The Agora is the new, distinct retail destination of Singapore. My thesis reinvents a new typology for retail by revitalising underutilised spaces, reimagining them as a hybridised environment for start-ups, local brands, and global brands to connect. There is a real need to emigrate the retail environments to existing street environments in an act to revitalise the streets and the experience of retail which have been stagnant.
To allow the thesis to execute effectively, I have chosen China Square as the site. Being a conservation site itself, it holds many unique experiences that users have yet to explore. It is well connected by the transportation network, making it a site of great potential.
A masterplan proposal aimed to revitalise the site is made, focusing on curating the 3-Dimensional Public Realm, Clustering & Hybridising, and the Old & the New.
The architectural design focuses on 3 main ideas, namely Permanence & Temporality, Flexibility & Modularity, Indoor & Outdoor.
A combination of both the masterplan proposal and architectural proposal will create communities and conversations for all consumers in a highly social and programmatically diverse site that is constantly morphing and changing.
Permanence & Temporality – the concept where short term leases and long-term leasing spaces have unique identities. The project has a mix of key anchor tenants and short-term leases and explores the relationship between them. The key tenants of the site are creative and social spaces which are housed under the Exchange, and incubator retail square for local brands to shine. The key tenants are the co-working space and the makerspace which incites collaboration between commerce and the creatives. These fuels the site’s network of temporal pods which can be seen attached to the Roofwalks above the shophouses. Local brands and creatives can utilise these short-term lease pods to display their creativity. The pods will then be strategically placed around the respective thematic loops, allowing these local brands to strengthen their brand and create their communities.
Flexibility & Modularity – the system of Architecture where the pods can be readily replaced whenever required. To do so, it is important to study the shophouse typology. The shophouse typology can be identified with its distinctive 5foot walkways, the back alleys, parti-walls and the courtyards. These elements are of importance to the architectural intervention as this is the main site characteristics. Hence, a series of timber frames have been designed to sit on the parti-walls, further emphasizing the characteristics of the shophouse. These timber frames are modular as it follows the dimensions of the shophouses. The Roofwalk have been designed in mind to not obstruct the courtyards of the shophouses and mimic the 5-foot walkway characteristics of the shophouses below. Pods are then placed with the intention of highlighting the courtyards of the shophouses, allowing users on the Roofwalk to be able to see these otherwise hidden voids which cannot be seen unless you enter a shophouse. The pods designed thus far follow the dimensions of the shophouse to create a sensitively scaled and intimate environment for the users. These pods are highly flexible, allowing brands to use them for multiple purposes. In this thesis a series of modules have been developed and their uses are non-restrictive. A collective of pods can even be connected if it does not obstruct the unique characteristics of the shophouse.
Indoor & Outdoor – the overall experience of the site where users discover as they utilise the site. The main streets connecting Chinatown MRT and Telok Ayer have been sheltered to allow for convenience. The sheltered street is also injected with multiple flexible spaces to allow for pop-up programs to spill onto the streets. This sheltered space also allows for natural ventilation and allows users on the street to have visual connection with the roofwalk above. The open concept allows users to be in the outdoor while they are in the space. The 2 key spaces that embrace the indoor and outdoor environment concept are the Exchange where the incubator retail thrives and The Courtyard, where the events happen. These 2 spaces are designed with a different concept in mind.
In conclusion, retail spaces can be unique and distinctive in its typology and concept. While there are newer malls being built with newer concepts and strategies, it is still a large internalised environment.
“Having a destination that sheds light onto the intricacies of culture and heritage can be a way to readapt conservation sites.
Having a destination that provides consumers with the freedom to explore can be a new way to empower consumers.
Having a destination that allows for local brands to shine and global brands to localise can be a new way to empower retailers to move into brick and mortar.”
The Agora reinvigorates retail by reimagining the typology as a hybridised retail destination characterised by three key ideas – Permanence and Temporality; Flexibility and Modularity, and Indoor and Outdoor spaces. Taking cues from the heritage aspects of the China Square site, a unique and pixelated street retail environment is created. Here, underutilised spaces are revitalised for start-ups, and local and global brands to compliment the site’s F & B and cultural components. Following the taxonomy of available spaces and architectural elements on site, the masterplan and the resultant design curates an activated and pedestrianized three dimensional public realm, thematic retail clusters and a strong dialogue between the old and the new, and is a clear antithesis to the all too familiar large scale, internalised and sterile mall environments.- Senior Lecturer Swinal Samant Ravindranath (Dr.)