Renewal and redevelopment are words that some in Singapore dread hearing. They often translate to the loss of places we lived in or grew up with, and the break-up of communities associated with those places. One such place that will soon join the growing list of disappearing communities is Rochor Centre (photographs below). One of several city-centre podium complexes put up by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) from the mid-1970s into the 1980s, it seems to have served its purpose and will now have to make way so that an underground expressway can be built.
Fading light, Rochor Centre, May 2016.
Many will remember the complex for the multi-coloured coat of paint it has in more recent times been given. For much of its 39 year history however, it has worn a less attention grabbing coat, looking its part as an aesthetically unappealing mid-1970s public housing development, lost in the confused clutter of structures built to replace the one-time shophouse dominated landscape of the area.
Rochor Centre in less colourful days (source: Online Forum / Berita Harian)
Built in a hurry to take in residents and businesses being displaced by the huge wave of redevelopment that was sweeping across the city, mixed-use podium complexes sprouted in double quick time across densely populated districts of the city. A feature of such complexes is the multi-level podium block in which shop and office lots, or in some instances, wet markets and food centres are housed. Residential blocks of flats, built in the same mould as the HDB flats of those days, sit on top of the podiums with the well-proportioned podium roof decks providing space to serve residents’ recreational and social needs.
Rochor Centre features a podium with three levels of shop lots.
As is typical of HDB podium developments = the roof deck of the podium provides space for the recreational needs of the residents.
A kindergarten at roof deck level.
One of the larger complexes in the area, the diverse mix of businesses that Rochor Centre’s podium housed, brought much more of a buzz to it than nearby complexes such as Bras Basah Complex and Waterloo Centre. Both the latter complexes housed a concentration of specialised trades; bookstores, stationery shop and watch dealers from the North Bridge Road and Bras Basah Road area in the case of Bras Basah, and motor spare parts dealers from the Rochor area in the case of Waterloo.
Not the first supermarket at Rochor Centre, the Fairprice outlet, which is still operating, will be one of the last shops to go.
Rochor Centre, after its completion in 1977, saw three banks, POSB, DBS and Tat Lee, set up shop. A branch of Oriental Emporium and its supermarket also moved in, as did a post office, which shifted from Queen Street. There were also many other shops, food outlets, pawnshops, goldsmith shop and due to its proximity to the popular Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple down Waterloo Street, shops dealing with religious offerings. While many shops and businesses came and went over the year, there are several that either kept relevant or managed to adapt to changing times that have stayed on.
Another of the original occupants of the shop lots – Tenpo Goldsmith and Jewellers, showing obvious signs of adapting to changing times.
A reminder of the centre’s DBS Bank branch – one of the original occupants of the podium block.
With the death knell being sounded on Rochor Centre, much of the buzz it was once known for has been replaced by a deafening silence. Having been acquired by the government in November 2011 as its stands in the way of the construction of the future North-South Expressway, many of its occupants have moved out well ahead of the third quarter 2016 deadline to vacate the complex.
Many businesses have moved well in advance of the deadline to vacate.
The emptiness and silence that has replaced the buzz.
Demolition is expected to start soon after its last tenants move out and all that will remain of it will be memories; memories that, as with those of the flood-prone but colourful Hokchia dominated neighbourhood that occupied the site before Rochor Centre, time will surely erase.
A site soon to be recycled.
Possession Notice pasted on the door of a residential unit.
What occupied the site before Rochor Centre:
Rochor Centre was built over a neighbourhood with streets such as Tiwary Street, Muar Road and Angullia Road. Despite the diverse origins of its street names, the area where members of the Hokchia (also Futsing or Fuqing) community settled into. Many in the community found work as trishaw riders or coolies and as with others involved in the trades, found solace in opium and in gambling. The area, as a result, gained notoriety for its opium and gambling dens.
An extract of a street map of the area, 1969 (source: SLA Singapore Historical Map).
Parting Glances: Photographs of Rochor Centre in its last days
Daybreak over Rochor Centre on which the sun will soon set.
Last flights at sunrise.
A last collection.
A last morning walk.
A last walk to kindergarten.
A last ride.
A last wait.
The last roasts.
A last cup of coffee.
A last breakfast.
A last customer.
A last reflection.
A last elevator ride.
A last check of the letterbox.
A last Christmas.
A last Chinese New Year.
A last wash.
Last poles of laundry.
A last offering.
A last reunion dinner.
A last Chinese New Year visit.
A last ride.
A last hamper.
A last mail delivery.
A last delivery.
A last look at the basement.
A last look before the colours fade.
A last twilight.