Former Saint Joseph's Institution

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Former Saint Joseph's Institution

Coordinates: 1°17′50.3″N 103°51′03.6″E / 1.297306°N 103.851°E / 1.297306; 103.851

The Former Saint Joseph's Institution (Chinese: 前圣约瑟书院) is a historic building in Singapore, located at Bras Basah Road in the Museum Planning Area, within the Central Area, Singapore's central business district. The building has been restored and currently houses the Singapore Art Museum.


Until 2006 the Singapore Art Museum was Saint Joseph's Institution, one of Singapore's oldest Catholic boys' schools. In 1992, the building was gazetted as a national monument and it was converted into the Singapore Art Museum, which opened on 20 December 1996. Many of the building's original features were sensitively preserved.

Saint Joseph's Institution was set up by Father Jean-Marie Beurel, who was also responsible for the building of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd from 1843 to 1847. Saint Joseph's Institution began life on 1 May 1852 in a wood and attap chapel building completed in 1833 at Bras Basah Road. The erection of the adjacent Cathedral of the Good Shepherd had allowed the original chapel to be converted into a school for boys, but a need for a better school building was quickly felt. The foundation stone for the present central block was laid on 19 March 1855 but funds had run out the year before.

In 1863, Brother Lothaire, now Brother Director, arrived from Penang and pleaded to the government for financial assistance. He designed and raised funds for the new school building. By August 1867, the new school was ready. This was the year when the administration of Singapore was transferred from India to Britain. In two years, enrolment rose to almost 200.

By the turn of the 20th century, Saint Joseph's Institution had grown in both stature and size and the building soon became insufficient for its students' needs. In 1900, Brother Michael Noctor enlisted Father Charles Benedict Nain, who designed the chapel of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, to design an extension to the building. This extension was completed in 1903.

In 1905, Brother Michael carried out a second extension — the Anderson Block. Brother Michael's final extension was the school hall and chapel, constructed in 1911. After that, he made improvements to the old building. He left in 1915.

In January 2009, the Ministry of Community Development (now the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) announced that the National Museum Art Gallery (now the Singapore Art Museum) will occupy the 5,000 m² school space as an extension of its existing gallery at the museum.

Today, the Singapore Art Museum has an elegant Glass Hall featuring artworks and a stately auditorium.

The former Saint Joseph's Institution building was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 2009.


Built on the site of a small Catholic chapel erected in the 1830s, the first in Singapore, the former Saint Joseph's Institution is another example of the work of a 19th-century French priest-architect, Brother Lothaire. Brother Lothaire was one of six Brothers, five Sisters and two young missionaries who came to Singapore with Reverend Father Jean Marie Beurel on his return from France in 1852 to found the new Catholic boys' school of Saint Joseph's Institution.

When the school was first completed in 1867, the completed building which is the current central block comprised a two-storey rectangular block with a pitched roof and modest belfry.

In 1903-1906, Father Nain, the then parish priest, added two new semi-circular wings to match the architectural theme of the central block and to define the fine Baroque entrance forecourt which is such an important part of the urban area in which it stands. This quality has been all but destroyed in recent years.

In 1910, verandahs running along the whole length of the building were added at the rear, a large dome built that replaced the old belfry was lined with teak and the cross was erected. New pediments and a parapet were also added. Brother Michael was responsible for the hall, gymnasium and the chapel, which were added between 1911 and 1912.