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National Gallery Singapore
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Historical facts about National Gallery Singapore

As the beloved Gallery celebrates its fifth year, we dig up some intriguing facts about the Supreme Court and City Hall buildings

Dewi Nurjuwita
Written by
Dewi Nurjuwita
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National Gallery Singapore turns five this year, commemorating the special event with a diverse range of programmes and initiatives. But the buildings it's housed in – the former Supreme Court and City Hall – have borne witness to some of Singapore's most important events.  

The Gallery swung upon its doors to the public on November 24, 2015 after a ten-year restoration. Previously, it functioned as the Supreme Court for more than 65 years before the court moved to a $208 million building designed by Lord Norman Foster in 2005. With an extension of the Gallery's free Gallery Insider Membership, you can stroll through the storied halls of the buildings at your own time to take in the artworks and beautiful architecture. In the meantime, read on for some intriguing facts behind the buildings.

RECOMMENDED: 20 historical buildings in Singapore and the stories behind them and interesting stories behind Singapore's oldest hotels

A hidden time capsule
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A hidden time capsule

History buffs will be thrilled to know about a hidden treasure in the Gallery. Buried under the foundation stone of the former Supreme Court Building, laid by the Governor of the Straits Settlements Sir Thomas Shenton Whitelegge Thomas, is a time capsule. Inside the time capsule are some Singapore newspapers dating back to March 31, 1937, and a handful of Straits Settlements coins.

But here's a caveat: It's only scheduled to be opened in the year 3000 – so most of us probably won't live to witness it with our own eyes. 

Distinctive domes
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Distinctive domes

A feature of the National Gallery's architecture that stands out is the distinctive dome that sits on top of the former Supreme Court. It was originally copper-coloured, but became green over time due to oxidisation. That's not the Gallery's only dome, however. A smaller dome – once home to the law library of the Court – can be found inside the former Supreme Court. It has since been converted into the Rotunda Library & Archive, a research hub for the study of art history in Southeast Asia. 

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City Hall Chamber
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City Hall Chamber

The City Hall Chamber has borne witness to some of Singapore's most important moments. Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was sworn into office on June 5, 1959 and Yusof Ishak was inaugurated as the nation's first head of State a few months later on December 3, 1959. 

These events occurred in the same place the British accepted the surrender of the Japanese, formally ending the Japanese Occupation of Singapore on Sept 12, 1945.

Devil is in the details
Photograph: Shutterstock

Devil is in the details

The two buildings may be connected by two link bridges located in the atrium of the buildings now. However, it was previously an open-air car park between the former Supreme Court and City Hall. The bridges are complemented by a distinctive metal and glass canopy supported by tree-like columns. More than 15,000 glass and aluminium panels were used to construct and form the roof and veil of the Gallery, resulting in an ethereal feel when natural light floods in.

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Criminal record
Photograph: Jnzl's Photos / Flickr

Criminal record

Behind the stunning architecture of the Gallery is a not-so-stellar past. After all, it used to function as the Supreme Court. There used to be a caged passageway, an unseen network of long and narrow corridors under the courtrooms through which defendants in criminal cases are brought into for their court appearances away from the public spotlight. Among those who have been in these cells and walked the corridors include high-profile murderers Adrian Lim and Anthony Ler. 

There were a total of 12 jail cells in the past: two for women and ten for men. As part of the Gallery's restoration, two of the holding cells have been preserved and can now be seen at the first level of the Supreme Court Wing.

Learn more about Singapore's history

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