National Monuments Of Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum
What is a National Monument? Who gazettes them? How many national monuments are there in Singapore? To date, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division of National Heritage Board, has identified and gazetted 75 buildings, structures and sites of national significance as an integral part of Singapore’s built heritage.
And we're here to tell you all about them - one National Monument at a time!
Here they all are on a Google Map we specially created. Every Wonderwall.sg logo, or "W", indicates a spot where a National Monument of Singapore is located:
You've probably passed by or stepped into more than a few of them without realising they were National Monuments: Al-Abrar Mosque, the Civilian War Memorial, Saint Andrew's Cathedral, the Esplanade Park Memorials, Fort Siloso on Sentosa - no need to plan an itinerary for friends visiting from overseas; just show them this article ✌️
In this edition, we throw the spotlight on one of the pioneering museums in the region to specialise in pan-Asian cultures and civilisations, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM).
Along the Singapore River, nearest MRT would be Raffles Place.
📅 Significant dates
Date built: 1864-1867
Date unveiled: 1867 (Government Offices), 2 Mar 2003 (Asian Civilisations Museum)
Date gazetted as National Monument: 14 Feb 1992
IMAGE: COLLECTION OF NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE
The former Empress Place Building
When the building was first constructed in 1867, it was built with the intention of being a courthouse, and its first occupant was the Government Secretariat in 1865. So, it became known simply as the Government Offices.
Over the years, it lived up to its name and housed various government offices such as the Immigration Office, the Registry of Births and Deaths, the Citizenship Registry and the National Registration Department. It continued to be used by government agencies before it reopened as the second wing of the Asian Civilisations Museum in Mar 2003, with the first wing known today as the Peranakan Museum.
Fun fact: the building was renamed Empress Place Building in 1907 when the Municipal Council renamed the adjacent pedestrian space in honour of Queen Victoria who had died in 1901.
ACM's first opening at Armenian Street in 1997. | IMAGE COURTESY OF ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM
The opening in 1997 was graced by Mr Lee Hsien Loong (middle), who was then the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore. | IMAGE COURTESY OF ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM
The original ACM
ACM first opened at the former Tao Nan School Building on Armenian Street on 21 Apr 1997, with then Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lee Hsien Loong presiding. The museum included 10 galleries, with thematic displays on China and space for special exhibitions. Later, a Peranakan display was added, after a special exhibition on the topic proved especially popular.
The Armenian Street ACM building closed at the end of 2005, and because of the immense popularity of the earlier Peranakan displays, the building was redeveloped into the Peranakan Museum (officially unveiled by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 25 Apr 2008). It is now operated and managed by the current ACM.
IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@SENGKANG
Court and Company Gallery. | IMAGE COURTESY OF ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM
Jewellery Gallery. | IMAGE COURTESY OF ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM
Scholars Gallery at the Kwek Hong Png Wing. I IMAGE COURTESY OF ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM
ACM is Singapore’s national museum of Asian antiquities and decorative art, devoted to preserving the cultural heritage of Asia, especially the ancestral cultures of Singaporeans. | IMAGES: NG KAI
Government offices using the former Empress Place Building moved out in the late 1980s, when the place was earmarked for restoration and conservation. After a 14-month renovation, the building reopened on 7 Apr 1989 as an art museum called the Empress Place Museum. Its first exhibition was on the furniture and artefacts of the Qing dynasty.
The Empress Place Museum, however, failed to attract enough visitors to stay afloat. After six years of operation, it closed in 1995. The National Heritage Board (NHB) then took over the building to make it part of the ACM.
In 1998, the Public Works Department began to restore and extend the building. The Empress Place Building reopened as the second wing of the ACM on 1 Mar 2003, with the first wing having been the Armenian Street location.
The architecture of the building dates back to 1864. | IMAGE: NG KAI
See celebrated fashion designer Andrew Gn's stunning sartorial creations on display in a special exhibition entitled "Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World", now on until September 2023. | IMAGES: NG KAI
📐 Design and architecture
The original architect was Colonial Engineer Major John F. A. McNair, who also designed the Istana and Saint Andrew's Cathedral. Over 150 years later, almost all the extensions and modifications that have been carried out have been done in the original neoclassical Palladian style of the building. Many of the original decorative features remain - these include plaster mouldings, architraves (an internal moulding installed around a window, door or other types of openings), and cornices (a decorative border found where the ceiling meets the walls in some rooms and also along the top of some walls and buildings).
In 2015, the museum finished adding contemporary architectural styles in the form of two new wings designed by GreenHilLi, headed by architects Nigel Greenhill and Li Sau Kei. The three-storey Kwek Hong Png Wing (869 sqm) is a striking contemporary cube that floats on the Empress Place side of the museum, while the Riverfront Wing fronting the Singapore River features a grand titanium entrance that welcomes visitors into the new gallery.
🕖 Opening hours
10am to 7pm daily, except Friday (till 9pm).
Permanent galleries are free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs), but special exhibitions are ticketed. Find out more here.