National Monuments Of Singapore: Former Supreme Court
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, Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), 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 a building that once served as the most important symbol of law and order in Singapore: the Former Supreme Court.
The 28th building to be gazetted a National Monument of Singapore is located right opposite the Padang (also the location for National Day Parade 2023), with the nearest MRT stations being City Hall MRT or Raffles Place MRT.
📅 Significant dates
- 1 Apr 1937-Aug 1939: Former Supreme Court (part of the National Gallery today)
- Jan 2011-Nov 2015: National Gallery
- 3 Aug 1939: Former Supreme Court (vacated in 2005)
- 24 Nov 2015: National Gallery
Date gazetted: 14 Feb 1992
Prior to the construction of the Former Supreme Court, the Supreme Court was housed first in the Former Parliament House and then the Former Empress Place Building. In 1934, the colonial government acquired the site of Hotel de l’Europe, a luxurious hotel that was forced to shut down in 1932. The vacated hotel building was demolished, and construction of the Former Supreme Court building commenced in Apr 1936.
However, progress was slow as steel delivery was delayed due to shipping congestion and Britain’s rearmament in view of the imminent war. Three years later, on 3 Aug 1939, the completed building was officially opened by Governor of the Straits Settlements Sir Shenton Thomas.
IMAGE: NG KAI
The foundation stone of the building was laid on 1 Apr 1937, and to commemorate the event, a time capsule cylinder was placed beneath it. The time capsule contains six Singapore newspapers dated 31 Mar 1937, and currency from the Straits Settlements. It is to be retrieved in the year 3000 with the smashing of the foundation stone.
Post WWII, The building was the site of war crime trials of members of the Japanese military in 1946. | IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@VASEY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUMS
After the Japanese officially signed their surrender in the adjacent Former City Hall (then known as the Municipal Building) on 12 Sep 1945, a huge victory parade took place on the Padang in front of the Municipal Building and the Supreme Court to celebrate the end of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore.
IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@KOK LENG YEO
📐 Design and architecture
Frank D. Ward, Chief Architect of the Public Works Department, was appointed to design the building and oversee its construction. Like the Former City Hall, the Former Supreme Court was designed in the Neoclassical style which was widely considered the accepted style for civic structures in the British Empire during the 1930s.
IMAGE: NG KAI
The large copper-green dome resembles the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London and has since become an icon of Singapore’s Civic District.
IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@SENGKANG
The grand edifice is built upon a plinth (the lower square slab at the base of a column) with a spacious porte-cochere (carriage porch) and has an impressive row of colossal Corinthian columns fronting the façade. Scenes from the early years of Singapore, designed by George T. Squires, are carved on the frieze (a broad horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration) just above the main entrance.
Chinese craftsmen who had fled to Singapore as a result of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) gave the main hall and cornices (decorative trims located at the meeting point between walls and a roof or ceiling) of the Former Supreme Court a gypsum plaster finish of superior quality; these craftsmen had learnt European plastering techniques in Shanghai.
While the appearance of the Former Supreme Court may be awe-inspiring, efforts were made to keep its building costs as low as possible. For example, marble panelling, flooring, and decoration – which would usually be expected in a grand edifice such as this – were eschewed. Instead, Art Deco rubber tiles made in Singapore to resemble marble tiles were used as cheaper alternatives to line the corridors. These rubber tiles also helped to absorb footsteps and other noises, thus minimising disturbances that might disrupt court proceedings.
IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@KOK LENG YEO
One of the most interesting and striking features of the building’s façade are the sculptures depicting the Allegory of Justice. Fitting snugly within the tympanum (the semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance), it is the work of Italian sculptor Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli, who also supplied the columns and granolithic stone cladding of the Former City Hall.
Lady Justice is seated on a throne in the middle, her hands wielding the symbols of justice – a sword and a weighing scale. A pair of kneeling figures flanks her, one seeking protection and the other rendering thanks for the benefit received. On the left of the frieze is a figure representing deceit and violence, as well as legislators holding books which symbolise the law. A bull, an image of prosperity and wealth, is on the right, together with two children hugging sheaves of ripened wheat, which denote abundance gained from justice and law.
🕖 Opening hours
IMAGES: NG KAI
General admission is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, with ticketed tours and exhibitions available as well. Find out more here.
Due to National Day Parade 2023, The Gallery will be closed on 28-30 Jul, 8-12 Aug.