by Goh, Kenneth
Plaza Singapura, built in the mid-1970s, was among the first shopping centres on Orchard Road. In its heyday, Plaza Singapura was one of the most popular leisure hangouts for families and youth. It led the way in adopting the all-in-one shopping concept and catered to a wide spectrum of shoppers. The idea of having anchor tenants in a shopping centre to attract visitors was also pioneered by Plaza Singapura.
Description and design
Plaza Singapura was officially opened in August 1975 by Finance Minister Hon Sui Sen.1 It was built by BEP Akitek Private Limited and managed by the Development Bank of Singapore’s (DBS) subsidiary, DBS Land.2 Plaza Singapura was the first multilevel shopping mall, comprising seven levels and two basements. It was also the largest multi-tenant shopping centre at the time.3 Plaza Singapura was awarded the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Gold award in 2007. This award acknowledges innovative design efforts towards energy conservation.4 The shopping centre has undergone a number of major facelifts in 1997–1998 and in 2011–2012.5
Plaza Singapura was popular with its patrons since its opening as its selection of stores built the shopping centre’s reputation as a place for the family.6 One of the earliest anchor tenants in Plaza Singapura was Yaohan department store. Yaohan drew visitors as it was a one-stop shopping destination that offered a convenient, family-oriented and comfortable shopping experience.7 It had one of the first in-store bakeries, which popularised the “an-pan” (a soft bun filled with Japanese red bean paste).8 Such was the popularity of Yaohan and its strong association with Plaza Singapura that the shopping centre was simply referred to as “Yaohan” from the mid-1970s.9
In addition to shopping, Plaza Singapura had many tenants catering to family and lifestyle needs. Children were brought to Yamaha music school for piano lessons, followed by a meal at Swensen’s; this was considered “a real treat in those days”.10 Ponderosa restaurant as well as Times the Bookshop, with its cosy atmosphere of a café in a bookstore, were favourite locations for family outings.11 Shizuoka Yajimaya, one of the few Japanese bookstores at the time, first opened in Plaza Singapura. It was fondly remembered as a place for children and teenagers to frequent in the mid-1970s to 1980s.12 Notably, it offered a magazine reservation service for editions-on-demand delivery to customers’s homes, and books on origami (Japanese folding paper art) with varying levels of difficulty.13
By the 1980s, Plaza Singapura’s popularity had faded. After 20 years of operations, a makeover was considered necessary for the shopping centre to remain competitive in the retail sector.14 Moreover, the mall’s under-one-roof retailing concept had by then been widely adopted by other shopping centres along Orchard Road.15 Plaza Singapura had also changed from being a family-centric mall to a location for niche shoppers looking for audio equipment or furniture.16
The shopping centre’s S$85 million, 14-month makeover gave it a new lease of life after its reopening in 1998. There was a complete reconfiguration of shop spaces around a central atrium, and large skylights and fountains that enhanced the building’s ambience were added.17 While these created a pleasant shopping atmosphere, controversy arose in later years regarding the removal of sculptor Ng Eng Teng’s iconic Wealth and Contentment statues during this overhaul.18 These statues had graced Plaza Singapura’s external façade since 1975; their removal stirred up feelings of nostalgia in the early 2000s.19
The void left in Plaza Singapura by Yaohan leaving in 1997 was filled by Daimaru department store, appliances store Courts, a 700-seater Kopitiam food court, Liberty Market and Golden Village cinema. While Golden Village cinema proved its popularity with 1.2 million moviegoers in 2002, Daimaru closed its outlet in the mall in 2003.20 These anchor tenants acted as crowd-pullers, and allowed Plaza Singapura to regain its status as a family mall with retailers offering food, fashion and entertainment.21
Between 2002 and 2003, Plaza Singapura underwent further refurbishments, though on a smaller scale. By this time, the Dhoby Ghaut Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station renovations were completed, making it an interchange station with the North-East Line (NEL); this increased the accessibility of the shopping centre.22 This was coupled with revisions to the tenant profile, with nearly half of the 230 stores being new tenants. Prominent anchor tenants included French supermarket giant Carrefour, Japanese electronics store Best Denki, as well as the Robinsons Group’s John Little and Marks & Spencer stores.23 Plaza Singapura came to be known as “youth central”, with new outlets like Comics Connection and Daiso to woo the younger crowd.24
In 2004, CapitaMall Trust (CMT) bought over Plaza Singapura from property giant CapitaLand (the successor to DBS Land).25 CMT would later undertake the expansion of Plaza Singapura’s rentable space through the incorporation of The Atrium@Orchard. This expansion made Plaza Singapura the second-largest shopping centre on Orchard Road after Ion Orchard.26 The project was finished in 2012 after Dhoby Ghaut became an interchange station for the Circle Line, thereby trebling visitorship to the shopping complex.27 It was also at this time that Plaza Singapura went through another major tenant transition. Carrefour ceased its Singapore operations and pulled out from Plaza Singapura. The void created by Carrefour’s departure was filled by Dairy Farm Group’s Cold Storage, which occupied the basement level of the shopping centre.28 Plaza Singapura’s new The Atrium@Orchard wing also became home to several Southeast Asian cuisine outlets, the buffet restaurant 1 Market by well-known Malaysian chef Wan, and the first local branch of the Michelin-starred Hong Kong dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wan.29
1975: Plaza Singapura officially opens to the public. Yaohan and Yamaha music school among founding tenants.
1980s: Shopping centre becomes “niche” mall for audio and musical equipment, and furnishings.
1997: Decision made for major facelift works for Plaza Singapura despite economic slump.
1998: Plaza Singapura reopened after 14 months of renovation works. New tenants include Golden Village, Courts and Daimaru (which replaced Yaohan).
2002: Another facelift, this time with a more varied retailing spread for its “family mall” image.
2003: Dhoby Ghaut becomes an interchange station, which increases shopping crowds at the mall. Carrefour, John Little, Marks and Spencer and Best Denki come onboard as tenants.
2004: CMT buys over Plaza Singapura from CapitaLand.
2012: Expansion works incorporating The Atrium@Orchard into Plaza Singapura are completed.
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21. Short-term pain for long-term gain? (1998, October 16). The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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24. Wong, T. (2007, January 15). Off to the mall. The Straits Times, p. 85. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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26. Lee, S. (2011, July 20). Part of Plaza Singapura, The Atrium to be combined. Today, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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The information in this article is valid as at 28 January 2014 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.