Aug 25, 2010

I Found a Brick at Old National Library Site

Red Brick at Old National Library

A red brick - that is what I found at the site of our old National Library in June this year. After massive redevelopment - behold, a black hole is born - might even a brick from the building survive the wholesale destruction of the site?

** The brick was discovered - moist - on the grass slope lining the tunnel just beside the car park. Apparently the soil under it was not exposed to sunlight due to the thick foliage. I kicked the brick down onto ground level so you guys and gals can have a good look. Hope it is still there.

Is this brick from Old National Library?

To answer the question, I need to examine and compare against a real red brick from the Old National Library building. While it is not inconceivable that some die-hard Stamford Library fans might have pillaged a few from the rubble and hidden them in their closet, a specimen is actually on display in the new National Library building at Victoria Street - I remember that after visiting their permanent exhibition some time ago.

Located on level 5, "From Books to Bytes: The Story of National Library" exhibition traces the evolution of the National Library from its inception in 1823. I made a personal trip to National Library to check out the brick, though I later realized they also put it online.

Red Brick at Level 5 Permanent Exhibition
The brick specimen on display. Part of caption reads - the bricks were baked at the Alexandra Brickworks factory, with clay from Jurong.

Red Brick at Old National Library
The brick I found at Old National Library site. The pilgrimage brought much rewards - I found a brick; who knows, you might find a book.

The National Library preserved not one but a wall of them in one of their gardens. For the longest time I have been trying to find this wall - at places like the public gardens at level 5 and 10 - but to no avail. The caption from the brick specimen reminded me that at least 5000 bricks were retained from the old building in 2004 and now form part of a wall in the basement garden.

Where is this basement garden? I searched the lending section at B1; there is a prominent courtyard between the fiction and non-fiction shelves but the place revealed no brick wall. In fact I had not remembered any brick wall at Central Public Library. How the brick wall was discovered eventually was the result of serendipity.

Central Public Library
In despair and about to give up, I glazed into the background. Can you see the brick wall? No wonder I didn't notice it all these years - the librarians used the floor-to-ceiling windows for their posters, resulting in the wall in the courtyard not very obvious.

** By right, photography is not allowed in the library. This explains why the photo is a bit blurred .. if you know what I mean.

This is the side that is away from the shelves (and crowd) and not far away from the information counter. To be honest, that was my first time exploring this area in the library. A door leads to the courtyard bamboo garden - look closer, you can really see the bamboo - and brick wall. In excitement I tried to open the door. It wouldn't budge!

I think the basement courtyards are not accessible to the public as only the ones at level 5 and 10 are marked (with that tree icon) on directory listings in the building. The bamboo garden is off-limits to the public; what a pity as it could very well be a "tourist attraction" for fans of Old National Library. Now you can only see - but not touch - as you reminisce behind the floor-to-ceiling windows about your time in Old National Library.

Today the closest you can get to the wall is from ground level above the courtyard. The space is well-camouflaged and I suspect most people cross the bridge (to the building entrance) without realizing the brick wall lies just below them.

Bamboo Garden Below
Bridge over Bamboo Garden at Middle Road entrance. Many visitors cross the bridge without realizing the original red bricks from Old National Library lie just underneath.

Back to the mysterious brick found on the site. What was it doing on the slope and did it come from the old library building? What is your view?

The other "legacy" from the old days

There is another "heritage object" in the new National Library which is very obvious yet we are oblivious to its heritage value. I thought this christian sign outside the building looked familiar but what has a library got to do with a church?

St. Andrew Cross
For many years, I walked past the insignia at the plaza without realizing its heritage value. What about you?

It was not until that day while looking for the brick specimen that I read about it. As I fled the building after my rogue shot, I picked up the pamphlet Hot Spots - Your Personal Guide to National Library Singapore at the main lobby information counter. The insignia is the St. Andrew's Cross. According to the pamphlet:

This insignia was moved here from the former National Library at Stamford Road - a site which used to house the St. Andrew's School. Some believe that the four symbols symbolise knowledge from the four corners of the world.

I blogged about the school at the library site briefly in my previous article and even produced a second shot. Check it out if you are interested.

Do you remember where was the insignia in Old National Library? I vaguely remember it was somewhere near the main entrance post-renovation, no wonder the déjà vu feeling. A photo from NLB online exhibition page reveals the answer, but how come the insignia is of a different colour?

Foyer, Stamford Library
Foyer of National Library, 1980 (source).

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Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a time after the demolition when the bricks were made available for collectors?

Also, is there a specimen brick higher up in the building where they have an exhibit on the history of libraries in Singapore?

I think I remember seeing the basement garden wall before, but didn't realise what was above it. Also tried the door before and failed to enter.

Sort of remember the old library from my ACPS days, but I think I never noticed either cross insignia before (which is strange considering how often I'm looking at the ground I walk on).

Anonymous said...

D'oh! Really short term memory regarding the exhibit on Level 5.

Lam Chun See said...

Ah ... the suspense is killing me. I don't think your brick is from the old library. So much construction going on, could be from SMU. But then if it wasn't, you probably wouldn't blog about it right?

Icemoon said...

Jon, I also can't pinpoint the location of the cross insignia in Stamford Library. Maybe somebody can help?

So embarassing, I visitied Central Lending at least once or twice every month, but not noticed the wall before.

Icemoon said...

Chun See, the mystery is also killing me. What's a red brick doing on the slope? Does SMU use red bricks for their construction?