Tuesday, 30 July 2013

At CHIJMES like these...

View of the chapel at CHIJMES from across the sunken courtyard.
HELP! I've been bitten by the CHIJMES-bug and there's no saving by the proverbial bell!

I was able to get off early from work today. Seeing that the weather was bright and sunny and too good to be wasted being stuck indoors, I decided to pack my art materials for a quick jaunt to the conservation-mall. When I got there, it was perfect: the weather, the lighting, the crowd (or lack of it).

Without any ado, I unpacked my stuff and began with my colourful love affair with THE building - the chapel (which is now a multi-purpose hall). Over the past weekend, although I had painted AROUND the famous chapel, I had not done one of it. Today, in the bright and brilliant sunlight, the chapel bathed in shimmering colours, singing its melodious and colourful hymns of light.

I succumbed to its siren song and let its spectrum guide my paints and brushes.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A return to the good ol' CHIJMES...

The spire of the chapel peeking out of a canopy of trees...
Click to enlarge: Capitals feature local flora and fauna
I went back today to catch CHIJMES in a better light. Given the good fortune of fine weather, I was able to properly explore the place and discover details that I had not notice the day before.

One of the more interesting architectural details of the building is that many of the motifs have all been localised. This is especially apparent in the Corinthian capitals on the columns: instead of the de rigueur scrolls and acanthus leaves, there are motifs that resemble local flora and fauna on the capitals. The ones on the main door (see picture on left) to the chapel feature what looks like pigeons and chrysanthemums.

What I admire about the colonial architects then is that not only were they sensitive to the local climate and modified architectural details to suit it, the motifs have also been localised and integrated into the details.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

USKSG Sketchwalk at CHIJMES

View of the Chapel (right) from the sunken courtyard at CHIJMES.
CHIJMES (pronounced "chimes", Chinese: 赞美广场) is a historic building complex in Singapore, which began life as a Catholic convent known as the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) (圣婴女修院) and convent quarters known as Caldwell House (古德威尔屋). The complex is located at Victoria Street in the Downtown Core, within the Central Area, Singapore's central business district.

This complex of convent buildings has a Gothic-style chapel. It was used as a Catholic convent for 132 years, with Caldwell House constructed in 1840–1841 and the chapel in 1904. The chapel, now a multi-purpose hall, is known as CHIJMES Hall (赞美礼堂), and Caldwell House, now an art gallery, have both been gazetted as national monuments. The complex has been restored for commercial purposes as a dining, shopping and entertainment centre with ethnic restaurants, shops and a function hall, providing a backdrop for musicals, recitals, theatrical performances and weddings.

In October 1852, four French nuns arrived in Penang after having travelled overland from their native country in caravans. Reverend Mother Mathilde Raclot, leader of this group, was to become a key personality in the early history of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Victoria Street.

On 2 February 1854, the nuns sailed to Singapore from Penang on a mission to build a school for girls, now known as CHIJ Secondary Toa Payoh. On 5 February 1854, they reached the island's shores and took up residence at the first convent quarters, the now gazetted Caldwell House.

The nuns began taking in pupils only ten days after moving in, establishing the first CHIJ school in Singapore. Reverend Mother Mathilde staffed her school with sisters from the parent Society, the Institute of the Charitable Schools of the Holy Infant Jesus of Saint Maur. She dedicated 20 years of her life turning the convent into a school, an orphanage and refuge for women. Two classes were conducted, one for fee-paying students and another for orphans and the poor. Slowly, the nuns managed to restore the house into a simple but austere residence.
The first chapel of the Convent, which had been built around 1850, was in such a bad condition that it was necessary to build a new one. At the end of the 19th century, the Sisters started fund-raising by various means for the new chapel. The old one was becoming so dangerous that the Sisters decided to celebrate mass in Caldwell House.

Father Beurel acquired all the nine lots of land between Victoria Street and North Bridge Road, originally belonging to the Raffles Institution, that would constitute the entire convent complex. He presented them all to Reverend Mother Mathilde.

After being granted land in 1849 for the formation of Saint Joseph's Institution, Father Charles Benedict Nain, a priest at Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, tried his luck once more for the building of a school for girls. He was refused but, undaunted and after returning re-inspired from his voyage to France in 1852, he was engaged as an architect for the construction of the chapel at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus and, on behalf of the Roman Catholic community, was in charge at the same time of the construction of the extension of the Saint Joseph Institution. The construction of the chapel started in 1901 and it was completed by 1904. Father Nain was highly involved in the worksite. He is the author of all the fine architectural details found in the chapel.

Much of the knowledge about the daily activities of the convent comes from seven volumes of diaries that were meticulously kept by convent scribes. These diaries cover over a hundred years of convent history, from 1851 to 1971; they are handwritten in French and entitled Annales de Singapour. From their observations, it is known that life within the convent walls was anything but sedate. Apart from daily chores, the nuns also had to organise and attend mass, grade papers, maintain the buildings and the grounds as well as raise money to support their activities.

Saint Nicholas Girls' School was established in 1933. The school first held classes in the four old bungalows which formed the Hotel Van Wijk of the 1890s. It later moved into its new premises at the town convent in 1949 when the school was incorporated in the convent grounds. The school has since relocated to Ang Mo Kio in 1985.

The last religious service was held in the chapel on 3 November 1983, after which the chapel was deconsecrated and the town convent was closed. Careful restoration work has preserved much of the original structure of the convent and the chapel. After almost five and a half years of conservation and construction work, what was once the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus and the seat of education for generations of Singapore girls, has been converted into a plaza of theme retail and food and beverage outlets interspersed with ample outdoor spaces and courtyards, cloistered walls and long, covered walkways. This haven in the city hub of Singapore, now known as CHIJMES, is a S$100 million project unmatched for its location and unique ambiance. It won a Merit Award in the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2002.

The Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Chapel and Caldwell House were gazetted as a national monument on 26 October 1990.

The Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus is distinctive for being an architecturally self-contained city block in Singapore. It contains groups of buildings of different styles and periods in order to maintain a diversity in aesthetics. They are formed around courtyards and other expansive spaces, landscaped and enclosed with walls which scale with its urban surroundings.

George Drumgoole Coleman's house built in 1840–1841 for H.C. Caldwell, a magistrate's clerk, is the oldest building in this enclave, which also includes the Gothic chapel and Saint Nicholas Girls' School buildings. It was in the Caldwell House that the nuns did their sewing, reading and writing for so many years in the semicircular upstairs room whilst the first storey served as a parlour and visitors' room. The early Gothic style chapel has finely detailed works, such as the plasterwork, the wall frescoes and stained glass panels.

The grand Anglo-French Gothic chapel was established with the support of the Catholic community in Singapore and beyond. Designed by Father Nain, the chapel is one of the most elaborate places of worship ever built in Singapore. The chapel was completed in 1904 and consecrated the following year.

A five-storey spire flanked by flying buttresses marks the entrance to the chapel. The 648 capitals on the columns of the chapel and its corridors each bear a unique impression of tropical flora and birds.

The various buildings are related by design with the intent to form exterior spaces which would be pleasing for its users, and were used for church school activities until November 1983 when the school vacated the premises. The spaces contained within the whole block have been adapted for public use, and form one of the major buildings in the Central Area.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

There is nothing reserved about the atmosphere at Starbucks Reserve™

View over the main entrance of Starbucks Reserve, Sentosa
Interior of Starbucks Reserve, Sentosa
Remember the Starbucks Black Apron Edition [BAE] coffee beans? These special single-origins coffee were taken of the shelves for a while. It has since been reborn as Starbucks Reserve™.

Starbucks Reserve™[★|R] is a concept store of the coffee conglomerate that serves special limited edition roasts with beans of single origin or single plantation. In addition, the baristas at the cafe are all Starbucks Coffee Masters. Besides being able to pull a mean espresso from the machine, they are also able to pair your coffee choices with the best pastry, sweet or savoury from the counter. But of course, we all know that all of Starbucks' pastry are pre-paired to go with their espressos, so that really is a no-brainer.

I went over for a cuppa to taste their special edition Burundi and to experience the atmosphere. While the coffee is indeed wonderful - nutty with a side of chocolate which paired well with the salted caramel custard puff, there was nothing 'Reserve' about the atmosphere. Although, it was a the middle of the day in the afternoon on a working weekday, the place was packed to the brim all the time and it never lets up. Otherwise, the whole experience has been wonderful.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Are you clucking over to Clarke Quay?

Clarke Quay outside Central along Singapore River

Clarke Quay

I've never been a fan of CQ. The place is not exactly accessible, unless you are equipped with a car. In addition, there really isn't anything fantastic at the place. CQ is really a F&B area and the Central is really as confused and confusing as an adolescent experiencing their growth spurt and hormones.

Anyway, the reason I was there was a dinner jaunt to work off the calories. The cool evening provided a comfortable backdrop to sketch this river just before the sun was lost to the horizon.

Clarke Quay is a historical riverside quay in Singapore, located within the Singapore River Planning Area. The quay is situated upstream from the mouth of the Singapore River and Boat Quay.

Clarke Quay was named after Sir Andrew Clarke, Singapore's second Governor and Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1873 to 1875, who played a key role in positioning Singapore as the main port for the Malay states of Perak, Selangor and Sungei Ujong.

Clarke Quay is also the name of a road along the quay, part of which has since been converted into a pedestrian mall. Clarke Street, located next to Clarke Quay, was officially named in 1896, and was originally two streets known simply as East Street and West Street in north Kampong Malacca. Similar to Clarke Quay, Clarke Street has since been converted into a pedestrian mall.

The Hoklos (Hokkien) refer to Clarke Street as gi hok kong si au, meaning "behind the new Gi Hok Kongsi" (house). The new Gi Hok Kongsi was near Carpenter Street. Another Chinese reference, which only refers to the Southern bank around Read Bridge area, was cha chun tau (柴船头), meaning "jetty for boats carrying firewood". Small tongkangs carrying firewood from Indonesia berthed at this jetty. The firewood trade was primarily a Teochew enterprise.


The Singapore River has been the centre of trade since modern Singapore was founded in 1819. During the colonial era, Boat Quay was the commercial centre where barge lighters would transport goods upstream to warehouses at Clarke Quay.

At the height of its prosperity, dozens of bumboats jostled for mooring space beside Clarke Quay. This continued well into the later half of the 20th century. By this time, the Singapore River had also become very polluted. The government decided to relocate cargo services to a new modern facility in Pasir Panjang. The bumboats and lorries departed to their new home and Clarke Quay fell silent.

The government then cleaned up the Singapore River and its environment from 1977 to 1987. Plans were made to revamp the area and turn it into a flourishing commercial, residential and entertainment precinct. These plans took into serious consideration the historical value of Clarke Quay, making it mandatory that new buildings complement the historical character of the area and that certain old buildings be restored.

Clarke Quay Festival Village, the biggest conservation project for the Singapore River, was developed and officially opened on 10 December 1993. In later years, Clarke Quay was managed and owned by CapitaLand.

Ten years later, works were commenced to revamp the Clarke Quay area in order to give the place a better tenant mix. The development also saw major changes to the exterior and riverside areas.

Spark Architects an International Architecture practice was commissioned to redesign the shophouse facades, streetscapes and riverfront dining areas in two development phases, led by Director Stephen Pimbley. The newly redeveloped Clarke Quay consistently attracts over 2 million visitors a year and is a major social and tourist component of brand Singapore. Crucial to its success is the ingenious moderation of the micro-climate through the design of sophisticated shading and cooling systems which reduce the ambient temperature by 4 degrees celcius while enhancing the riverfront and streets with tremendous visual interests. The project won in 2007 Cityscape Architectural Review Award (Tourism, Travel & Transport – Built) and the Cityscape Asia Awards, Best Waterfront Development in 2008.

The Satay Club and a number of establishments vacated Clarke Quay to make way for new tenants. The upgraded Clarke Quay features the Zirca, The Clinic, Forbidden City by the Indochine Group and the whole development was completed in October 2006.

The Clarke Quay area at present is drastically different from the preservation/conservation effort from 1993.


Presently, five blocks of restored warehouses house various restaurants and nightclubs. There are also moored Chinese junks (tongkangs) that have been refurbished into floating pubs and restaurants. The Cannery is one of the anchor tenants of the place. There are over 5 different concepts in one block. Another anchor tenant, The Arena, will be home to Singapore's First Permanent Illusion Show (starting August 2008) starring J C Sum and 'Magic Babe' Ning. The G-MAX reverse bungee, the first in Singapore, is located at the entrance which opened in November 2003. Notable restaurants and nightclubs include Hooters and Indochine. River cruises and river taxis on the Singapore River can be accessed from Clarke Quay. One of its most popular attractions is its exciting host of CQ's signature events happening once every quarter. Clark Quay has become known as a hub of Singaporean nightclubs including Zirca, and up until 2008, the Ministry of Sound.

Clarke Quay MRT Station is located within the vicinity. A new SOHO concept development cum shopping centre called The Central, above the MRT station, was completed in 2007.

In July 2012, Hong Kong lifestyle retail store G.O.D. opened a 6,000 square foot flagship store in the Quay.

An Exhibition at the Viridian Art House

Zaihan (our curator) talking shop with a guest at the gallery
I was at the opening of the inaugural USKSG exhibition at the Viridian Art House. It was all very festive and fun: a gathering of friends, good times and incredible art that is also very affordable. The exhibition continues till the 3rd of August.