history of empress place building

Overlooking the mouth of the Singapore River, the building that now houses the Asian Civilisations Museum had been a government office for the most of its life. The original building was much smaller than it is today, occupying what are our Southeast Asia and West Asia galleries. Designed by colonial engineer JFA McNair in the mid 1860's, and built by convict labour at a cost of £53,000, Government Offices as it was called then, was extended several times. It grew to accommodate practically the entire colonial bureaucracy. The office of the Colonial Secretary was there, as was the Legislative Chamber. The presence of the Surveyor General meant that up till very recently, the building was the locus of the cartographic coordinates of Singapore.

The building was re-named the Empress Place Building at the beginning of the 20th century, in honor of Queen Victoria. Government departments continued to occupy the building after Singapore's independence. Many people still remember the museum for the Citizen's Registry, Immigration Department, and Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, which were housed here.

The building is an example of the neo-Palladian architectural style. The façade at ground level has a strong grooved (or rusticated) treatment, which forms a base for the double height pilasters above. This scheme is echoed internally, by the massive Doric columns which give a stately appearance to the galleries on the second level.

In the 1990's, the building was an exhibition centre where a series of exhibitions from China was held. A major conversion was then carried out, to make the building suitable for use as a museum. The Asian Civilisations Museum opened at the Empress Place Building in 2003.

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