By John Corbett :
Singapore Design Trends, Vol. 13 No. 4
The former convent chapel, designed by architect Father Nain was built between 1902 and 1904. The neogothic structure features stained glass windows that depict the 11 apostles and St. Paul. The chapel has been renamed Chijmes Hall and is used as a multi-function venue.
The oversized gothic lawn furniture was custom designed by Poole Associates to add atmosphere to the open outdoor al fresco dining gazebo which faces the chapel.
Outdoor areas are well lit at night to create a festive ambience.
A large ceiling mural forms the center piece at Angelo Cafe.Bar. Designed by Ed Poole and Willy Baet of Poole Associates, Angelo features oversized gothic furniture and pews.
Project team :
Ed Poole, Rey Tadifa, Wong Kim Mei, Willy Baet
Photography : Peter Mealin
C O N V E N T M A K E S W A Y F O R
Five and a half years, a s$26.8m lease and a s$100m refurbishment. That's what it took to convert this historic convent into a haven for shoppers and gourmets.
After a period of meteoric economic growth, during which many structures from the colonial era made way for high-rise office towers, the island state is taking conservation seriously.
The Raffles Hotel may be its most famous restoration project to date but there are plenty more, from shop houses in Chinatown to a godown on Clarke Quay.
Chijmes - just across the road from Raffles - demonstrates the thoroughness with which the country approaches restorations. The former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) was established in the mid-19th century by a French priest, Jean Marie Beurel and functioned as an orphanage and girls' school until 1983.
Then Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority reclaimed the land. The institution was relocated and two of the buildings - the convent's chapel and Caldwell House - were gazetted by the Preservation of Monuments Board for restoration and adaptive reuse.
Low Keng Huat, Je Taime and Lei Garden Restaurant formed a company called Chijmes Development and successfully tendered for the 1.6ha site, paying s$26.8 million for a 99-year lease. After extensive research the company decided to turn the convent into themed food and beverage outlets and selected retail. Local architects Ong & Ong supervised the restoration and rebuilding.
The conversion into a high traffic area could only be done by upgrading the structure. For example, West Manor, formerly the orphanage, now contains two restaurants and a cafeteria. Converting the building meant inserting heavy steel beams under its long wooden floor.
To retain visual appeal, new structures were built underground or at ground level. For example, two basements were inserted and a large sunken courtyard creates a new focal point for Chijmes.
While digging the hole for these areas, the builders came across sandstone boulders well over 10m in diameter. To remove them with explosives would have damaged the underground train that runs under the site. Eventually, a rock-splitting machine was brought in. This worked - but slowed down construction by almost four months.
The developers contracted Didier Reppelin, a French conservation consultant who specializes in the design and technical aspects of gothic and neoclassical architecture.
Chijmes Hall, the former chapel, is the centre piece of the project. Much of the 1902 chapel has been retained or restored. The 19th century stained glass windows, with more than 30,000 individual pieces, were sent to Lyon, France for cleaning and to replace and damaged segments. The chapel's 948 column capitals were repaired and recast with the original sculptings of birds, flowers and animals.
Details such as the original floor tiles, terracotta roof tiles and marble plaques that list the names of benefactors add to the atmosphere.
The Hall seats 500 and is now used as a multifunction venue for meetings, recitals and weddings. The paved area in front of it has been retained and repaved with cobblestones.
The 1842 Caldwell House pre-dates the convent. It is Singapore's oldest residential building and was designed by British architect George Coleman. It was used as living quarters by the convent's nuns. After the conversion, Caldwell House is now an art gallery and ironically - a retail and function center that specializes in weddings.
Chijmes Fountain Court is the most spectacular of the outdoor spaces. The sunken courtyard features waterfalls against pink granite walls, palm trees and two tiers of cafes and restaurants.
Among the restaurants is Angelo Cafe.Bar, Bobby Rubino's and China Jump. Designer Ed Poole says that he based his design for Angelo on the convent's former chapel. 'Even the seating is designed to look as if it originates from the chapel. We have pews and over-sized gothic lounge seating. These chairs also help fill the space.'
The cafes "angelic" theme includes renaissance-style sculptures and paintings of angels but the piece de resistance is a hand painted ceiling mural, designed by Poole Associates.