Jan 27, 2011

2nd Shot: The Real Shophouses of Bugis Junction

Bugis Junction 1991
The future Bugis Junction looking from direction of Rochor Road. The real shophouses were demolished and rebuilt as Bugis Junction.

Map of Bugis Junction
The four streets to be designated "Bugis Junction". They were later expunged from the street directory and rebuilt inside Bugis Junction.

When Bugis Junction was completed in 1995, I must have been fascinated. Here was a new shopping mall with an interesting twist - four shopping streets flanked by shophouses and under a glass cover, a first in Singapore. 15 years later with no major alteration to the facade, the place still teems with people and Bugis MRT Station gets pretty crowded because of that. They must have done it right with Bugis Junction because when the idea was replicated at Far East Square, I could not see not a single soul on weekends.

Around 2004, I conceived the idea of precision heritage photography (the name "second shot" came much later) and Bugis Junction was one of the first few projects. Officially as I told the press, my first project was the sook ching inspection center along North Bridge Road. Bugis Junction was a fun project because rain or shine, I would return day after day, week after week to get the "perfect shot". In most cases it was impossible and even meaningless as I learnt later the original shophouses were actually demolished and what we see today are the sanitized re-creations. I must have noticed the sleight of hand as the original shophouses from archival photos have a different facade which run contrary to the spirit of conservation.

Malay Street
The best second shot in my Bugis Junction project that was used by the press for the interview. This was the old Malay Street. The irritating banners hanging from the glass ceiling were missing, thankfully. Note the alignment of Shaw Towers behind North Bridge Commercial Complex.

If we look at the kind of shoppers in Bugis Junction today, it is highly probable most of them have no recollection of the original Bugis Junction. I speak for myself here. I had no considerable interest in it until I learnt that the area was an enclave for Japanese prostitutes in the early years of the last century. The prostitutes spilled over to nearby Tan Quee Lan St where I also did a second shot, but I think those were ethnic Chinese.

Malay Street
Junction of Malay Street and Hylam Street. I read somewhere the lady sitting along the five-foot way was a Japanese prostitute and the big No.26 above the doorway was a clue.

Bugis Street - North Bridge Road
The old intersection of Bugis Street and North Bridge Road. The shophouses were demolished to make way for Bugis Junction and the hedges.

From what I have shown so far, it is clear they have not faithfully replicated the facade from the old shophouses to the new shophouse-themed buildings. In fact they did not even re-create a Bugis Street inside Bugis Junction like what they have done for its sister streets. What was once the most famous street in "Bugis Junction" is today a carpark entrance, a ticket counter and a gathering place for shoppers. It took me a while to figure out the location of the infamous toilet in today's Bugis Junction and hopefully I'm close.

All is not lost though. If you are observant, you will not miss the re-creation of several shophouses at their original location. Next time when you walk along Malabar and Hylam streets inside Bugis Junction, check out these original re-creations.

Malabar Street
Malabar Street

Hylam Street
Hylam Street


Thimbuktu said...

Awesome blog and great shots, Icemoon.

Thanks for sharing your personal experience to capture the memories of Bugis Street over the years with patience and focus with the magic of your unseen before second-shot photography on you blog.

I appreciate to have a link to this blog on 3D Blog - Bugis Street. A different and separate pespective though. Thank you.


Icemoon said...

Easily done, James!

Thimbuktu said...

Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration on this blog on Bugis Junction, Icemoon.

I've posted a supplementary blog on "3-D blog: Bugis Street (Place)" with a link to related post at your awesome and thorough, patient, painstaking research and photography of then and now. Great social history blog as featured in your "mypaper" published recently!

F said...

I'm so glad I found this blog! And thank you so much for linking to mine. Great post on the Bugis Street area; I'm there often and didn't know too much about it.


Icemoon said...

Hi Flora, love your blog first time I see it. I have read blogs written by fellow Singaporeans but it is refreshing to read one written by someone not born and bred in Singapore!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing. I used to stay in Malay Street and have fond memories.

Eva said...

This is beautiful, and so interesting to see! Thank you for putting this post together.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the blog. Fascinating to see and learn - and useful. I have a page of David Bowie in Singapore (1983) which we think has some old shots of this area. Please visit: