MERCANTILE ECO-SYSTEM is a project that investigates the potential of revitalizing post-modernist complexes in Kreta Ayer as enterprise incubators, inspired by the historical symbiotic economic arrangement and spatial organization of shophouses in the area.
The pre-independence shophouse architecture grew around a mode of economic organization, where the same unitary premise of a house and the abutting footway/backlane were subdivided and appropriated by different users. At the dwelling scale, flexibility and independence of the shophouse typology facilitated symbiotic relationships between the street side stalls & shophouse. At the urban scale, mercantile activities interweave into a system: they extended from ground-level shops in each shophouse to petty traders in the five-foot ways & back lanes, to rows of hawker stalls lining the streets, and conglomerated at formal markets.
The thesis re-designs ownership structure in existing strata-titled complexes to facilitate the formation of resilient mercantile eco-systems that was once present in Kreta Ayer, thereby extending the buildings’ lifespan. Adapting ideas from Open Building (Habraken, 1961) and the former shophouse economic arrangement, the project demonstrates how the spatio-mercantile relationship can be reinterpreted programmatically in these declining post-modernist complexes. The podiums of the complexes are re-purposed as a new typology: co-retailing and co-working spaces that serve as enterprise incubators, intensely shared by complementary tenants (emerging small local enterprises).
The chosen site for demonstration is People’s Park, the historic mercantile nucleus of Kreta Ayer, where the People’s Park Market once stood. In its place today stand two modernist podium-tower complexes – People’s Park Complex & People’s Park Food Centre.
Drawing inspiration from the hyper-dense, organic and interconnected urban and social fabric of the original ‘People’s Park’ and Kreta Ayer’s ‘shophouse city’, the project explores innovative ways to inject new mercantile life-force to resuscitate two 1970s mixed use complexes, People’s Park Complex and People’s Park Market. Modular co-locating entrepreneur incubators, facilitated by a new strata of sub-developers, are inserted within the structural frame to optimise the variety and intensity of interactivity. While critically examining why Singapore’s ageing multi-strata malls fell short of their full potential to realise the ‘Metabolist’ vision of their modernist creators, the ambitious scheme seeks to offer a viable alternative future for Singapore’s ageing multi-strata title malls.- Adj. Asst. Prof. Ho Weng Hin