Heritage Conservation Centre: Caring for the National Collection

A National Treasure Trove

Opened in 2000, the Heritage Conservation Centre (HCC) is a purpose-built facility located on Jurong Port Road that serves as the repository of the National Collection (NC). It houses more than 250,000 artefacts and artworks in climate-controlled stores and conservation laboratories. Here, a dedicated team of cataloguers, collections managers, conservators, estates and support staff, photographers and scientists strive to manage and care for them to the highest professional standards.

As a part of wider efforts to make the NC accessible to the public, HCC plays a crucial role in supporting museum exhibitions such as An Old New World which was at National Museum Singapore (NMS) in 2019. Here at the HCC, we document and capture important information about the artefacts and artworks and prepare them for both physical and online display. We see to it that they are inventoried, and safely packed and transported to the museums. We work with our colleagues at the museums to ensure that the artefacts are displayed using methods and materials that are as safe as possible for the artefacts. For online display, besides including well taken photographs, we ensure that the artefact records are tagged with suitable metadata to enhance their searchability.

These essential processes are often unseen, unnoticed and unknown to the public. Check out this mini-series for information on the HCC and its different departments. Learn about the work done behind the scenes by the team in caring for the NC, whether on a regular basis or in preparation for museum exhibitions.

Architecture and Unique Features of the Building

HCC building in 2000 and 2020

HCC in 2000 (left); 20 years later, HCC in 2020 (right)

The original building opened in 2000 was a four-storey building. Due to the growing number of artefacts and artworks, the building was renovated into a six-storey building in 2008 – 2010 to create more space.

As HCC houses Singapore’s NC of artefacts and artworks, the building is purpose-built to preserve and conserve the collection of artefacts and artworks. The design of the building is shaped by physical site constraints and functionality.  The Loading Bay, Security Control Room and Building Automation Control Room are all located at the front of the building on the ground floor to minimise circulation requirements. It also offers the benefit of immediate building control and the optimum efficient arrangement for artefacts delivery, loading and control. The five storeys above consist of repository rooms, a viewing room, conservation laboratories and administrative offices. The floors are sealed with epoxy coating to minimise dust pollution. The custom-built steel doors, measuring 3.5m by 2.3m, are among the largest steel doors in Singapore. The walls are concrete–reinforced and aluminium–clad, for security reasons and to insulate all artefacts in the building. The building is designed with minimal windows. This also prevents sunlight from entering the building, which can harm the artefacts. The design also takes into account separate access to the artefact collections areas and building amenities; allowing access to areas with collections to be limited to authorised personnel only.

The images below depict the interior of the building when it was completed in 2000, before all the stores were filled. These spaces and structures remain the same till today.

The long corridor with the 3.5m by 2.3m steel door (one of the largest steel doors in Singapore) at the entrance on Level 1.

Flat textiles (textiles with no embroidery or decorations sewn on) are rolled on rollers and protected with Tyvek paper. These textiles are kept in the Textile Store with identification tags attached.

Collections Manager, Raj opening the compactors to retrieve a piece of textile in the Textile Store.

Drawer storage for textiles in the Garments Store.

Compactors for paintings in the Paintings Store.

The present loading bay where artefacts and artworks are loaded on to or from art movers’ trucks at HCC.

Management and Operations Group

by Chun Boon Beng

The Management & Operations Group (MOG) is the corporate services arm of HCC and the key functions that it oversees include estates management, outreach, capability development, finance and office administration. HCC is continuously improving its infrastructure to ensure a conducive and safe working environment as well as to enhance the security and efficiency of the building.  HCC also organises tours to our facility and workshops to share about how we conduct collections management and our conservation efforts. Read on to find out more about two tasks carried out by MOG colleagues.

Outreach

HCC conducts outreach programmes to promote understanding, appreciation and awareness of preservation and conservation of heritage materials amongst the wider heritage community. Our key outreach programmes include organised tours at HCC and workshops to share knowledge about collections management and conservation. We also conduct heritage awareness tours for schools. Find out more about the HCC Tour here.

Our tours allow visitors to peek into how our cultural heritage materials are preserved for posterity. During tours, visitors learn how historical artefacts, works of art and fine antiquities are preserved by proper environmental control, good physical storage and storage methods, and other preventive conservation measures to avert deterioration. They would also get a glimpse of artefacts undergoing conservation treatment in the laboratories. Visitors are introduced to the collection management and conservation professions, careers that are crucial in heritage preservation but relatively unheard of in Singapore.

HCC Tour welcome and introduction briefing by Kathleen.

Visiting the oversize store which houses large and heavy artefacts. (See Artefacts and Artworks list at the end of the page)

Sharing by our Photographer, Dave, on different photography set-ups for different object types and uploading of the images into the Singapore Collections Management System database.

Sharing by our Objects Conservator, Berta, on removing salt efflorescences from ceramic ware that was salvaged from a ship wreck in our Tang Shipwreck Collection. (See Artefacts and Artworks list at the end of the page)
Sharing by our Paper Conservator, Jane, on removal of stains from works on paper.
Capability development. Our Textile Conservator, Michelle, conducting a preventive conservation workshop.

Estates Management

The Estates Management team manages building maintenance works in supporting HCC’s operations.  The team ensures the building meets statutory requirements by carrying out testing and inspection works. Security is of the utmost importance as Singapore’s heritage assets are stored in this building. There is a strict security system for access, which includes card access, closed-circuit TV, intrusion detection system. Temperature and relative humidity (RH) are monitored and controlled to ensure the environment where the different artefacts are stored is stable and suitable. As there are artefacts which are sensitive to water such as the archival collection, the Estates Management team also oversees the Inergen gas system which can put out fires without using water. The other tasks that the Estates Management team include managing contract workers for cleaning, building maintenance, landscape, and pest control.

Conducting routine inspection and maintenance of electrical and Air Conditioning and Mechanical Ventilation System (ACMV) in HCC with the help of a contract worker on the Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP).
Performing regular inspection and maintenance of Inergen gas equipment for the fire protection system.
Inspecting and maintaining electrical switchboards and systems.
Monitoring of movement in the building via CCTVs.
Bag check conducted by a security officer as a visitor leaves the building.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

by Ang Boon Kok

 

Prevention is Better Than Cure

 

Besides the MOG overseeing the building maintenance aspect, the Prevention Conservation Work Group at HCC also looks at prolonging the life span of an artefact through the practice of preventive conservation. As the name suggests, this function of conservation aims to prevent or slow down the rate of deterioration of artefacts by managing various factors like the environment in which artefacts are stored, pests, mould growth and even how artefacts are handled and transported.

While conservation treatment procedures such as surface cleaning and crease relaxation help to improve the condition and appearance of artefacts, there is another important aspect to prolonging their life span – preventive conservation. As its name suggests, this function of conservation aims to prevent or slow down the rate of deterioration of artefacts, and is done through managing various factors like the environment in which artefacts are stored, pests, mould growth, and even how artefacts are handled and transported. In an exhibition, one of the ways in which appropriate environmental conditions can be provided for different types of artefacts is through the use of a well-designed showcase.

How do we minimise the deterioration of an artefact?

 

Sketch of the Fortified Cratten (Palace) of the Sultan of Djoejo Carta and Voyage aux Indes orientales by Charles-François Tombe

Sketch of the Fortified Cratten (Palace) of the Sultan of Djoejo Carta and Voyage aux Indes orientales by Charles-François Tombe


To delay or prevent the deterioration of an artefact, we practise preventive conservation through controlling its immediate environment. Artefacts may deteriorate due to the following factors:

 

Deterioration of an artefact

 

Effects of Temperature and RH fluctuations

Constant rapid fluctuations of temperature and relative humidity can result in warping, splitting, and delamination of certain sensitive material types.

 

Graphs of temperature RH

Graphs of temperature (yellow) and RH (blue) over time. (Left) Readings stay within acceptable range. (Right) This shows large fluctuations in readings that are also constantly out of recommended ranges.

 

In addition, artefacts are also vulnerable to other agents of deterioration, such as:

 

Agents of deterioration

 

Conservation-grade showcase

showcase