A number of exciting undercurrents are taking place along otherwise sleepy Bencoolen Street. Known more for its third rate hotels than architecture, the first seed of a potentially radical transformation may have been planted by WOHA’s reconceptualization of the intersection point of Prinsep and Bencoolen Street to house Space Furniture’s new Asia flagship store.
The new multiplex revolves around the restored colonial era 2-storey bungalow which is enveloped on 2 sides by a modern steel-and-glass structure that houses most of the 43,000-sq ft retail showcase of leading designer works.
Space Furniture’s presence complements the development of the area as a site of artistic expression and art development. Bencoolen Street is encircled by SOTA (School of the Arts), Lasalle College of the Arts, and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
The multiplex designed by WOHA has created a green pedestrian oasis in an area that used to be a pass-through avenue without noteworthy sights. The flat reflective glass facade presents a gleaming contrast of light and sheens against the white detailing of the old bungalow, with intermediate spaces filled with inviting pockets of furniture.
Inside, Space has assembled Singapore’s largest collection of designer furniture brands, from Carl Hansen, Flexform, Fritz Hansen, to Kartell, Poliform, Moooi and Vitra. The setting incorporates elements of the conservation shophouses that have lent their interiors towards the amalgamated showroom, with mezzanine levels, green walls and sloped roofings contributing to a fascinating layout that breaks from the usual mould of furniture retailing.
The interior structure invites exploration, and creates multiple focal points of interest in an otherwise overwhelming sea of products.
The juxtaposition of Singapore’s colonial past against modernity is a thrust that has caught on in the public’s imagination in recent developments. One early prominent project was Tan Chin Tuan Mansion at Cairnhill by Architects 61, now complete. Recent condominiums like Draycott 8 and Buckley Classique have also retained rather than demolished old bungalows on their premises, turning them typically into club-houses. However all are in private enclosures. Space’s Bencoolen creation, while exclusive, remains public.
Tan Chin Tuan Mansion at Cairnhill by Architects 61
Bencoolen Street is named in remembrance of Stamford Raffles’ position as lieutenant-governor of Bencoolen (Bengkulu) in Sumatra before it was ceded to the Netherlands as part of the British-Dutch Treaty of 1824. The street was an area of congregation for the Bencoolen Muslims and known for its landmark, Masjid Benggali (Bencoolen Mosque) though only a shadow of its former character is found in the present mosque tucked quietly alongside Ascott’s serviced residences. With the construction of the new Bencoolen MRT and Space Furniture’s new flagship building, Bencoolen is poised to enter a new phase in Singapore’s urban landscape.