Shenton Way begins at the junction of Boon Tat Street, Raffles Quay and Commerce Street, and ends where it meets Keppel Road.1 It is part of “Golden Shoe”, the moniker given to an 80-acre plot of prime land in the heart of Singapore’s city centre. The shape of the area resembles an upturned shoe and contains Singapore’s most expensive real estate. Designated as the financial and banking hub, Golden Shoe was gazetted in 1970 under the Controlled Premises (Special Provisions) Act of 1969 as a zone deregulated from rent controls, which means owners could repossess their properties for development purposes.2
Shenton Way was named after Shenton Whitelegge Thomas, the governor of the Straits Settlements from 1934 to 1946. Built on reclaimed land that was part of the Telok Ayer reclamation project completed in 1932, the road was not officially opened until 1951. The Shenton Circus, a traffic-island roundabout that used to be at the Maxwell Road junction was a key landmark. The road was initially planned to be called Raffles Way, but the decision was rescinded as there were already many roads, institutions, and places named after Stamford Raffles. Shenton Way was named in appreciation of Thomas’s decision to remain in the colony during the invasion of Singapore by the Japanese in 1942. The road was officially opened by then governor of Singapore Franklin Gimson on 3 August 1951 at 10.30am.3
The original 27-metre-wide road was built by Chief Municipal Engineer D. Wexton. By the early 1950s, however, traffic in Raffles Place had become congested; to relieve the situation, efforts were made to open up Shenton Way for redevelopment. Land lots between Shenton Way and Robinson Road were auctioned in the early 1952 for the construction of nine-storey offices and flats facing the sea.4 Unfortunately, the project, which the local press dubbed the “Shenton Way skyscraper scheme”, had failed by 1954. Government bailiffs re-entered and claimed possession of 11 lots of land in Shenton Way and Robinson Road. The land buyers had not fulfilled their agreement with the government to start building within two years of the date of sale, citing the “trade recession and other reasons” that made it impractical for them to start construction.5
The very first structure built on the reclaimed land was the first Singapore Polytechnic campus, which was completed at the end of 1958 on Prince Edward Road, off Shenton Way. Designed by colonial architecture firm Swan & Maclaren, the polytechnic remained there until it relocated to its current Dover Road campus in 1979. Much of the site is still standing today as Bestway Building.6
It was not until the 1960s that the first buildings appeared along Shenton Way.7 Amongst the first modern buildings located there was the Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House, which was opened officially in 1965. The building is recognised as a prime example of Singapore’s urban architecture of the 1960s and one of the earliest buildings to demonstrate distinctive Malayan features. It was designed to suit the local tropical climate, especially through the use of a cantilevered roof and terraces to provide shade and a natural ventilation system to keep the interior cool. After the National Trades Union Congress moved out of the premises, extensive modifications to the building were completed in 2001. The building was reopened as the Singapore Conference Hall on 22 September that year by then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.8
The 1968 land sales programme by the Urban Renewal Department (URD; predecessor of the Urban Redevelopment Authority) had resulted in the so-called “three sisters” of Shenton Way: UIC (United Industrial Corporation) Building, Robina House and Shenton House. Completed in 1975, all shared a similar tower-and-podium structure, thanks to a URD planning regulation that ensured buildings sited further inland could still enjoy a sea view. There was, however, flexibility to allow some variation in design, most notably in the facade of the tower blocks. The tower-and-podium design was also used for the 22-storey Shing Kwan House across the road, also the result of the 1968 land sales programme. It was connected to the “three sisters” by a pedestrian-cum-shopping overhead bridge called the Golden Bridge.9
Besides commercial buildings, the government also located its financial institutions in the Shenton Way area. Among the first were the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) Building designed by Alfred Wong Partnership, and the Central Provident Fund Building (off Shenton Way at Robinson Road) built by the Public Works Department. These two structures were completed in 1975 and 1976 respectively, and shared the same tower-and-podium structure as their neighbours. The DBS tower was a 70-storey skyscraper with three sections. When the project was first announced in 1971, it was hailed as a symbol of Singapore’s rise from “a small fishing village” to a modern nation, and it was compared to monuments such as the Taj Mahal of India and the Great Wall of China. In 1987, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also moved into the 30-storey MAS Building, and the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Trade and Industry into the 52-storey Treasury Building, both in Shenton Way.10
When the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Trade and Industry relocated to their new home, The Treasury, on High Street in 1997, the former Treasury Building was renamed Temasek Tower. In 2011, the building was renamed yet again to the current AXA Tower.11
The DBS Building was acquired by Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE) in 2010, and it has since been redeveloped into a new mixed-use project called OUE Downtown, comprising offices, serviced apartments and retail spaces.12
Urban rejuvenation in Shenton Way has continued apace in the new millennium, with makeovers for several older buildings. Robina House, UIC Building and Shing Kwan Building/ICB Building (Industrial and Commercial Bank Building) were demolished and replaced respectively with the One Shenton condominium (2011), a residential-cum-commercial development called V on Shenton (2017), and SGX (Singapore Exchange) Centre (2000–01).13
In June 2017, a new bus interchange was built in Shenton Way to serve commuters in the Central Business District. The terminal is located off Shenton Way, next to Bestway Building and directly opposite the MAS Building. It replaced the previous bus terminal along Palmer Road.14
The 42-year-old Golden Bridge was demolished in 2015 to make way for the Thomson-East Coast MRT line. In 1973, the authorities had described the link across Shenton Way as a “bold pedestrian-cum-shopping bridge”.15
1. Streetdirectory.com. (n.d). Palmer Road. Retrieved 2017, October 1 from Streetdirectory.com website: http://www.streetdirectory.com/sg/shenton-way/21276_1.html
2. Republic of Singapore. Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement. (1970, February 25). The 1969 (Commencement) Notification (S61/1970, p. 117). Singapore: [s.n.]. (Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SGGSLS); Chia, P., et. al. (1970, February 28). Golden Shoe. The Straits Times, p. 1; The ‘decontrol’ area is a ‘golden shoe’. (1970, February 28). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, B. H. (1989). The Golden Shoe: Building Singapore’s financial district. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, pp. 25–29. (Call no.: RSING 711.5522095957 CHU)
3. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of typonomics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 344. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Shenton Way. (1951, July 20). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of typonomics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 345. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
5. Shenton Way skyscraper scheme flops. (1954, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chua, B. H. (1989). The Golden Shoe: Building Singapore’s financial district. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, pp. 51–54. (Call no.: RSING 711.5522095957 CHU); Zaccheus, M. (2015, August 29). Old Singapore Poly home may be conserved. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
7. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of typonomics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 344. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
8. An important centre for civic and cultural activities. (1965, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 15; Leong, W. K. (2001, September 22). Singapore Chinese Orchestra gets own home. The Straits Times, p. H5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Heritage Board. (2016, April 12). Former Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House. Retrieved 2017, October 1 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-singapore-conference-hall-and-trade-union-house-now-singapore-conference-hall; Souvenir brochure for the opening of the Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House on 15th October 1965. (1965). Singapore: Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 725.9 SIN); Devi, G. U., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 90. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
9. Singapore Institute of Architects. (1998). Contemporary Singapore architecture. Singapore: Singapore Institute of Architects, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 720.95957 CON); Beamish, J., & Ferguson, J. (1985). A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city. Singapore: G. Brash, p. 167. (Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 BEA); Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1995). Changing the face of Singapore: Through the URA sale of sites. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, pp. 153–155. (Call no.: RSING 333.77095957 CHA)
10. Singapore Institute of Architects. (1998). Contemporary Singapore architecture. Singapore: Singapore Institute of Architects, pp. 63,72. (Call no.: RSING 720.95957 CON); Fong, L. (1971, May 29). Signing of $36 m contract marks a new era. The Straits Times, p. 8; An open plan for the Finance Ministry. (1987, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, B. H. (1989). The Golden Shoe: Building Singapore’s financial district. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 711.5522095957 CHU)
11. Treasury Building gets a new name. (1997, March 15). The Business Times, p. 2; 8 Shenton Way to be named AXA Tower. (2011, April 7). The Business Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Ramchandani, N. (2016, March 12). New concepts at Downtown Gallery beckon. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; OUE strikes towering deal on Shenton Way. (2010, August 14). The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Rashiwala, K. (2001, August 3). SGX to begin moving to Unity Towers later this year: Sources. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; City Developments Ltd. (2012). Annual report 2011. Singapore: City Developments Ltd, p. 3. Retrieved 2017, October 1 from CDL website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/annualreport2011/pdf/cdlar2011.pdf; Chow, C. (2017, September 11). Inside 8M real estate’s $400 mil portfolio. The Edge Singapore. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
14. Goy, P. (2017, June 1). New Shenton Way Bus Terminal to open on June 25. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
15. Lin, M. (2015, February 17). Shenton Way’s Golden Bridge is coming down. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.