Clarke Quay Singapore an abandoned warehouse area 198993 2003

Singapore is a city-state with a democratically elected government that is very much involved in planning and development matters. Responsibility for planning and design lies with the country's cabinet. It delegates authority to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) which is the de facto planning department. It has the degree of cooperation between various agencies charged with urban development that many other cities envy. There is thus a high degree of consensus about what schemes should be carried out and how they should be developed amongst the various ministries and agencies of the government. The government strives to keep a balance between private developers' ideas and the overall efficiency of the city.

After independence from colonial rule, the government did not actively work on conservation because of other priorities. Three factors changed this situation:

1 the economic downturn in the late 1970s,

2 the return from graduate education of young architects who had studied preservation projects abroad,

3 the presentations at a conference on heritage tourism held in Singapore in 1983 that convinced the authorities in Singapore of the economic benefits of preservation.

Clarke Quay is an example of the result.

Clarke Quay is a five-block precinct of 23,000 square metres (246,100 square feet) located on the Singapore River about a kilometre from the city-state's central business district. It consisted of nineteenth century godowns and shophouses, the Merchants' Court, the Cannery and the Whampoa Icehouse (demolished in 1981 for road widening). The Cannery had been erected in 1901 to house a British engineering firm and had later been converted into a pineapple-processing factory. The rows of shophouses and warehouses gave the site its physical character (Figure 7.15).

The traditional southern China terraced shophouses were two or three stories in height and housed working class families on the upper floors and shops facing the street on the ground floor. In Singapore the type had been partially adapted to the tropical climate with high ceilings and a 5-foot wide shaded arcade (a requirement established in the early nineteenth century by Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore). Second storey jack-roofs allowed hot air to escape from interiors. The long-narrow form of the godowns and shophouses make conversion comparatively easy. Sixty godowns at Clarke Quay have been converted into more than 200 shops, restaurants, bars, etc. as part of the process of revitalizing the Singapore River front. Clarke Quay has also recently been connected by a new station to Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system (see Chapter 10).

Prior to the development of Clarke Quay, the URA had already embarked on a 10-year programme to clean up the highly polluted Singapore River. This clean-up was made possible because, the waterway's traditional commercial role as a transhipment centre had been lost as the result of the development of new shipping technologies.

Figure 7.15 The Clarke Quay Conservation Area, showing the buildings to remain.
Figure 7.16 Boat Quay, Singapore.

The URA began the construction of a highly successful riverside promenade in 1992. Its success was both economic and social with the creation of an alfresco dining area on the waterfront at Boat Quay (see Figure 7.16). The promenade was extended along the river past Clarke Quay to Robertson Quay and completed in early 2000. All establishments along it that are designated commercial can set up outdoor eating areas. The guidelines for the design of the promenade were established by the URA and were followed by successful tenders for each project.

The building of the promenade was an all-of-a-piece infrastructure design scheme in which individual developers built pieces according to guidelines (e.g. those in Figure 7.17a).

Figure 7.17 Clarke Quay, Singapore River. (a) The design controls for the riverside promenade, (b) the promenade and (c) the Quay in 2003.

Figure 7.17 Clarke Quay, Singapore River. (a) The design controls for the riverside promenade, (b) the promenade and (c) the Quay in 2003.

The redevelopment process for Clarke Quay began in 1989. The URA gave the Quay heritage conservation status in July of that year. It was designated an area for a combination of adaptive reuses of its warehouses and shophouses. The URA allocated 'historically compatible' activities to each sub-zone. These uses included a hotel, and entertainment, retail and cultural facilities. The project was subjected to a tendering process under the URA's Sale of Sites programme in which the price offered for the land, the proposals and the economics were evaluated as a package.

The winning tender was submitted by DBS Land Ltd. Many designers were involved but their work was highly controlled by a central agency. The architectural and landscape architectural firms included ELS/Elbasani and Logan, RSP Singapore and EDAW from San Francisco. Thus the development team can be regarded as a public-private partnership between the URA, DBS Land, the designers and the Singapore River Business Association. Despite the various organizations involved, the renovation of Clarke Quay was carried out as a single project under one auspice.

The project ultimately consisted of the restoration of historic buildings, the insertion of new buildings and the pedestrianiza-tion of the whole site. The property market was allowed to dictate the specific uses. The requirement was that the fa├žades and roof design of buildings be kept. As a result, although the Quay resembles what it was in the past, it has a completely different ambience. It is now an up-market, retail, food and beverage centre - a nightlife area - and a major destination for tourists and locals alike. The transformation cost $S186 million and was completed in 1993.

The historic buildings saved provide Singaporeans with a link to the past. In addition, one of the world's great river waterfronts had an additional element added to it. DBS Land created a promenade, a 10- to 15-metre wide water-edge walkway lined by trees in accordance with the guidelines issued by the URA. The promenade connects a series of plazas, pocket-parks, performance zones and water features thus catering for adults and children, and providing a diverse set of attractions. Encroachments onto the walkway have narrowed the channel for walkers but have enlivened the scene. But not enough!

Places change. The flow of the high-spending European and Japanese tourists of the early 1990s slowed. By 2000 Clarke Quay had a worn-out look. Competition from air-conditioned shopping malls and other similar developments meant that Clarke Quay no longer had a secure niche in the marketplace. In addition, the Quay does not have the shiny new image of the Esplanade theatre complex (designed by Stirling and Wilford) or One Fullerton (the recent redevelopment of a neoclassical colonial building). The Quay's landlord, CapitaLand Commercial, was seeking tenants to draw people back again and hired a British firm headed by Wil Alsop to draft a 'new look' for the Quay. The tenants feared that the change will involve rental increases well beyond the $S13 to $S15 per square metre that they were paying.

Amongst the characteristics of a good design is that it can adapt to change. The future of Clarke Quay is uncertain, but it is likely to retain much of its present form with greater attention paid to the comfort level of people. The physiological and aesthetic predispositions of visitors have shifted, as Maslow would have predicted (see Chapter 2). A shinier, modernistic appearance would probably meet the expectations of tourists and locals alike better than its historic one. We shall soon find out.

Major references

Breen, Ann and Dick Rigby (1996). The New Traditional Buildings and Settlements Review XIX

Waterfront: A World Wide Success Storey. London: (Spring): 41-9.

Thames and Hudson. Heng Chye Kiang (2001). Singapore River: a case for

Heng Chye Kiang (2000). The night zone storyline: a river of life. Singapore Architect 211 (September):

Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. 90-5.

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