Following the client brief to unite and transform them into a world class gallery with respect for their heritage and minimal interventions, the studio’s signature design element creates a spectacular filigree metal and glass roofing structure that drapes over the monuments, supported by steel tree-like structures. As such, it unifies the monuments with one simple rooftop line, leaving the monuments’ architectural integrity in place.
Echoing the simplicity of the design as it unifies the buildings from above is another sweeping gesture from below; a concourse basement which runs the lengths of the buildings, accessible from each side of the Gallery by four monumental staircases.
The rooftop, tree structures and the basement concourse allow the design to develop around the existing buildings, and give a very legible understanding to visitors of how the design is layered upon and beneath the monuments.
The design, from the interior as much as from the exterior, privileges elegance, consistency and cohesion over stark architectural or design statements. The rooftop structure is discrete, though spectacular. The interiors share a limited colour and material palette, creating a sense of calm and unity, complemented by the clever and playful integration of natural light and views of the cityscape in the project. In Jean-François Milou’s own words, ‘a space for modern meditation, for reflection which is unlike the too often atomised spaces and ways of contemporary life today’.
Visual Simplicity and Technical Complexity
Visual simplicity, a deference to the local context and a minute attention to detail and quality have become a ‘trademark’ of the studio, achieved through rigorous study of the site’s history, the project’s complexities and its relationships with the surrounding environment (urban, human, natural), and the architect’s constant presence throughout the project.
Understanding the attachment of the Singaporean community to the conservation of these monuments, the design sought, for example, to minimize the visual marks of the sophisticated gallery infrastructure integrated into the buildings. The countless technical requirements and facilities required for the Gallery functions (load, security, temperature controls, lighting, acoustics, etc.) were painstakingly hidden from view at all times, to preserve the historic fabric and feel of the interiors, and to create the sense of flow and cohesion which characterizes the project.
And behind the apparently simple basement design, as another example lies a far more complex technical reality. Unstable foundations beneath the City Hall presented the challenge of stabilizing the sediments through sophisticated piling techniques which required the literal suspension of key walls and parts of the façade.