Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Singapore: Shophouses

Shophouses in Pagoda Street

One of the things we most wanted to see in Singapore were the Shophouses. "The archetypal Singapore shophouse is a two or three-storey building with a commercial shop on the ground floor and living accommodations above. The ground floor sits back from the road, while an overhanging veranda is supported by a brace of columns – creating the distinctive five-foot way, a feature introduced by Sir Stamford Raffles through the Town Planning Committee of 1822, as part of his town plan for early Singapore" (from roots.com, Singapore) I read somewhere that despite the relentless modernisation and redevelopment there are still 5,000 shophouses in existence, from a range of historical periods.

We probably din't do enough research before we arrived, but we knew that Chinatown, a mile from where we were staying, had a good number, so we started our exploration there. The ones in Pagoda St, the epicentre of Chinatown, were a good introduction, with the elaborate columns and capitals and bright contrasting colour schemes on full display. The shops on the ground floor extended out into the road.

Further along Pagoda St, this group had keystones over some of the arches and the middle one had an entertaining non-traditional colour scheme.

There were further nice examples in nearby Mosque St and Temple St.

At right angles to these three streets is South Bridge Road, where we admired this harmonious three-storey building of 1910.

Further along South Bridge Road we turned right into Erskine Road, where there is a terrace of earlier shophouses with much less decoration. They date from about 1840. At the top of the road a number of former shophouses have been consolidated into the Scarlet Hotel.

We headed round the corner and down Ann Siang Hill, where we walked down the 5 ft way. Several of these had been converted into bars and restaurants.

A ride on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit system - Singapore's excellent metro) took us to Dhoby Gaut station from where we walked along Orchard Road to find Emerald Hill, one of Singapore's most celebrated concentrations of shop houses. Despite this, or perhaps because of the impending thunderstorm, it was remarkably quiet.

Unlike in Chinatown, these shophouses had all been converted to purely residential use and the five foot way was very much more visible.

As we walked up the hill a new range of styles and colours became visible, including the group on the left with triangular pediments over the first floor windows.

A group on the left had front gardens.

This was probably our favourite, with its elaborate plaster work.

Near the top other examples had the upper storey supported on thick columns. The one on the right was the most modern we had seen.

Finally, on the way back down the hill, we noticed these art deco ones with interesting decorations at the top of the pilasters.

It would have been good to have explored further locations for shophouses, but we ran out of time. There are some in Keong Saik Road, Tanjong Pagar, Little India and Kapong Glam, no doubt among many other locations.

Conditions: hot, humid, cloudy, eventually very wet.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars.

No comments: