People’s Park Complex
The People’s Park Complex is a high-rise mixed-use building in Chinatown, Singapore. Completed in 1973, it is a landmark project in terms of architectural design and boasts a number of superlatives, including being the largest shopping complex in Singapore and featuring Singapore’s first atrium in a shopping centre.
People's Park Complex is sited on what used to be an open public park at the foot of Pearl's Hill and along Eu Tong Sen Street, in Chinatown, one of the most populous districts in Singapore.
The park later became People's Park Market (or Pearl's Market) with outdoor stalls, which was destroyed by fire on 24 Dec 1966. The Complex was completed in stages: The six-storey podium of shops and offices was completed and opened in October 1970 and the 25-storey residential block in June 1973 (but not before complaint of floor vibration was raised and discussed in a parliamentary sitting on 15 Mar 1973). In 1971, a power failure caused by an explosion was temporarily resolved with mobile generators.
At 102.7-m tall and occupying one hectare (site area: 10,358.7m2), the development was the largest shopping complex in Singapore; being situated in the shopping-cum-commercial belt along Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road in Chinatown. The 31-storey building was the first shopping complex in Singapore with an atrium, inspiring subsequent retail developments in Singapore and the region.
People's Park Complex was built by Low Keng Huat Construction at S$12m. The structural engineer was Dr Y S Lau. The mechanical & electrical engineer was CMP Consulting Engineers. The quantity surveyor was Contract Services Group. The developer and owner was People's Park Development Pte Ltd.
The development's name and strategic location in Singapore's central business district reflect its developers aim for it to be a people's shopping centre. It appears to be the more successful development compared to the developer's other shopping complex with a similar name and aim: The Katong People's Complex, which was completed in 1984, upgraded and renamed Katong Mall in 1995, and eventually sold en-bloc in 2009 due to poor business.
The development's principal architect Design Partnership (now DP Architects Pte Ltd) was led by William Lim with Koh Seow Chuan and Tay Kheng Soon. In its first year of existence in 1967, the firm won a successful bid to design and build People's Park Complex in response to an early Government Land Sales programme.
People's Park Complex was regarded an emblem of Asian Modernism. The shopping centre's atrium (or city room) was Singapore's first, a concept pioneered by the Metabolist Movement of Japan in the 1960s. When Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki visited the site during construction, he remarked: "But we theorised and you people are getting it built!"
On the whole, the development's pure geometric lines seen in its rectilinear forms, and curves, visible through the circular potholes at the vertically extended roof, along with its overriding concept of high-rise living dubbed streets in the air, was as much influenced by Swiss architect Le Corbusiers' idea of high-rise living and by the Housing Development Board's desire to revitalise the Chinese enclave of Chinatown in post-Independent Singapore. The original exterior was initially finished in exposed raw concrete, in accordance to Brutalism. Since then, it has received several facelifts, including in 1989, 1998 (orange-and-green colour scheme) and 2009 (yellow-and-green colour scheme).
As the first mixed-use building of its kind in Southeast Asia, People's Park Complex challenged the idea of single-use zoning and comprises offices and residences above a podium of shopping spaces.
The shopping space is known for its diverse retail tenants, especially jewellery, electronic goods, travel, money changing, and knick-knacks for Chinese New Year celebrations. During the Lunar New Year festive periods, the Complex will be lit up along with the rest of Chinatown area.
The central city room inside the shopping space consists of two multi-storey interlocking atriums, of which the ground-level has many turn-over shops and kiosks. This, in part, recalls the busy activities of the street hawkers in the Chinatown of yesteryears. The building has been described as a vertically stratified mini city within the city and compared to Blok M, a shopping mall in Jakarta with many shops similarly selling knick-knacks. A garden bridge, completed in the early 1990s, now connects the Complex to the older parts of Chinatown where rows of pre-war shophouses still stand today.
The 25-storey residential block comprises apartments of various sizes and spots for social interaction. Its rooftop common area contains shared amenities like a day-care centre and open-air play space for communal use.
Over the years, the living conditions in the Complex have deteriorated. In November 2006, calls for upgrading to the escalator system were reported in the media. In May 2009, the Urban Redevelopment Authority began investigation on overcrowded dormitories in the Complex's apartments after media reports of complaints by residents.
Besides shopping, working and living, the Complex hosted numerous notable social and cultural activities. In 1972, a month-long campaign was held here to publicise metrication in Singapore by encouraging people to buy textiles in metres.
The Singapore House of Wax, a wax museum believed to be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, opened in 1974 in the Complex. On 15 January 2005, Singapore's longest (30-metre) firecrackers were set off by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations, on the sixth floor of the Complex. Other popular events held here include exhibitions, fun-raising gigs and trade fairs. The open-air area outside the Complex and the adjacent buildings (Pearl's Hill Market, Majestic Theatre and OG Building) plays host to street vendors, performers, and fun fair organisers.
While the interior of the Complex had been popular among artists holding group exhibitions, it was in 1991 that performance artist Tang Da Wu made an installation-cum-performance at the open-air area entitled Tiger's Whip in protest of the harvesting of tigers for their supposedly aphrodisiac properties.
Michael Lee Hong Hwee
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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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