Bukit Timah Plaza

Text by Kelly Koh

Caught in the flux of traffic traversing the island, Bukit Timah Plaza is a mall which moulds, and is moulded by, the movement of both cars and pedestrians around, through, and within it

Bukit Timah Plaza (Image credit: Garden & Landscape Centre)

Bukit Timah Plaza (and Sherwood Towers, its residential component) was constructed with the vision to become Singapore’s first comprehensive shopping and residential hub outside of the city centre. This vision benefitted from its ideal location at the near geographical centre of the island, at the junction of Bukit Timah Road and the Pan Island Expressway (PIE), both major thoroughfares traversing the island.

Bukit Timah Plaza and the Anak Bukit Flyover

Bukit Timah Plaza/Sherwood Towers and the Clementi Road connection

This intention to draw people from all ends of the island is expressed functionally in the design, and can be seen in the multiple points of vehicular and pedestrian entry, strategically located to funnel shoppers from the Bukit Timah area and Jalan Anak Bukit. The tactical decentralization of entrances served also to homogenise rental appeal of commercial units, as no one unit was more remote than the others. To further bolster this homogeneity, large units for anchor tenants were placed at all the ends and corners, ensuring a constant circulation of customers.

The exterior takes on a heavy and hard look, where ramps for cars and sky bridges for pedestrians form part of the architecture. An implication of such gestures is the (perhaps serendipitous) visual blending-in of the PIE's Anak Bukit Flyover; the expression of car-culture well-appointed for an upper-middle class suburb.

To add diversity to the interior, 12 shopfront options were designed for tenants to choose from, lending the space an informal vibrance. With the lack of a pronounced primary entrance, the variation in shopfront details began to play a supporting role as a wayfinding device.

Bukit Timah Plaza atrium and clock in 1979

Distinctive glass elevators of Bukit Timah Plaza

Adding whimsy to the already innovative building was the “Aquacadabra”, a mechanical clock designed by Shakib Gunn, with animal characters performing at hourly intervals. This folly was positioned in the lower ground floor concourse, a space used also for promotional activities, exhibitions, and musical performances. Another interesting detail is the hexagonal shaped lifts with a bronze anodized aluminium finish, matching the mall escalators with their bronze mirror glass cladding.

Bukit Timah Plaza atrium in 2008

Today it stands, an important landmark in the '7th Mile' region of Bukit Timah, but also an island in a sea of traffic. To different generations, Bukit Timah Plaza with its all-in-one ambitions will mean different things: toy shops, opticians, maid agencies, Nonya food, printing services, etc. For the first visitors, they may recall with some sentiment Fitzpatrick's and Metro, later Popular Bookstore and Yaohan, and currently Attitude Performing Arts Studio and NTUC FairPrice (Finest).