Nestled in the heart of Singapore’s bustling cityscape, CHIJMES today stands as a vibrant enclave of culture, gastronomy, and nightlife. This former convent and school have been ingeniously repurposed into a thriving mall, primarily featuring an eclectic array of eateries and bars.
However, the walls of CHIJMES reverberate with much more than the clinking of glasses and the hum of lively conversations; they echo a profound history that dates back to the 19th century.
Historical Elegance Reimagined
The journey of CHIJMES began in 1840 as the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ), an institution established by an order of French Catholic nuns. It evolved into a complex including Caldwell House, the Gothic chapel, and the Saint Nicholas Girls' School buildings. Over the years, it served as a sanctuary where nuns dedicated their lives to education and spirituality.
The Caldwell House, an architectural masterpiece designed by George Drumgoole Coleman, is emblematic of Singapore's colonial past and its Neoclassical style. It was here that the nuns engaged in their daily activities, such as sewing and reading, in the semicircular upstairs room that offered them seclusion and serenity. The first storey, exuding warmth and hospitality, served as a parlour for receiving visitors.
Gothic Grandeur Meets Modernity
A jewel in the crown of CHIJMES is the hall that once housed the chapel, now known as CHIJMES Hall. Originally designed by Father Charles Benedict Nain, the chapel was a grand statement of Gothic Revival architecture, replete with finely detailed plasterwork, wall frescoes, and vibrant stained glass windows created by Jules Dobbelaere, a testament to the craftsmanship of Bruges, Belgium. The hall’s five-storey spire and flying buttresses stand as an elegant entranceway, while the unique flora and bird impressions on the 648 capitals of the chapel columns pay homage to Singapore's tropical setting.
A Symbiosis of Past and Present
CHIJMES has not only preserved its historical charm but has also embraced the demands of contemporary urban life. The $45-million refurbishment in 2013 brought a breath of new life into the site, blending tradition with modernity. Lowered cloister walls, additional entrances, and structural enhancements have all ensured that the heritage site remains a bustling hub of activity.
Today, where nuns once walked in contemplation, food aficionados and night revelers stroll along. The cobblestone paths and sunken courtyards are now alive with the aromas of international cuisines and the melodies of live entertainment. The commercial viability of the site is a testament to its adaptive reuse, serving as a model for the conservation of heritage sites within a modern urban context.
A Destination with a Story to Tell
CHIJMES is not just a place to dine and unwind. Each corner of the complex is a portal to the past, allowing visitors to embark on a temporal journey. The very fabric of the building is interwoven with tales of dedication, architecture, and the evolution of a nation. It represents a bridge between epochs, a place where history and present-day Singapore converge in a delightful symphony of experiences.
In the heart of a city known for its rapid modernization, CHIJMES remains a cherished landmark, honoring its legacy while thriving as a contemporary lifestyle destination. For residents and tourists alike, a visit to CHIJMES is not just an outing—it’s an encounter with the soul of Singapore, a place where stories from yesteryears enrich the zest of today’s urban life.