Hotel Fort Canning and its environs have been stage to a deeply layered history that is both geographic and national. To reconfigure this 1926 British Colonial-style military building as a contemporary urban hotel, the architects worked both retrospectively — carefully considerate of the structure’s evolution with reference to that of its site — and in an anticipatory manner, employing techniques that would creatively re-represent the past in light of new function.
As a conserved heritage building, design work for the hotel necessitated extensive restorative measures respectful of the building’s original architectural qualities — this included the revival of the façade, re-programming a closed lobby once again as an outdoor porte-cochere, stripping columns and ceilings of supplemental cladding to reveal former structure, and repairing timber elements at the grand central staircase, cross balustrades, beams and trusses.
Lighting and glass are implemented to juxtapose original architectural elements with new visual and functional details in a process of layering that communicates the evolutionary nature of the building’s development. These design techniques of stratification and exhibition highlight difference to clearly pose old against new, dramatically altering the way which we understand the structure, its spaces, and its history.
Lighting works in an exhibitionist manner, commemorating elements of the building’s original structure: lit coffers open up the ceiling to frame underlying beams; lights embedded in the floors transform each column into a feature on display; the asymmetry of the 1920s central hall is retained and emphasised by a lit cove designed along one edge of the ceiling. These illumination techniques extend to the exterior, where lights produce a nightlong display of original horizontal and vertical facade segments.
Glass detailing performs as a backdrop to establish striking moments of transition between new and old. Frameless, electric glass doors sit inside of heavy timber portals to contrast the historic with the present at the lobby. Four glass-enclosed archaeological pits are embedded into the floor of the reception space to showcase 14th and 19th century pottery and earthenware excavated from the hill. In each of the 86 guestrooms, verandahs are creatively transformed into bathrooms and sitting areas to counter the narrow transverse dimensions of the building. Here, grand doorways float in a frame of glass to highlight the once-existent transition from inside to outside — this becomes the room’s focal point in a unique reciprocal relationship of ‘framing the frame’ to expose the space’s altered function by means of architectural detailing; a similar technique is employed to hold a heavy portal within a plane of glass at the ground floor passageway leading into new reception and lounge spaces.