Singapore’s colourful new Indian Heritage Centre mixes history and modernity

Singapore’s colourful new Indian Heritage Centre mixes history and modernity

The newly opened Indian Heritage Centre has finally given Singapore’s ethnic Indian community a worthy home in which to showcase its cultural riches.

Created by New Zealand-born, Japan-trained, Singapore-based Robert Greg Shand Architects in collaboration with urban design consultants Urbnarc, this design has certainly paid dividends for the sensitive perspective and physical rendition of a culture that is almost 5,000 years old.

Located on Campbell Lane, a buzzy stretch in Little India lined with shophouses, cafes and vendors hawking curios, textiles and tchotchkes, the $12m building stands out with its distinctive transparent façade that layers a trellis of balconies over a huge colourful mural.

The brief, says Shand, was to embrace the vibrant streetscape of the area and its people. It also presented two immediate challenges. The first was to shoehorn a four-storey building with three galleries and community activity spaces into a triangular site that measures only 950 sq m. To that end, a lift doubles as a service lift for transporting exhibits and a passenger lift for visitors, while staircases act as main passages between the galleries and light wells, and windows that look out into Little India and the pedestrianised street below.

The second challenge was to design a building that avoided motifs that were too literal. ’Considering the diversity and multifaceted nature of the Singapore Indian community, we intentionally limited any direct references to traditional Indian architecture and art,’ says Shand.

Here, the solution was the trellis of balconies and exposed staircases fronting the building’s exterior that is based on the geometry of the baoli - a traditional Indian stepped well that is an important source of water and meeting point for Indian communities - and the peekaboo jali screen commonly found in Indian and Islamic architecture.

In keeping with the chaotic vibrancy of the neighbourhood, the colourful mural backing the trellis - currently, a splashy coloured collage of archival images of shophouses - will be changed regularly. This, says Shand, ensures the building is never static.    

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