The streets around Bugis Junction have long been a part of Singapore’s dynamic, multicultural and vibrant city, to this day continuing to be a tourist hub and meeting spot for locals. Nowadays a modern shopping complex, the site of Bugis Junction was originally a series of four streets settled by the Bugis people of Indonesia, sailing to Singapore to sell spices, gold and slaves in the 1800s. Overtime the site became home to low-rise shop houses and trade markets, wide streets to allow for easy transportation and warehouses to stock goods and promote economic activity. Europeans, Chinese and Islamic Indians all inhabited the area of Bugis at one time, ingraining a multicultural affection on to the fabric of the architecture and in the present day, acting as the underlying historical significance of Bugis Junction. By the 1960s, Bugis was popular among tourists and locals alike for its night markets, hawker stalls and more interestingly its transvestite culture, however by the 1980s tourism numbers had dropped and in response the Singaporean Tourism Board embarked on a conservation plan, preserving and converting many of the shop houses into more commercial ventures. Throughout this period, the four main streets of Bugis underwent major renovations, removing street hawkers and demolishing unused buildings, eventually emerging into what we see today, a complete complex, “a new public space laced deeply into the city fabric and transformed shopping into a pedestrian-only, all weather activity.”
Noted as Singapore’s ‘first glass covered air conditioned mall’, Bugis Junction is comprised of three streets of the aforementioned shop houses, enclosed within glass roof canopies, structurally embedded directly into the shop house to open up the internal walkways and create the feeling of being on a streetscape. Two modern buildings external to the glassed enclosure bookend either end of the complex, one a hotel, the other an office building, and additional levels have been inserted within the glassed interior. As the mall management company themselves describe, “at Bugis Junction you are invited to discover and explore while sauntering under a comfortable sun or shopping under the stars.” Integrating shops, food outlets, an underground train station and arts and cultural spaces, Bugis Junction is entirely air conditioned and naturally lit, ultimately providing ideal physical comfort for shoppers. Intact shop facades, five-foot walkways and ‘street-side’ cafes create the aura of historical attachment and outdoor-ness, eliminating the often felt feelings of starkness, repetition and artificialness of more modern shopping complexes. As the designers DP Architects emphasise; “the project can be read as a convergence of two architectural ideas: the establishment of a contemporary retail space within the framework of the existing city; and the creation of a retrospective urban development that looks to the future.” Beyond the architectural and convenience appeal, the comfort expectations Bugis Junction introduces, impacts greatly on social and lifestyle behaviours – in many ways for most people it is the merging of the best of both worlds – outdoor aesthetics with indoor comfort. The ability to shop, socialise, and conduct business without the discomfort of heat, humidity and artificial lighting but within the familiarity and charm of ‘outdoor’ historical surroundings, creates an environment of necessitated cooling (no longer, only an indoor possibility), that spreads to other facets of life – potentially making consistent thermal comfort the primary expectation in any setting. Mechanical control of thermal comfort in the form of air conditioners, in part with impacting on the individual’s expectation of comfort, also negatively impacts on the environment, a consideration less important at the time of the complexes reconstruction but in the present reality should be reviewed. In Singapore, the controlled environment of Bugis Junction meets the needs of the modern shopper – well planned, all weather permitting, culturally significant and well connected via public transport – however the vicarious implications a space such as this has on the community’s interaction with the outdoors, comfort expectations and urban environmental efficiency needs to be analysed further to eliminate the potential risk of increased artificial and unsustainable developments.