The Shophouse in Singapore


Last weekend I finally had the time to explore Emerald Hill, a historic neighborhood of residential shophouses just off of Orchard Road.  Although the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has not historically been known for conserving buildings, over the last decade they have made great strides to approach architectural conservation is a different manner.  The shophouse typology makes up the majority of the over 6,500 conserved buildings in Singapore. Shophouses vary in form from the earliest built around 1840, to Chinese Baroque, to the later Art Deco designs of the 1960s.  As a whole though shophouses are narrow small terraced houses, traditionally with businesses below and living space above. Today although the conversation guidelines about the structure of the buildings is quite strict the regulations about paint colors is surprisingly lose.  This has resulted in quite a variety of exteriors from completely white, to pastels, to bold tones and I even recently saw a completely black shophouse with a finish of glitter.

Personally I love to see the variety of forms and uses that these low rise buildings take in Singapore where the rest of the urban landscape is dominated by high rise towers and sprawling malls that lack the character of shophouses.  Below is a series of my photos of shophouses across Singapore.

Shophouses in Chinatown:




Shophouses in Emerald Hill:

Photo Credits: Melissa Reese.

To see the inside of a shopehouse read this New York Times article about a renovated shophouse.

Urbanization News March 25

This weeks featured story: New York City’s grid turns 200 years old! Hippodamus of Miletus, the ancient Greek urban planner, viewed the urban grid  as a manifestation of “the rationality of civilized life.” Urban historian Edward K. Spann believes unlike no other city in the world, “was the triumph of the grid as decisive as in America’s greatest city.”  How has New York City’s grid shaped your urban experience?

NYC Grid Turns 200 “Two hundred years ago on Tuesday [March 22], the city’s street commissioners certified the no-frills street matrix that heralded New York’s transformation into the City of Angles — the rigid 90-degree grid that spurred unprecedented development, gave birth to vehicular gridlock and defiant jaywalking, and spawned a new breed of entrepreneurs who would exponentially raise the value of Manhattan’s real estate.” Read more from the New York Times and see an interactive map.

Lagos to Expand BRT System “Lagos, Nigeria’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, established in 2008, will expand its services more than 13 miles from Oshodi to Ikorodu… Since its inception three years ago, the BRT between Mile 12 and CMS stations has transported 170 million passengers and reduced travel times by 30 minutes, The Daily Independent reports. Furthermore, the BRT decreased fares by 40 percent and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 13 percent. The system also resulted in 2,000 direct and 3,000 indirect employment, contributing to economic growth and poverty reduction…”  Read more from The City Fix.

A petition to save Chandigarh, Le Corbusier’s modernist city in India, from being sold off bit-by-bit “With the knowledge of—and in some cases, it is asserted, the complicity of—local ministries, furniture, light fixtures, and architectural drawings have been auctioned off in the international antiquities market. The news the city’s iconic Corbusier-designed manhole covers were fetching upward of US $20,000 at auction in Europe and the United States raised alarms in international modernist preservation and Indian heritage circles. International Herald Tribune design critic Alice Rawsthorn has begun a petition to save the city from further plunder.” Read more from domus.

Kaohsiung Public Transit Push “In 2006, Kaohsiung City recorded a paltry 4.3 percent share for public transportation usage. In the years since, the Kaohsiung City government launched an ambitious plan to increase ridership in Taiwan’s second largest urban area…. Once a culture of public transportation ridership is firmly established, the government will begin to implement policies to discourage specific private transportation options.”  Read more from The City Fix.

Singapore Photo Journal

While my trip to Singapore was partially professional and mostly social I did find time to learn more about some interesting characteristics of this city-state.  Although some people describe Singapore as the “Disneyland of South East Asia” it is actually an extremely interesting place once you get past the fact that you can’t spit on the street or buy gum.  Below is my photo journal from the point of view of a traveling urban planning student.  (This could also be a photo journal of a foodie in Singapore but that would not exactly fit with the theme of our blog.

Chinatown: This might be one of the most chaotic places in Singapore, especially in the weeks before Chinese New Years, but it is still very organized and clean compared to the wholesale markets in Mainland China.

Congestion Pricing: To curb congestion in the central city all cars are charged a toll for driving in certain areas.  Once a car drives under this device the charge is automatically deducted from a prepaid card that sits on the dash of the car.

HDB Housing:  About 85% of Singapore lives in public housing owned by the Housing Development Board.  Since slum clearance schemes in 1960’s, HDB has been constantly building public housing blocks.

New HDB Housing: More recent HDB housing developments now have varying building typologies.  Although not all architects that I know find this visually pleasing it is nice to see new HDB units that are not identical to the older multicolored blocks.

Historic Preservation in Singapore: One of my Singaporean friends once described Singapore’s idea of preservation as keeping only a few buildings and then painting them obnoxious colors.  I think this photo perfectly displays this approach.

Historic Preservation Attempt 2:  These buildings built around 1915 in the East Coast of Singapore have maintained slightly more of their original character than the structures above.

Cemetery: As a tiny island nation with a growing population Singapore must carefully allocate its land even for cemeteries. In 1998 the government passed a law requires all graves to be exhumed after 15 year in an effort to preserve land.

Container Ships:  The first time I visited a beach in Singapore I was shocked by number of container ships on the horizon.  Considering though that the Port of Singapore is the world’s busiest container port one might be surprised that there are not more ships on the horizon.

The Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands, an “Integrated Resort” (a Singaporean euphemism for Casino) which opened in 2010.

Happy Chinese New Year!  Wishing all an amazing year of the rabbit!

Melissa