The Golden Spheres of Kampong Glam

The Golden Spheres of Kampong Glam

The historic Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque) in Kampong Glam was one of only four winners of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Architectural Heritage Awards 2016. It marked the completion of a 15-month-long restoration and upgrading project that spanned from mid-2014 to end-2015. Wooden window frames and door panels were restored, rooms and offices expanded and the building was given a fresh coat of paint. The mosque has also added elderly-friendly amenities, which included a wheelchair ramp and two glass lifts to bring worshippers to the prayer hall on the second level. This serves a critical need as elderly worshippers currently fill half of the 3000-strong congregation during Friday prayers.

The original Masjid Sultan traces its beginnings to 1824 as a single-storey building for Modern Singapore’s first sultan, Sultan Hussein Shah. The existing building with its iconic onion-shaped domes and minarets was constructed in 1928 by architecture firm Swan & Maclaren. The mosque stands distinctively in the low-rise Kampong Glam Conservation Area with other historic buildings like the former Istana Kampong Gelam (today’s Malay Heritage Centre) and the former Gedung Kuning, which houses the Mamanda restaurant today.

Sultan Mosque in 1993. This was shortly after the pedestrianisation of a section of Bussorah Street, where Masjid Sultan becomes the focus of the streetscape.

Masjid Sultan in 1993. This was shortly after the pedestrianisation of a section of Bussorah Street, where Masjid Sultan became the focus of the streetscape. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Masjid Sultan today with two rows of shops lining up Bussorah Street.

Masjid Sultan today with two rows of shops lining up Bussorah Street.

In awarding the Architectural Heritage Award to Masjid Sultan, the Urban Redevelopment Authority noted that the “national landmark was carefully reconditioned and upgraded”. In this restoration and upgrading project, “special care was taken in selecting the exterior and interior paint scheme for better long-term maintenance and befitting the stately image of the Mosque as a national icon”. (2016 URA Architectural Heritage Awards Citations for 3 Muscat Street, Sultan Mosque)

Masjid Sultan in the midst of its 15-month-long restoration and upgrading project in December 2014.

Masjid Sultan in the midst of its 15-month-long restoration and upgrading project in December 2014.

Among the upgraded features at the mosque are glass elevators which will aid elderly congregants as well as those with special needs to access its higher floors.

Among the upgraded features at the mosque are glass elevators which will aid elderly congregants as well as those with special needs to access its higher floors.

The four award winners form a diverse selection this year: Catholic church, mosque, former cinema complex, and former Chinese gentlemen’s club. Masjid Sultan plays an important social and community role. Gazetted as a national monument in 1975 (approximately one quarter of the upgrading funds was disbursed by the National Heritage Board’s National Monuments Fund), Masjid Sultan is the de facto national mosque and hosts visits by dignitaries – local and foreign. Other than hosting a large percentage of elderly folk in their congregation, the mosque opens for visits to non-Muslims and also draws in close to 15,000 tourists monthly.

Sister Maryam, one of the docents at Masjid Sultan, giving visitors a guided tour.

Sister Maryam, one of the docents at Masjid Sultan, giving visitors a guided tour.

The golden spheres of Masjid Sultan illuminating the Kampong Glam neighbourhood and community.

The golden spheres of Masjid Sultan illuminating the Kampong Glam neighbourhood and community.

Masjid Sultan’s Architectural Heritage Award highlights the delicate balance between conservation and upgrading needs. As quoted by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, at the URA Architectural Heritage Awards 2016, “Protecting our heritage building is not just about formal conservation status or a major restoration effort. It is also very much about the day-to-day use and careful maintenance of the building.” The golden spheres of Masjid Sultan continue to illuminate Kampong Glam while the recent upgrading exercise has provided more convenience to the worshippers and the community.

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