Strategic Ecosystems

Rethinking the Future of Malls in Singapore

Rethinking the Future of Malls in Singapore is a research project initiated by Spatial Anatomy under the Good Design Research Programme commissioned by Design Singapore Council.

Malls play a unique role in Singapore’s culture as diverse heterocultural sites where much of the nation’s social, economic and communal activities innocently converge and multiply. Over time, within the constellation of malls distributed across the nation in their respective neighborhoods, everyday memories and unnamed histories gradually build up, are forgotten and then remade as their host structures deteriorate with age.

Our research sought to analyze the organizational and spatial structure of local malls and the challenges that they face, and to uncover the various potentials that malls in Singapore possess, first as living relics of active cultural-historical and economic value, and then to investigate and test the possibility of extending (or transmuting) their lifetimes, through spatial and/or virtual reformatting, to give them new viabilities.

A scoping of all malls in Singapore was performed, revealing 3 main kinds of retail development types: Public (Housing Board-owned), Private (developers), and Strata (Collective ownership). Of these, the modernist, 1970s-built Strata types proved most susceptible to redevelopment. The research postulated a Spirit- Structure dichotomy of understanding a mall’s health, and subsequently endeavoured to enable stakeholders to chart their mall’s future trajectories using this framework.
Our analysis culminates in a ‘Mall Spirit-Structure’ framework that holistically appraises the range of feasible actions for a mall’s continuation, or in some instances, a graceful end.

Framing the future of malls as a cycling between the two extremities of ‘life’ and ‘death’ allows us to develop a spectrum of strategic actions that straddle the 3 late-stages of revitalization, rehabilitation, and decommission, each expressing in a different way our proposition for older malls to re-express their functions as community-centric sites of enhanced economic and cultural participation, anchored within a ‘15-min city’ network relationship.

In instances whereby an eventual closure is anticipated due to a perceived terminal incapacity of either the ‘spirit’ and/or ‘structure’ to keep the mall together, we make the explicit recommendation for a sensitive winding down of the mall in stages - to transition existing businesses out of the mall, ‘migrate’ the ‘spirit’ and memories of the community through participatory archival processes and/or ‘dematerialise’ the mall structure - to peacefully make way for new development.

Year 2021 Location Singapore Commissioned by DesignSingapore Council (Good Design Research) Scope Nationwide Status Completed