Singapore’s Little India gets its First icon as Indian Heritage Centre designed by Robert Greg Shand Architects. The structure is an array of colourful Indian motifs and drama of lights, which connects to the root of India’s rich cultural legacy. The building stands tall in the midst of a hustling and bustling Singaporean Indian community, like a light house, a perfect ode to ‘Little India’.
Singapore’s first Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) features small-scale museum facilities, community and educational spaces. The IHC is located on a tight triangular shaped site nestled amongst the colourful shop houses of Singapore’s “Little India” conservation district. This district represents the historical heart of the Singapore Indian community; the bustling lanes are still the centre of trade & cultural festivals for the local population.
The brief was for a contemporary building, but one which the Singapore Indian Community could identify with. Having an entire civilization for inspiration is a privilege for any designer; however, there is a danger of being too literal in the depiction of traditional motifs and building forms that only reflect small segments of a richly diverse population. Hence, the architect chose to create a contemporary motif for the building, based on the concept of the baoli, an Indian stepped well.
The baoli: a traditional source of water, a meeting point for the entire community, a place where young and old interact, stories are told, and tradition is passed on. The steps and plinth of the building are designed as street furniture for public to congregate along the pedestrian mall, and the interwoven steel structure of the curtain wall façade echoes the staircases behind, creating a unique motif of the Baoli.
The traditional five-foot way within the conservation district has been expressed as a vertical circulation core in the façade of the IHC. Staircases within the façade provide access between the galleries and afford visitors a visual connection to the street. Where there are no stairs, apertures in the gallery wall act as small balconies for the display of changing exhibits that are visible from the street as well as the gallery, further opening up the IHC experience to passers-by in the street below. The composition of the mural wall, façade staircases and curtain wall glazing also acts as a permeable veil to the galleries proper, akin to a traditional jali lattice screen.
The external wall of the galleries is a canvas for visual artists who will be commissioned to create a colourful mural installation using contemporary and archival images representing the Indian community and a colour palette drawn from the local landscape. The artwork will be changed every 3-5 years, allowing the identity of the building to evolve over time.
The experience of the IHC is a stimulating and evocative journey, referencing the richly layered and multifaceted nature of Indian culture from the colourful outward expression of movement on the periphery, through to quiet dark repose and inner reflection in the galleries. The galleries were conceptualized as repositories of calm and reflection and offer visitors a respite from the hustle and bustle of Little India. Materials and lighting were designed to focus the visitor experience on the objects and exhibits within the galleries. As the galleries are relatively small, dark surfaces are used to increase the perception of depth, with focused lighting making the exhibits appear floating within the space. The oscillation between light and dark, openness and closure — as visitors move between the galleries via the façade staircase — enhances the visitor experience and reconnects them with the context of ‘Little India’. The building comes to life with light in the evening. LED fixtures are integrated into the design of the curtain wall structure. The lights on the mural wall can be dimmed to highlight the colour -changing LED light fixtures as they dance across the façade, set to the rhythm of classical Indian music. The ‘sequences’ for the LED lighting will be changed throughout the year to mark festivals and special events within the IHC calendar. During the day, the building sits quietly within its surroundings as its glazed façade reflects the adjacent colourful conservation shop houses. At night, when the streetscape colours are muted, the building comes to life with light and colour, creating a “glowing lantern” in Little India.
Due to the nature of the building and its context within the Conservation District of Little India, the architect has intentionally selected materials that are natural, matt finished and somewhat raw in nature (off form concrete, timber, flamed granite & honed travertine), with little ornamentation of structural elements. The objective was to create a utilitarian architectural language for the structure of the building, with the entry portal defining its identity. The 6m high portal is the most significant architectural element of the building at street level, and an important element in traditional Indian architecture. It was carved in south India from three large blocks of granite, in a village near Mahabalipuram (a UNESCO heritage site) in Tamil Nadu.
|project :||Indian Heritage Centre|
|client||National Heritage Board|
|architects:||Robert Greg Shand Architects urban design & general consultant to Robert Greg Shand Architects: URBNarc Pte Ltd|
|site area||950 sq m|
|floor area||3010 sq m|
|commencement year||July 2013|
|completion year||May 2015|
|About The Architect|
Greg Shand is the Principal architect and Founder of Robert Greg Shand Architects, established in Singapore in 2005. Greg has over 20 years experience as an architect, working and consulting on projects in various parts of the world especially in the Asia Pacific region. He is a member of the Singapore Institute of Architects, Singapore Board of Architects, Architect’s Registration Board UK, APEC Architect and has been a practising as Registered Architect in Singapore since 2001.
Embracing a philosophy that marries a Japanese less-is-more ethos with Western values, the firm integrates architecture, interior design and landscaping to create sustainable spaces of intelligent simplicity. The firm has designed a wide range of projects in the region, including more than 20 luxury homes in Sentosa Cove; premium residences in India, Myanmar and Malaysia; boutique hotels in Indonesia and the Indian Heritage Centre in Singapore’s “Little India” (in collaboration with URBNarc Pte Ltd).