Known as the Government Offices during the colonial era, the Empress Place Building held the offices of the government departments. Built in four phases from 1864 to 1920, the building was constructed to provide space for the colonial administration. The original part, designed by colonial engineer J.F.A. McNair was built by convict laborers between 1864 and 1867. A courthouse, which is now the core of the building, was constructed in 1865. This is the place where the Colonial Supreme Court held its hearings from 1875 to 1939.
Government offices within the building complex included the Secretariat, Public Works Audit Office, Medical Department, Registration of Deeds Office, Land Office, Treasury and Stamp Office, and the Inspector General of the Police Force. The Legislative Chamber was located on the upper floor.
Renovations and Reopening
In the decade of 1980, plans were made to make the building a museum. Elaborate restoration work was undertaken and it culminated in the opening of the Empress Place Museum in 1989. It was inaugurated by then second Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong. The museum organised five outstanding exhibitions on Chinese history in six years. The first exhibition displayed some precious artefacts related to China. In 1995, some logistical problems, forced the museum to shut its doors.
The building again underwent renovations and was launched as the second wing of the famous Asian Civilisations Museum in 2003, showcasing South, South-East and West Asian collections.
The building was designated as a national monument in 1992.
The building's impressive Neo-Palladian exterior, timber-louvred windows and clay tile roofs caught the attention of everyone.The rooms are stately, with beautiful columns, high ceilings and appreciative cornices and plaster mouldings. The building is acclaimed for elegant proportions, along a central axis, and symmetry.