Find out how technology can be designed for ageing strata malls to connect them to a younger generation
Shop at familiar names such as Hup Kee Centre, which has supplied traditional Chinese wedding offerings in the Beauty World area since the 1920s. Or catch an opera on a stage recalling the 1940s when Beauty World was home to an amusement park.
Welcome to “Beauty Meta World”, a virtual version of the Beauty World Centre shopping mall dreamt up by Spatial Anatomy.
Since 2018, the design firm led by Calvin Chua has been researching such developments consisting of individually owned property units. While the ownership structure has created unique malls, many are threatened today by the rise of single-developer malls. Inspired by the transformation of similar developments overseas, such as the recent transformation of the 1970s Sewoon Sangga in Seoul into a creative manufacturing hub, Calvin set out to reimagine strata malls in Singapore for his Good Design Research (GDR) project.
“The everyday culture of strata malls is what originally attracted us. There are many shops that cannot be found in them as compared to developer-managed malls,” he says.
Based on an analysis of strata malls and interviews with various stakeholders, Spatial Anatomy developed a five-pronged framework to assess the health of such malls that went beyond traditional measures of financial returns and visitorship. They also consider its internal management, funding structure, programmes, public amenities and logistic operations. These shape a mall’s “spirit, structure and site”, which are its identity, physical environment and urban context respectively. This framework was translated into a tool kit to help owners in strata malls explore all possibilities of regeneration or even demolishment.
After their GDR mentor shared how retailers were venturing into Web 3.0 technologies such as the metaverse, Calvin and the team started exploring its relevance to their project. It led to their Beauty Meta World prototype that seeks to preserve the community in Beauty World Centre and their many colourful stories. Such virtualisation helps keep alive the “spirit” of a mall when its owners decide to demolish its “structure”, ensuring the next generation could experience Beauty World and even create new content for it.
The exploration into Web 3.0 has piqued Calvin’s interest in how else it could be relevant to strata malls. For instance, the technologies’ decentralised nature could be an inspiration for new models of strata ownership, such as giving tenants a say in how such properties can be regenerated.
“The project has complemented our interest in strata malls by taking a broader approach and a more strategic angle,” he says. “It was very illuminating to look at it from so many different ways and it has opened doors.”
Tenants have also responded positively to the potential of new technologies in using them to connect with the younger generation.
“We see our platform having the possibility of sparking interest in mall heritage and drawing younger visitors to these shops,” Calvin adds. “In our conversations, the tenants were keen to use it to share their shop’s history and products.”