People's Park Complex

People’s Park Complex

Despite its name suggesting that it is a park for the people, exploring People’s Park Complex is by no means a walk in the park. It is a matter of seconds before you are confronted with flyers or prepositioned by enthusiastic sales personnel with a 2-for-1 Maldives tour package or a promotion for a 30-minute foot reflexology session.

The central atrium in the mall is a crowded room with high human traffic and all-day cooking or cleaning demonstrations surrounded by the three most visible business models in the complex: the travel agency, the mobile and electronics shop, and the massage shop. Needless to say, People’s Park Complex is brimming with life and a curious mix of activity.

Replacing the old People’s Park Market, the complex was envisaged to be a shophouse city.

Replacing the old People’s Park Market, the complex was envisaged to be a shophouse city.

The corridors within the mall are unanimously lined up with travel agencies and reflexology shops.

The corridors within the mall are unanimously lined with travel agencies and reflexology shops.

If you roll back the years to the 1960s, Chinatown was not just an overcrowded enclave. Housing was affordable but shophouses were run-down and living conditions poor for the mostly migrant worker population. After a 1966 fire destroyed the People’s Park Market, which was a popular public park with outdoor stalls, the same site was sold for redevelopment by Singapore’s first Urban Renewal Department Sale of Sites in 1967. The move fuelled urban regeneration in Chinatown in the 1970s.

The last dilapidated structures of the People’s Park being flattened for the construction for the People’s Park Complex in 1968. Image from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

The last dilapidated structures of the People’s Park being flattened for the construction for the People’s Park Complex in 1968. Image from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

The management organised frequent fashion shows to draw in the crowds during the opening years. Image from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

The management organised frequent fashion shows to draw in the crowds during the opening years. Image from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

The view of People’s Park Complex from Eu Tong Sen Street in 1986. Image from National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

The view of People’s Park Complex from Eu Tong Sen Street in 1986. Image from National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

People’s Park Complex was a game-changer. It was a pivot in a time when Singapore’s architectural model turned from low-rise to high-rise.  It marked Singapore’s transition from street-based food and sundry vendors to an air-conditioned shopping mall.

The complex contained Singapore’s first central atrium that was designed as a public living room for social activities. It began as a 6-storey shopping mall in 1970 before the 25-storey residential tower was added in 1973. It achieved instant acclaim as the tallest residential space in the country in that time.

People’s Park Complex became the tallest residential space in Singapore with the addition of the 25-storey residential tower in 1973.

People’s Park Complex became the tallest residential space in Singapore with the addition of the 25-storey residential tower in 1973.

The vision was for the large atrium to function as a social space for activities.

The large atrium was envisioned to function as a social space for activities.

The building consisted of exposed concrete slabs, which in subsequent years, had been painted over in the various colour schemes to the present green and yellow today.

The building consisted of exposed concrete slabs, which in subsequent years, were painted over in the various colour schemes to the present green and yellow today.

People’s Park Complex displays the same block-ish and brutalist elements as the Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road. Both projects were conceptualised by the Design Partnership and inspired by Fumihiko Maki’s concepts of the collective social space and post-war ideologies for civic infrastructures; they introduced Singapore to new modes of modernist architecture in the 1970s.

In a statement from Design Partnership’s website:

People’s Park Complex became Singapore’s first multi-use building with shopping, residential, offices and car parking facilities within a single structure. It is programmatically divided into two realms: a public retail and commercial podium for shops and businesses at ground level, and a private residential zone in the tower above.”

As one of the flagship tenants, Overseas Emporium began in 1971 and offered more than 20,000 square feet of shopping space.

As one of the flagship tenants, Overseas Emporium began in 1971 and offered more than 20,000 square feet of shopping space.

The Chinese name of People's Park Complex, 珍珠坊, is visible from the side of Eu Tong Sen Street.

The Chinese name of People’s Park Complex, 珍珠坊, is visible from the side of Eu Tong Sen Street.

Better known as Zhen Zhu Fang to the older Chinese generation in Singapore, the Chinese characters, 珍珠坊, are clearly imprinted on the narrow façade facing Eu Tong Sen Street. People’s Park Complex today continues to reflect the vision of a large social living room. It is a public domain just like the old street in Chinatown, where residents of the neighbourhood would gather to socialise, eat, and shop.

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