By Nitika Agarwal
Photography: Courtesy Greg Shand Architects
Singapore’s first Indian Heritage Centre echoes the vibrant, multi-layered Indian culture and appears to be a significant symbol of modern architecture that lends precedence to its ‘context’ over a distinct language or style.
Located in a neighbourhood named ‘Little India’ and formally introduced to the masses last month, the centre is a platform for socio-cultural interaction within the diverse Indian population of Singapore. The building includes two permanent galleries, a changing exhibition space and an activity area for performances and educational exchange.
Expressing the essence of Indian heritage by borrowing from the age-old tradition of community living that involved existence of ‘step wells’, the architecture translates this vocabulary in its façade by externalizing the primary circulation in form of staircases and deriving a distinctive form that finds its way in the structure of curtain wall glazing along with various other areas including flooring and ceiling compositions; all planned against a mural wall that exhibits a vibrant collection of archival images of India.
The gallery experience is also simultaneously externalized announcing events and exhibitions to passersby adding on to the user experience as viewer movement within the centre is richly layered from the inner galleries through the change of levels across the façade.
Greg Shand Architects have consciously evaded literal application of Indian architecture in spatial organization or architecture details, as this would have possibly included only a fraction of the country’s vast, diverse mix of culture and traditions. Instead, the design follows a sensitive approach with application of simple, utilitarian materials with plantation at the terrace that softens the building exterior.
The glazed facade reflects the existing streetscape during daytime; the building however, comes alive after dusk with the colour changing LED lights that swing to the rhythm of Indian classical music with a backdrop of an interactive mural. The building perceived as ‘a glowing lantern for little India’ is one of its kind, that brings about a sense of pride and identity to the Indian community.
The building has received the first GOLDPlus rating for a gallery in Singapore. It incorporates highly efficient water cooled mechanical system, LED lighting for galleries and facades and a mechanical ventilation system at the top of ‘front circulation’ that reduces the area of air-conditioned spaces.
A solitary traditional translation of Indian architecture appears in the building’s entrance that was handcrafted in South India from three blocks of granite along with an intricately etched door panel in wood. The entrance, evidently visible at street level draws interest while establishing a sharp contrast with the clean, contemporary exterior of the gallery.