatib Bongsu.
The much misunderstood mangrove forest, is very much a part of Singapore’s natural heritage. The watery forests, had for long, dominated much of Singapore’s coastal and estuarine areas, accounting for as much as an estimated 13% of Singapore’s land area at the time of the arrival of the British. Much has since been lost through development and reclamation and today, the area mangrove forests occupy amount to less that 1% of Singapore’s expanded land area. It is in such forests that we find a rich diversity of plant and animal life. Mangroves, importantly, also serve as nurseries for aquatic life as well as act as natural barriers that help protect our shorelines from erosion.
Khatib Bongsu is a watery but very green world.
The island’s northern coast was especially rich in mangrove forests. Much has however, been cleared through the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, with large tracts being lost during the construction of the airbase at Seletar and the naval base at Sembawang in the early 1900s. The mangroves of the north, spread along the coast as well as inland through its many estuaries, along with those found across the strait in Johor, were once the domain of the Orang Seletar. A nomadic group of boat dwellers, the Orang Seletar had for long, featured in the Johor or Tebrau Strait, living off the sea and the mangroves; finding safe harbour in bad weather within the relatively sheltered mangrove lined estuaries.
Mangrove forests had once dominated much of coastal Singapore.
Boat dwelling Orang Seletar families could apparently be found along Singapore’s northern coast until as recently as the 1970s. While the Orang Seletar in Singapore have, over the course of time, largely been assimilated into the wider Malay community, the are still communities of Orang Seletar across the strait in Johor. Clinging on to their Orang Seletar identity, the nine communities there live no longer on the water, but on the land in houses close to the water.
Safe harbour in the watery woods.
It is the labyrinth of tree shaded channels and the remnants of its more recent prawn farming past that makes the side of the right bank of Sungei Khatib Bongsu’s lower reaches an especially interesting area to kayak through. Much has since been reclaimed by the mangrove forest and although there still is evidence of human activity in the area, it is a wonderfully green and peaceful space that brings much joy to to the rower.
The canalised upper part of Sungei Khatib Bongsu.
The area around Sungei Khatib Bongsu today, as seen on Google Maps.
Paddling through the network of channels and bund encircled former prawn ponds - accessible through the concrete channels that once were their sluice gates, the sounds that are heard are mostly of the mangrove’s many avian residents. It was however the shrill call of one of the mangrove’s more diminutive winged creatures, the Ashy Tailorbird, that seemed to dominate, a call that could in the not too distant future, be drowned out by the noise of the fast advancing human world. It is just north of Yishun Avenue 6, where the frontier seems now to be, that we see a wide barren patch. The patch is one cleared of its greenery so that a major road – an extension of Admiralty Road East, can be built; a sign that time may soon be called on an oasis that for long has been a sanctuary for a rich and diverse avian population.
The walk into the mangroves.
The beginnings of a new road.
The Sungei Khatib Bongsu mangroves, lies in an area between Sungei Khatib Bongsu and the left bank of Sungei Seletar at its mouth that lies beyond the Lower Seletar Dam that has been designated as South Simpang; at the southern area of a large plot of land reserved for public housing that will become the future Simpang New Town. The area is one that is especially rich in bird life, attracting a mix of resident and migratory species and was a major breeding site for Black-crowned Night Herons, a herony that has fallen victim to mosquito fogging. While there is little to suggest that the herons will return to breed, the area is still one where many rare and endangered species of birds continue to be sighted and while kayaking through, what possibly was a critically endangered Great-billed Heron made a graceful appearance.
Evidence of the former prawn ponds.
Kayaking into the former ponds.
It is for the area’s rich biodiversity that the Nature Society (Singapore) or NSS has long campaigned for its preservation and a proposal for its conservation was submitted by the NSS as far back as in 1993. This did seem to have some initial success and the area, now used as a military training area into which access is largely restricted, was identified as a nature area for conservation, as was reflected in the first issue of the Singapore Green Plan. Its protection as a nature area seemed once again confirmed by the then Acting Minister for National Development, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, during the budget debate on 18 March 1994 (see: Singapore Parliament Reports), with the Minister saying: “We have acceded to their (NSS) request in priorities and we have conserved Sungei Buloh Bird Sanctuary and Khatib Bongsu“.
Unfortunately, the area has failed to make a reappearance in subsequently releases of the list of nature area for conservation, an omission that was also seen in subsequent editions of the Singapore Green Plan. What we now see consistently reflected in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Master Plans (see: Master Plan), is that as part of a larger reserve area for the future Simpang, the area’s shoreline stands to be altered by the reclamation of land. Along with land reclamation, plans the Public Utilities Board (PUB) appears to have for Sungei Khatib Bongsu’s conversion into a reservoir that will also include the neighbouring Sungei Simpang under Phase 2 of the Seletar-Serangoon Scheme (SRSS), does mean that the future of the mangroves is rather uncertain.
A resident that faces an uncertain future.
Phase 2 of the SRSS involves the impounding of Sungei Khatib Bongsu, Sungei Simpang and Sungei Seletar to create the Coastal Seletar Reservoir. Based on the 2008 State of the Environment Report, this was to be carried out in tandem with land reclamation along the Simpang and Sembawang coast. The reclamation could commence as early as next year, 2015 (see State of the Environment 2008 Report Chapter 3: Water).
In the meantime, the NSS does continue with its efforts to bring to the attention of the various agencies involved in urban planning of the importance of the survival of the mangroves at Khatib Bongsu. Providing feedback to the URA on its Draft Master Plan in 2013 (see Feedback on the Updated URA Master Plan, November 2013), the NSS highlights the following:
Present here is the endangered mangrove tree species, Lumnitzera racemosa, listed in the Singapore Red Data Book (RDB). Growing plentifully by the edge and on the mangrove is the Hoya diversifolia. On the whole the mangrove here is extensive and healthy, with thicker stretches along Sg Khatib Bongsu and the estuary of Sg Seletar.
A total of 185 species of birds, resident and migratory, have been recorded at the Khatib Bongsu area. This comes to 49 % of the total number of bird species in Singapore (376, Pocket Checklist 2011, unpublished ) – almost comparable to that at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. 13 bird species found here are listed in the RDB and among these are: Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Straw-headed Bulbul, Ruddy Kingfisher, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, White-chested Babbler, etc. The Grey-headed Fish Eagle and the Changeable Hawk eagle are nesting in the Albizia woodlands in this area.
The mangrove dependent species present are : Crab-eating Frog, Dog-faced Water Snake & Malaysian Wood Rat. The Malaysian Wood Rat is regarded is locally uncommon. In 2000, Banded Krait (RDB species) was found here near the edge mangrove. Otters, probably the Smooth Otter, have been sighted by fishermen and birdwatchers in the abandoned fish ponds and the Khatib Bongsu river.
It will certainly be a great loss to Singapore should the PUB and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) proceed with their plans for the area. What we stand to lose is not just another regenerated green patch, but a part of our natural heritage that as a habitat for the diverse array of plant and animals many of which are at risk of disappearing altogether from our shores, is one that can never be replaced.
The present shoreline at Simpang, threatened by possible future land reclamation.
The white sands at Tanjong Irau, another shoreline under threat of the possible future Simpang-Sembawang land reclamation.
The visit to Khatib Bongsu is part of a series of visits to some of the lesser known shores of Singapore, in the search of words and sounds for an IRememberSG funded project, Points of Departure.
The Old Vic’s finally back. Having seen it look increasingly tired over the years, it’s nice to see that it’s not just been freshened up during a four year hibernation, but has also been done up very nicely for its role as a mid-sized performing arts venue for the future.
I had the opportunity to have a quick glance at the newly refurbished Vic at an exclusive tour organised for a group of bloggers over the weekend of the Open House, with a visit to the top of what to me has always been the mysterious clock tower thrown in; and I must say, there isn’t anything there is to dislike about its latest makeover – except that is that everyone now seems to want to refer to the well-loved monument by its acronym VTCH (for Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall). We in Singapore do have a penchant for using acronym, but extending the practice to our well loved icons, doesn’t seem quite right.
It will always the old Vic to me, a landmark that we have long identified with our Lion City. It is where the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, has maintained his proud position – almost uninterrupted (the statue was removed from its position during the Japanese Occupation in 1942 and restored in 1946) since 1919, the centenary of him setting foot on the island at a point not far away on the river bank and setting the ball rolling on a chain of events that has brought us to where we are today. The chimes from its clock tower were ones that flavoured my childhood and it was something I looked forward to hearing on the many occasions I found myself in the area in the days of my childhood.
The section of the building that has served as the concert hall since the late 197os was of course the Victoria Memorial Hall back in the days of my youth, a name I still have the tendency, as with many of my generation, to use in referring to the National Monument. There were several occasions when I did have a chance to pop into it – it had been the site of many exhibitions in the days before the former World Trade Centre and the former Harbourfront took over as Singapore’s main exhibition venues.
The concert hall, which served as the home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) from 1979 until the SSO shifted to the Esplanade in 2002, was actually a 1905 addition to the building, built in the memory of Queen Victoria. The original section, built as a town hall in 1862, was then remodelled to complement the memorial hall in a symmetrical fashion and reopened as a theatre in 1909. The clock tower, with chimes and clock by the Straits Trading Company, was completed in 1906.
Over the years, several modifications were made to the buildings. This included a significant makeover in the 1950s, which saw the two buildings air-conditioned, and the seating capacity of the theatre doubled. That makeover also saw the incorporation of the previously open courtyard between the two buildings into the structure with it being covered up – a modification that has to an extent, now been reversed.
A glass roof now allows light into a rather pleasant looking and air-conditioned courtyard, the Central Atrium, restored partially on the side of the concert hall. Not only does this allow a wonderful view of the clock tower, it allows it to serve as a through passageway from the front of the buildings to the back. At the back a magnificent view of Old Parliament House, now The Arts House, Singapore’s oldest government building, in its full glory awaits.
The Central Atrium is where we see a tasteful blend of old and new. The rolling back of the modifications made to maximise the capacities of both the theatre and the concert hall, sees the boundaries of both pushed back to the original locations, allowing the columns and arches to be brought out. On the side of the concert hall, we see how it may have been with its ornate archways and rusticated columns restored. It is however the side of the theatre that seems most interesting, it is there that we now see a reinterpretation of courtyard side of the old theatre, with the use of relief etched precast panels providing a modern and forward looking impression, partly to compensate for the absence of information relating to the original architectural details, in contrast to that on the side of the concert hall.
It was also nice to see how Victoria Theatre has been redone – its seating arranged in the horseshoe shape as it might originally have been with a provision of an orchestral pit. This has reduced its capacity from 900 to 614, providing it with a more intimate setting. More importantly, the modifications must now give it much improved acoustics – one of the few impressions of the theatre that I have from watching Lea Salonga in a Singapore Repertory Theatre production of the musical “Into the Woods” sometime in the 1990s, was of its rather poor acoustics.
It is interesting to see that several items from the old theatre have been incorporated into the new – with the backs of the old seats decorating the entrance foyer, seen in a floating “Rubik’s Cube”. Frames and material from the old seating are now also seen in the remodelled theatre, such as the cast-iron components incorporated into the newly installed acoustic timber walls.
While some of us did not get to see the 673 seat concert hall, we did hear the glorious strains from Dr Margaret Chan’s masterful pipe-organ performance from the foyer where we got to see the suspended balcony - replacing the previously added balcony that had to be supported by intrusive structures, to free up volume and improve acoustics.
What we got to see that most visitors during the Open House didn’t was the clock tower (which incidentally has had its crown restored), which I had been curious about throughout my childhood. The inside of the clock tower turned out to be quite different from the one I had envisaged - the clock’s mechanism and the five bells seemed a lot smaller than what I had imagined as a child.
The clock has seen an improvement during the refurbishment – an automatic winding mechanism was added. Prior to this, the clock had to be rewound manually, requiring a winder and maintenance man to ascent up 176 steps once a week to spend up to an hour winding the clock.
While the chimes I am told, can be heard as far away as the Esplanade, it didn’t quite sound as loud as one might have expected standing right by the bells, seemed minute compared to the bells that Quasimodo lent his hand in ringing. Beside the thrill of hearing the bells chime at 11 o’clock, there was also the bonus of taking in the magnificent views of the surroundings and the contrast of the old Padang surrounded by the architectural symbols of colonial power next to what architectural historian Lai Chee Kien, calls a new “liquid padang” - surrounded by the architectural symbols representing the new power.
The refurbishment of the old Vic coincides with an effort that will also see a renovation of the Asian Civilisations Museum and the transformation of the Old Supreme Court and City Hall into the National Gallery Singapore – all scheduled to be completed next year. That will complete the transformation of an area that had been at the heart of the colonial administration into an arts and cultural hub – what the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), in their 2014 Master Plan, terms as a “Civic and Cultural District by the Bay“.
More information on what is envisaged for the Civic District as part of URA Master Plan 2014, do visit the following links:
- Civic and Cultural District by the Bay – URA Master Plan 2014 (on YouTube)
- Central Area (URA Master Plan 2014)
More information on Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall and its recent refurbishment can be found on their website.
Some key dates relating to the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall:
|17 March 1855||
The foundation stone for the new Town Hall was laid by the Governor of Singapore, Colonel W. J. Butterworth.
|1902 – 1905||
Victoria Memorial Hall was built in memory of Queen Victoria’s reign. Victoria Memorial Hall and Tower were joined to the existing theatre by R. A. J. Bidwell of Swan and Maclaren, with passageway between the two buildings.
|18 October 1905||
Victoria Memorial Hall was officially opened by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, John Anderson.
The construction of the signature clock tower was completed. This was later than expected due to the delay in donation of the clock and chimes by the Straits Trading Company.
The first performance that took place in the newly completed Victoria Theatre was Sirs William S. Gilbert and Arthur S. Sullivan’s well-known and amusing opera, The Pirates of Penzance, staged by the Singapore Amateur Dramatic Committee.
|6 February 1919||
On Centenary Day, T. Woolner’s statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was moved from the Padang to Victoria Memorial Hall, taking the place of the bronze elephant presented to Singapore by King Chulalongkorn.
The Victoria Memorial Hall was used as a hospital for victims of bombing raids by the Japanese forces during World War II.
|1946 – 1947||
Victoria Memorial Hall was used as a location for war crimes courts.
|21 November 1954||
The inaugural meeting of the People’s Action Party was held at the Victoria Memorial Hall.
|1954 – 1958||
Major renovations were carried out including a complete restructuring of the interior of the theatre. Air-conditioning and sound-proofing was added and the courtyard covered up.
|4 November 1957||
The public had its first glimpse at television when William Jacks and Co presented a full length variety show on television at the annual Philips Radio Convention held at the Victoria Memorial Hall.
|15 February 1963||
Television Singapura (Singapore’s first TV station) was launched with a pilot monochrome service at the Victoria Memorial Hall.
Victoria Memorial Hall was renamed the Victoria Concert Hall and named as the official home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
A gallery was added to the Concert Hall, adding seating capacity and enclosing the second storey balconies on the front and back facades with glass.
Renovations were carried out to Victoria Theatre to make it a more efficient performing venue.
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall was gazetted as a national monument of Singapore.
The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall was closed for a $158 million renovation.
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall reopened its doors after a four-year renovation.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.