Singapore Conference Hall

Text by Eugene Tan

One of the early emblems of Singapore’s progress as a budding independent nation, the building is now home to the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. Possessing a commanding exterior that conceals a delicate interior, the Singapore Conference hall exudes, to this day, a truly Singaporean modernity.

Singapore Conference Hall in 2012 (Photo credit: Eugene Tan)

Formerly known as Conference Hall & Trade Union House, the Singapore Conference Hall was conceived at the dawn of the post-colonial era and completed in the year of Singapore’s independence. It satisfied the need for a building to hold large-scale conferences and international events, while also being a home for the NTUC secretariat. Worker, employer, government and culture were to be brought under one roof. The first modern building to be developed on Shenton Way, it rose up above the old colonial buildings, a hallmark of new idealism and pragmatism.

Singapore Conference Hall before the skyscrapers of Shenton Way

Singapore Conference Hall in the 1960s

Created by modern Malayans for the modern Malaya, it was the embodiment of a new tropical architecture. With its water-shedding butterfly roof, light and heat shading louvered screens and thoroughfares for natural ventilation, the building performed its climatic duty without mimicking vernacular styles.

Atrium of Singapore Conference Hall

The concrete, glass and steel construction came together to visually express various utilities and spaces, conveying honesty and austerity, fitting qualities for such a building. While the exterior appeared inventive an modern, in the details one could observe a keen sensitivity to traditional Malayan craft. Foyer walls of mengkuang mat patterns reflected in glass mosaic, an oil mural of ku-ku figures, and details of merbau wood all formed soft counterpoints to the exterior.

Breakout terrace of Singapore Conference Hall

Rendering of Singapore Conference Hall elevation

Renovated once in the late 80s, it was reappropriated in 2001 as the home of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, occupants of the building until today. In December 2010, the building became the first structure built in Singapore’s post-colonial period to be gazetted as a national monument, ensuring that it will continue to stand proudly in Singapore’s central business district.