Shaw Towers

Text by Kelly Koh

Taking over two old theatres, the Shaw Towers building sought to retain a discrete cinema organisation while maximising the space available in their odd-shaped site.

Shaw Towers at dawn (Photo credit: Chin KC)

The Shaw Towers building was part of the third URA sale of sites programme in 1970. The site was a peculiar one - a rectangular site along beach road with a sliver of space protruding towards nicoll highway. It was also, significantly, the site of the Alhambra and Marlboro theatres, as well as the Satay Club at Hoi How Road. It therefore seemed apt, then, that the site was taken over by the Shaw organization, one of Singapore’s (and Asia’s) largest cinema operators at the time.

Alhambra Cinema Hall / Gala Cinema Singapore

The space of the oddly shaped site was maximized through the design of a commercial podium block with shops distributed around corridors instead of atria. Atop the commercial podium is an office tower, sited at the junction of the two geometries. The car park begins on the third floor to free the first two commercial floors for street access without the need for expensive underground parking space. This vehicular circulation was achieved in an interesting way, with the parking ramp piercing through commercial space.

Shaw Towers Beach Road section

Replacing the two old theatres were two new cinemas, Prince and Jade. Unlike in multiplexes today where all halls are placed together, the two theatres were placed at opposite ends of the building, with their own box offices and foyers. This allowed them to operate as two discrete entities, distinguishing the smaller Jade cinema, which screened mainly first run films, from the larger Prince cinema, catering to popular tastes.

Shaw Towers Singapore exterior facade

Precast concrete panel fenestration allowed floor to ceiling glazing in the office units, to better exploit the building’s uninterrupted views towards the sea, greatly reduced by construction in the past 40 years. It still retains however, a clear perspectival vista down middle road, along with the rest of the commercial district, an ever-changing panorama.