Old Supreme Court Building

Coordinates: 1°17′23″N 103°51′04.5″E / 1.28972°N 103.85125°E / 1.28972; 103.85125

The Old Supreme Court Building (Chinese: 最高法院大厦) is the former courthouse of the Supreme Court of Singapore, before it moved out of the building and commenced operations in the new building on 20 June 2005. The building was the last Classical architecture building to be built on the former British colony. Built in front of the historical Padang grounds between 1937 and 1939, it was designed by Frank Dorrington Ward of the Public Works Department, and was his last and most significant work. The building is planned to become an arts and cultural centre in future, with plans to refurbish the building.


Before the courthouse was constructed in the 1930s, it was where many colonial-built houses were built and later the Grand Hotel de l'Europe, which was demolished to make way for the new building. Raffles initially designated the site for public use, but his administrator for Singapore, Willam Farquhar, allowed private residences to be constructed there. By the 1830s, houses built in Madras chunam lined the streets that faced the sea. The residence of Edward Boustead designed by George Drumgoole Coleman stood there. The house was remodelled to become hotels of several names, namely London Hotel, Hotel de l'Esperance and later Hotel de l'Europe. However, these houses made way for the Grand Hotel de l'Europe in 1900, the only other hotel in Singapore that could be comparable with the landmark Raffles Hotel. The Grand Hotel boasted a lounge, reading room, a bar, shops and a roof garden, a novelty at that time. In 1932, the hotel's business declined and filed for bankruptcy. It made way in 1936 for the present building, the former building had good views of the Padang from its verandah.

The foundation stone of the Old Supreme Court Building, then the biggest foundation stone in the whole of Malaya, was laid by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Shenton Whitelegge Thomas, on 1 April 1937. Buried beneath the stone, is a time capsule containing six Singaporean newspapers dated 31 March 1937, and a handful of coins of the Straits Settlements. The capsule is due to be retrieved only in the year 3000.

The building was declared open on 3 August 1939 by Sir Shenton Thomas and handed over to the Chief Justice, Sir Percy McElwaine, on the same day. The courthouse had 11 courtrooms and adjoining judges' chambers. In 1988, a further 12 courtrooms from the City Hall were transferred to the Supreme Court to accommodate the needs of the main courthouse, as it needed more courtrooms.

The building used to have many premisesbefore moving to the premises at City Hall. Dorrington Ward's plan was to demolish the Singapore Cricket Club, Old Parliament House and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall to make way for a grand government scheme designed by his department. However, this plan was interrupted by the World War II.

The Old Supreme Court Building, together with the adjacent City Hall, will be converted into the National Art Gallery of Singapore by 2012.

Architecture and design

The Old Singapore Supreme Court building was designed by Frank Dorrington Ward of the Public Works Department, and was his last and most significant piece of work. It was constructed by United Engineers. The former courthouse features Corinthian columns, classical design, and spacious interiors with murals by the Italian artists. The four-storey steel structure was erected by United Engineers. The building consists of four blocks surrounding a central courtyard which houses the circular law library with its significant dome and Travertine columns supporting two balconies on two levels. Behind the main dome, there is a smaller dome. The pediment sculpture (an allegory of Justice) and the Corinthian columns which characterised the Supreme Court are works by Italian sculptor Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli. Nolli also carried works for the general building, pre-cast works, imitation stone, sculptures, artistic decorations, special plastering and bush-hammered facing works.

Building Activity

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