National Museum of Singapore

93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897

Location: 93 Stamford Road


Built in 1849, the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) is the oldest museum in Singapore which focuses on the history of Singapore since its Independence. The museum houses ten National Treasures of Singapore, as well as four galleries of exhibits showcasing the heritage and historical values of Singapore. To redefine the conventional museum experience, National Museum of Singapore abandoned the chronological arrangement and restructured the exhibits by themes, supplemented by interactive and immersive audio-visuals. Offering more than historical enrichment, the museum also has great architectural value. After several restorations and extensions, the largest museum in Singapore was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992.

Colonel Sir Henry Edward McCallum built the National Museum in a mix of Neo-Palladian and Renaissance style. Henry McCallum designed the original version while J.F. McNair designed the scaled down version of the building. Some of the most iconic parts of the building include the Glass Passage, the Rotunda Dome, the Glass Rotunda, the Canyon and the Concourse. A local company, W Architects designed the redeveloped building with the glass-clad rotunda design inspired by Chinese American I.M. Pei.

Built on the slope of Fort Canning Hill, the museum extension was built using black pigmented concrete which was treated regularly to retain its condition & texture. The concrete in the floor and walls of The Canyon and The Concourse takes after the colour of the earth and demonstrates the rawness of the slope model.

Despite the domination of simple modernism, the atrium backdrop is formed by the old façade, a reminder of its original structures while bridging the old and the new. A spiral staircase leading to the roof of the old museum building was restored, while many other modern staircases were added to contrast the old and the new. Many windows and doors were conserved with 18th century carpentry techniques using similar timber sizes and types, such as kapur wood.

Skilled artisans from India were also brought in for plaster work on the plaster motifs, cornices, balustrades, capitals and carving that had weakened or damaged in the earlier renovations, restoring many of the windows, doors and cornices. Some of the major restorations were the coat of arms of Queen Victoria, the deteriorated northern façade and the ornate rose timber ceiling hidden by false ceilings during the air-conditioning installation in the 1980s.

A spiral ramp in the new building leads down to an exhibition space holding the nation's treasures, such as the Singapore Stone and 14th century gold ornaments unearthed from nearby Fort Canning Hill in 1928, a painting of William Farquhar and a drawing of the original Singapore from Sir Stamford Raffles (the drawing was done in 1819). In the gallery theatre, bricks are specially designed in a herringbone brick pattern to control the echoes and acoustics in the space.


The National Museum of Singapore began as part of the library at Raffles Institution (the late Singapore Institution) in 1849, managed by the Singapore Institution Committee. Sir Stamford Raffles initiated the idea of this library to serve as a regional cultural heritage in 1823. Sir Frederick Weld, Governor of the Straits Settlement, marked the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria by naming it Raffles Library and Museum. It was officially opened on 12 October 1887.

It was named the ‘Syonan Museum’ during the Japanese Occupation, then changed back to ‘National Museum of Singapore’.

The museum was used to house a wide variety of exhibits, including ethnological artefacts related to Malayan, Javanese and Dyak, galleries with botanical, geological, numismatic (coin) and even zoological collections of an elephant and a tiger given by Sultan Ibrahim of Johor.

After the pivotal mandate of the museum was steered toward a repository for Singapore’s history, many of the collections were transferred to other museums. The library section was separated from the museum as the National Library and was given its own building on 12 November 1960. Over the years, the expansion of the museum took place with several relocations. Finally, the National Museum of Singapore was moved to its current site at 93 Stamford Road.


The Glass Passage has a height of 11 metres to provide a clear view of the elegant Palladian motifs. Built entirely of glass, the Glass Passage allows the visitors who walk through the corridor to view the old building from an art gallery setting. The Glass Passage is also the only modern intrusion allowed by the Urban & Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Inferior restoration works in the 1980s had damaged and hidden many of the distinctive architectural features, such as on the iconic Rotunda Dome. The balustrades on the second floor of the old rotunda were once patterned after those in London's Royal Albert Hall. As details of the balustrades were covered by paint, the old paint was removed and a special clear coat was applied to prevent rusting of the wrought iron and to allow the details to be visible.

The dome contains 50 pieces of nine feet long Rotunda-stained glass and distinctive rows of zinc fish-scaled tiles. The glasses are inspected and cleaned periodically. The latest restoration had seen all glasses being removed and delivered in customized timber boxes to a local glass restorer for restoration work using 18th century techniques. All 3,000 tiles were also restored and badly restored tiles replaced with English imported tiles made with original zinc material. A titanium-zinc-based coating was applied to prevent oxidation and erosion on the new tiles caused by mainly acid rain.

The Rotunda Dome offers its visitors a 360-degree gallery of images from the inner drum by day. At night, the Glass Rotunda lights up into a lantern, illuminating the city skylight, while projecting the largest and most sophisticated outdoor visual entertainment. This has potentially provided an artistic platform for creative innovation in 360 degree video works and allowed the National Museum of Singapore to redeem its role in the art and culture of Singapore.


1. National Heritage Board. (30 July, 2015). About NMS: History. Retrieved from NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE: Link Here

2. National Heritage Board. (30 July, 2015). About NMS: Overview. Retrieved from NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE: Link Here

3. National Heritage Board. (30 July, 2015). About NMS: The Building. Retrieved from NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE: Link Here

4. National Library Board Singapore . (30 July, 2015). Raffles Library and Museum (1945-1960). Retrieved from SINGAPORE INFOPEDIA: Link Here

5. National Library Board Singapore. (30 July, 2015). Raffles Library and Museum (1887-1942). Retrieved from SINGAPORE INFOPEDIA: Link Here

6. Singapore Tourism Board. (30 July, 2015). SEE & DO: National Museum of Singapore. Retrieved from YOURSINGAPORE: Link Here

7. Singart. (30 July, 2015). Art Galleries: National Museum of Singapore. Retrieved from SINGART: Link Here

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