Iluma Urban Entertainment Centre concept model
From Raffles’ structuring of the area into the Malay community area (racial segregation, what the heck was he thinking?), to becoming the part of Singapore where alternative lifestyles were lived, Bugis has today become the street punk’s hangout, a miniature Japan/ Taiwan/HK/juvie part of town where being edgy no longer actually requires a knife.
Apart from the shopping malls that manage to fit into a strip of land so thin, it’s positively claustrophobic, there’s also the idea that somehow Bugis is the ghetto part of town, with dressed-up wannabes that keep you on the boundary between wanting to laugh or throw up. With the exception of some parts of the area, Bugis has oft seemed like the part of town that everyone forgot, our own East Berlin with old shophouses that look ready to collapse anytime.
No more. What with a thorough redevelopment of the area, this is the year Bugis aims to break free of its image as the ‘hood, slightly slummy, with cheap buys that are perfect for the impulse shopper in you. Recently Iluma, a local development firm with the humble name of Jack Investments Pte Ltd has won the tender for the building of a multi-storey artsy hub that will hopefully raise the profile of the neighbourhood from crass to sass.
Plus, the sudden throwback to the pre-war rundown and about-to-collapse look has returned to hip-world. And since celebrating the miserable leftovers of our heritage has become the thing to hype, Bugis is set to turn over a new look.
First up is the $46 million development of the Iluma Urban Entertainment Centre (UEC), which has its sights set rather high. Targeting the artsy and edgy people that generally hang out in the area, UEC hopes to invite tenants to set up dinner theatres (think Connie and Carla) and cabaret shows, art galleries, amongst other ideas.
What’s most likely to catch everyone’s eye are the dozens of screens that are set to be covering the outer walls of the building, making it somewhat like the screens that cover buildings of Tokyo’s business and shopping district. Plus, the all-glass will make the people in the building all look and feel like they’re the exhibition – how’s that for a well-planned act? It’s like The Truman Show, only you won’t have to suffer through Jim Carrey’s overacting.
In fact, the building is scheduled to be up and running before you can say “Christmas is here!” Hopefully, the drag shows will start before Halloween; it’ll make the celebrations more real (no offense, men-who-want-to-be-ladies, I’m not a basher) and more fun.
We’re certainly looking forward to it. Many people often complain that not much can be done in Singapore; in a country where land is limited, the only way to make land pay for itself is to build malls.
So eating, shopping, and f*cking (unfortunately for our government, most Singaporeans only have sex once a week). Mostly just eating and shopping. An entertainment hub will certainly help to promote a national sense of humour, and make some money out of it as well. Well, we’re assuming it actually entertains.
But other than that, the Beach Road area has also changed dramatically. From closed fifties-era shops with five-foot ways and metal grills, it has rapidly undergone major renovations to play host to niche and boutiquey shops that just begged to be visited once, even if purely for the fun factor.
Rev Distribution retails wines of high quality at good prices; philia sells Mediterranean food that’s rarely found in the city; Pitch Black Cafe screens movies so you can have a movie dinner with your friends without having to worry about cleaning up. A shop called Black sells sneakers at great prices, and last I saw, construction is still going on.
It seems to us that Bugis is much like the flea markets that it is often host to – an area with a lot of people trying to sell you junk you don’t really need, but every so often you find something that might just whip up a storm. Bugis is about to burst forth with new energy, and I for one will like to be the first to experience it.