The Singapore Chinese Culture Centre (SCCC) is a new civic and community institution, spearheaded by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clans Association (SFCCA), for the promotion of traditional and contemporary Chinese arts and culture locally. The SCCC will house an array of civic and cultural facilities such as interactive exhibition spaces, visual art gallery, a multi-purpose hall, recital hall, information centre, practice and rehearsal room and a 534-seat auditorium. Other functions within the centre include office spaces for SCCC, Business China, clans, agencies, 272 number of carpark lots, and some F&B components.
Set in the bustling Central Business District along Shenton Way, with the Marina Bay skyline as a backdrop, SCCC will be located on a site adjacent to the Singapore Conference Hall (SCH)—a landmark gazetted as a national monument in 2010 and home to the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. Seen as a cultural hub for the Chinese community, both buildings will form a unique synergy through their programmes. Contextually sensitive, the SCCC’s design complements the architecturally striking SCH, with its coherence and clarity of programme, planning and articulation.
The architectural language of SCCC is contemporary without direct representation or association with the architecture of traditional Chinese. However, being a cultural hub for the Chinese community, it embodies the subtlety of the principle of Chinese heritage and culture. Without the application of conventional forms, motifs, colours or decorations that appear to be ‘Chinese’, it is the spirit and belief of Chinese culture, the idea of ‘order’ or ‘礼’ that lays the foundation of the design. Important buildings in Chinese tradition have a 3-tier division: the base that elevates the building and connects to the ground; the body that houses the function; and the crown that shelters the building and connects to the sky. This 3-tier division of Chinese buildings is connected with the concept of ‘天’, ‘地’, and ‘人’. Not a direct mapping, SCCC embodies the 3-tier division in its building massing. The ‘base’ is urban living room as a connection to the city; the ‘body’ is the podium constituting functional programs; the ‘crown’ is the glass box where cultural performances and activities are celebrated.
Like most other monument buildings, Chinese architecture is strictly symmetrical, with the most important opening positioned along the central axis. The idea of a central axis is thus critical in the planning and hierarchy, which defines the Chinese idea of ‘order’. SCCC draws its central axis from the existing SCH, running through the building as the through-block link to the future development of Marina South. From the central axis, an 8.8m by 8.8m column grid is set out, perfectly fitting within the column setback line along Straits Boulevard and the drainage reserve line along Union Street. Thirty-two columns support the main building, while eight structural walls define the service core at the back. The structural logic of the SCCC is thus regular and efficient, echoing the orderly modularity of traditional Chinese architecture.
Even though the principle of Chinese architecture obeys strict order, the expression of it, on the other hand, is flexible and dynamic. The play of composition, texture, decoration and symbolism softens the building expression and counter-balances the ‘order’ of Chinese planning. In the image of Chinese landscape painting, the building and its surroundings altogether form the composition that expresses the ‘paradise’ of the Chinese world. The building is designed with detailed and refined representation, while the landscape is expressed with free and rough strokes to outline the ruggedness of nature. The composition and texture of a Chinese landscape painting inspire the architectural expression of SCCC, the simple box form set in contrast with the multiple-facet podium, the transparent top set in contrast with the opaque bottom, and the smooth crown set in contrast with the textured base. These differences are orchestrated to form a balanced dialogue and a coherent composition overall.
The podium is envisioned as a solid rock, layered for support to respective floor slabs, and tilted with various angles to give a play of the texture and reflection. Various pocket gardens and sky terraces are positioned when the ‘rock split’, and greenery can thus be read growing through it, echoing with the image of a Chinese landscape painting.
On the other hand, the glass box on top is seen as a crystal palace above a mountain peak. Just like buildings in Chinese painting are mostly portrayed with refined and delicate strokes, in contrast to the roughness of the landscape, the glass box is envisioned as the expression of simplicity and purity.
In a detailed scale, selected traditional Chinese architectural elements are transformed into contemporary expressions to bring out the unique character of the development. The Chinese doorways signify the transition of spaces, defining the spatial hierarchy of the approach in compliance with the ‘order’. In SCCC, there are multiple-layered thresholds from the drop-off to entering into the internal spaces, subtly connecting with its classical past but also fitting into the existing site context.
The decorative elements of Chinese architecture, like its capping (瓦当), ceiling and panels, are adopted into SCCC’ architectural expression. For example, the traditional tile capping is re-interpreted as glass box fixings, with its brass finish shimmering under the sun as a textured touch to the curtain wall.
The colour of the building is carefully orchestrated to give a hint of traditional Chinese architecture but still appears contemporary. The base colour is in a neutral grey tone with off-form concrete for all exposed structural elements, and light grey granite and carpet as floor finishes. Dashes of gold colour are injected for the curtain wall capping, escalator soffit, and ceiling grid, while red colour is used for the auditorium ‘red-box’ and forest of Lagerstroemia floribunda ‘red leaf’ on lower roof that makes the landscaping within SCCC stand out as a memorable focal point within the city, when viewed from surround high-rise buildings.