SINGAPORE: The refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall is set to become the centrepiece of Singapore's arts hub. It sits in the middle of the civic district and counts the Arts House, the National Gallery and the Asian Civilisations Museum among its neighbours.
Kathy Lai, CEO of National Arts Council, said: "This whole precinct is really going to be a hub for cultural and arts activities. So it is a real focal point now for anything that has to do with arts and culture, so I think it will add to what we have today. We don't really have that focal point today."
The main brief for architects working on the project was to preserve the old while transforming it into a performance arts venue fit for the 21st century. The walls of the concert hall were restored, but not altered in any way. Meanwhile, the walls of the theatre were built from scratch, with a design that is interpretive of the old.
Mok Wei Wei, managing director of W Architects, said: "Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall has established itself as the icon in the Singapore built-scape -- its historic significance as well as the social memories it holds. So for us to come and do this 21st century refurbishment is really about trying to do our best to keep up its legacy."
The monument now boasts new spaces for the public, performers and support crew alike. The theatre has new changing rooms and a loading bay, while the central atrium has been opened up and has become an additional area for the hosting of arts activities.
But having new spaces means some sacrifices were necessary. For instance, the theatre now seats fewer people - about 600 from some 900 before - to free up space in what is now the atrium. The concert hall's balcony was also made smaller and higher, so that acoustics are not compromised for those sitting below.
Mr Mok said: "The reduction of seats is so that we can get quality, we're not just talking about quantity of seat numbers. We're talking about the quality of the restoration of the monument, quality of the sound in the hall, and it is quality that drives the decision-making."
But the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall’s smaller capacity suits the arts scene perfectly. According to feedback from arts circles, there is a shortage of mid-sized venues. The only other such venue is the Drama Centre, which is located at the National Library.
Ms Lai said: "A lot of arts groups really don't have productions of the scale that can fill a thousand-seater like what you have at the Esplanade. And then if you look at Marina Bay Sands, the Star, they are all huge. I think this kind of smaller venues is going to be exactly what most of our performing groups are looking for."
Early signs are promising. The monument's management said there has been healthy interest from arts groups since bookings opened in April.
Victoria Concert Hall's first ticketed event is the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's homecoming performance.
Channel NewsAsia has been tracking the project for two years. A one-hour documentary entitled Grand New Victoria will air on 31 August. - CNA/xq
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