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National Theatre with and without the fountain. (Images from victorkoo.blogspot.com)

The myth about the National Theatre’s iconic five-pointed facade

Earlier last week, Straits Times posted a video on their Facebook page commemorating the National Theatre which was opened on 8th August 1963. In their caption, ST said that the distinct five-pointed facade was built to represent the five stars of the Singapore flag.

One commenter disagreed in the comment section of the post, pointing out that the interpretation of the facade was merely subjective. This commenter happens to be Dr Lai Chee Kien, who is Adjunct Associate Professor at the Architecture and Sustainable Design Pillar, Singapore University of Technology and Design, who has given talks on historical buildings in Singapore like the one in the video below.

Although another commenter cited the National Library Board (NLB) website which states that the theatre was designed by a local architect who feared the five pointed facade to represent the five stars and a fountain to represent the crescent moon depicted on the national flag of Singapore. Dr Lai retorted by saying, "wrong on both counts. It WAS subjective interpretation, but repeated so many times everyone now thinks it’s true. So NLB is wrong, NHB is wrong, and now ST. "

Citing a book, ‘Recollections of Life in an Accidental Nation’ by Alfred Wong Hong Kwok – the architect himself, Dr Lai noted that the five-pointed facade was not directly a representation of the star on the Singapore flag and that the fountain was not part of the National Theatre, but part of a fountain programme built later and opened separately by Dr Toh Chin Chye.

This can be seen from the two photos above that shows the theatre with and without the fountain.

Extract from Authoritarian Rule of Law: Legislation, Discourse and Legitimacy in Singapore

The media relies on websites by national agencies like the NLB thought to be historically accurate.  So it's disconcerting that the NLB is presenting inaccurate information on their website, particularly about such an iconic structure in Singapore's history when there's an easily available account of the design by the architect himself.