Temasek Shophouse: Balancing Heritage Conservation and Urban Renewal

An Interview with:

Ivy Koh

Senior Principal Architect

Surbana Jurong Pte Ltd

Breathing new life into one of Orchard Road’s most striking heritage building, Temasek Shophouse is home to the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings – Temasek Trust.

Redesigned and repurposed for modern use, Temasek Shophouse was launched in 2019 as a 25,000-sq-ft co-working hub for social enterprises and “Cradle for Social Impact”.  Awarded the prestigious Green Mark GoldPLUS Award, Surbana Jurong provided multidisciplinary consultancy services for this project, including architecture, mechanical and electrical engineering, civil and structural engineering, quantity surveying, site survey as well as sustainability and resiliency solutions.

Ivy Koh, the project’s lead architect, shares the team’s challenges in the design and construction stages, and how work had to be aligned to an additional set of conservation guideline.

Q: Describe the original condition of the building when you first started the project.

A: The building was unoccupied for seven years when we took over the site, and the condition was not at its best. However, the structural condition was not too bad except for some spalling concrete observed on the beam and walls. Most of the decorative features were still intact with some degree of deterioration, and fenestrations were falling apart.

We also noticed that the original design has been altered prior to the shophouse being granted conservation status in Year 2000. The previous occupant added a new mezzanine level and covered the rear yard which created a dark interior, with areas of low headroom. There used to be a central void in the shophouse (not original) and it was cluttered with escalators and lift shaft. The main entrance was boarded up with metal shutters (refer to illustration A).

Illustration A. (Before taking over the site): Interiors with low headroom / central void with a cluster of escalators / uninviting frontage.

Q: What were three major changes that had to be made to the building to adapt it to its new function?

A: Envisioned to be a “Cradle for Social Impact”, it is a space to create the presence of a philanthropic entity in downtown Orchard that serves as catalyst for social and community activism.

With that in mind, the ground level was intended to be an open multi-purpose public space, the mezzanine floor will serve as a ground for collaboration between co-working partners, and the upper levels will house Temasek philanthropic companies

The first change was to create a more inviting entrance for the public and a sense of arrival.  This was done by restoring the first storey to its original height. The five-foot way was restored to its original ceiling height (refer to Illustration B) and existing mezzanine floor slab is modified accordingly. As a result, the space became brighter and more spacious.

The second major change was reinstating the rear façade, which faces Stamford Canal. Because of its visibility from Handy Road, with relatively high footfall traffic, it is therefore an important face of the shophouse. The existing blank wall was demolished to create an open garden, with a new inviting entrance. Instead of having a fully enclosed garden, we added a gate as the new entrance (refer to Illustration C).

The third change was the reconfiguration of floor slab. The new configuration created a grand void for visual connectivity.

Lastly, we converted the unused and inaccessible mechanical roof to a new garden terrace and meeting space.

Illustration B. Five-foot way restored to original ceiling height.
Illustration C. The reinstated rear façade, with aesthetic appeal and a welcoming entrance.

Q: What were the three biggest challenges when it came to its restoration, and how did the team overcame them?

A: The biggest challenge would have to be “site constraint”. Being on Orchard Road, there is no direct vehicular ingress to site. Orchard road is a no-stop zone and there is a permanent bus lane at the door step of the shophouse. Goods movement in and out from site was also a logistical challenge.

The Land Transport Authority then (LTA) granted approval for partial road closure during certain hours at night.  Hence, all waste disposal was done only during those hours. The rest of activities such as proper logistics planning must then be managed and implemented carefully.

The adjacent buildings were at least 60 years old, and they required thorough and continuous monitoring during construction. Additionally, the lift sits within 2 metre of the MRT 1st reserve line.

There is not much information about the original building design to fully understand how the building works. Most of the records focus on the external spaces and was back-dated to the 1950s. In order to understand the shophouse’s original design, we engaged Julian Davison, a leading historian specialized in Singapore building history. He wrote an extensive report on the owners (And yes! The building was owned by more than one person), original architect, the building plans and the prevalent architectural style during the original building construction. This indeed helped us to understand the building better.

Q: Which parts of the original building were conserved and why?

A: The external architecture elements is the identity of the building. Apart from being a recognizable feature in Orchard Road, the ornamentation shows the building’s original intent. The front façade shows a blend of Neo-Classical and Art Deco style, indicating that the building might have been built in the 1920s (this is confirmed on records found by Julian Davison).

On top of the two façade, we conserved the original concrete spiral staircase. The steps and balusters were carefully restored, painted (to highlight the dynamic shape), and illuminated to create a grand elevation.

For the interiors, we restored the spatial quality by opening the false ceiling. The once covered set of fanlights now brings in more daylight and brighten up the interior space (refer to Illustration D).

Illustration D. Conserving the original concrete spiral staircase and restoring the original interior spatial quality.

Q: Describe your interior design concept for the project.

A: Given this unique site, the interior design of the Temasek Shophouse is largely influenced by the distinct Art Deco architectural style of the building. The team took this element which is reflective of its heritage and roots, and reimagined it through modern lens. The team aimed to bring across a design that is true to the building’s origin while still projecting a spirit of optimism for the space.

Upon entering the Shophouse, one is greeted with an open Atrium that links levels one, one mezzanine, through two. Being the heart of the Shophouse, this open Atrium (with a cafe on the ground floor) allows staff and users to feel linked with the community spirit and activities that happen in this voluminous event space. Anchoring the Atrium are key features of an art-deco inspired screen spanning 3 storeys, integrated with a lush green wall, which aims to bring nature closer to staff and users. A distinctively designed and large art-deco inspired light feature suspends above the Atrium.

Offices, meeting rooms and lounge spaces are designed for flexible usage.

Pockets of green are introduced throughout the Shophouse to provide encounters with nature on every level. A bright palette is selected to complement the space that lets in natural light. The design team also continues to maintain art deco design details, recognisable by streamlined aesthetics to smaller details such as signage design. Meaningful art pieces and a collection of furniture made from recycled waste materials are introduced in selected spaces to also reflect the Foundation’s values and beliefs.

Q: The building has been awarded the Green Mark GoldPLUS Award. What are some of the features that enabled this to happen?

A: Stringent selection of energy-saving M&E equipment enables the building to operate more sustainably. On top of that, we changed all the glazing to have suitable u-value and shading coefficient.

We have also deliberately designed the spaces for natural light to flow through, reducing the reliance on artificial lighting (refer to Illustration E).

The use of hybrid cooling system including conventional fans, coupled with air-conditioning system helps to reduce the total energy consumption for cooling.

Programmatically, we have designed spaces for a sustainable lifestyle as well. There are green inspired arts, recycling centre, as well as sensor-activated lighting for restrooms and staircases.

Illustration E. Work spaces with natural daylight reduce the need for artificial lighting. And the use of hybrid cooling systems, including conventional fans, help in the reduction of energy consumption.

Q: Finally, what are some of your advice that you would give to designers embarking on conservation projects? 

A: A thorough study and examination of the existing building design and history is important. It serves to guide the design intervention. One should be respectful of the original design intent and spirit of the architecture. However, conservation is not about restoring the building to its original design. The design should focus on enhancing the heritage value of the architecture and make the building spaces relevant to current times. With that, the longevity of the building could be extended.

Temasek Shophouse has been conferred the 2019 Award for Restoration at the URA Architectural Heritage Awards, that recognises exemplary restoration of gazetted heritage buildings.

 Special thanks to the following divisions which have provided multidisciplinary consultancy services for this project:

  • Architecture
  • Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Quantity Surveying
  • Site Surveying
  • Sustainability and Resiliency Solutions


All photo credit: Temasek Shophouse. Hero image by Stillusion

This article was first published in Design and Architecture and is edited by SJ Academy for Perspectives, Surbana Jurong website.

Temasek Shophouse wins 2019 URA Architectural Heritage Awards

Award for Restoration recognises exemplary restoration of gazetted heritage buildings

Front Facade of Temasek Shophouse

Singapore, 22 October 2019 – Temasek Shophouse has been awarded the 2019 Award for Restoration at the annual URA Architectural Heritage Awards, that recognises exemplary restoration of gazetted heritage buildings. The restoration project was commended for adhering to the three ‘R’ principles of maximum retention, sensitive restoration and careful repair.

Surbana Jurong is the lead multidisciplinary consultant for the project and is involved in the general space planning and architectural design, with Asylum coordinating the bulk of the interior design.

Garden Entrance of Temasek Shophouse

Built in 1928, the gazetted building was unoccupied for nine years and in a state of disrepair. The challenge was to restore the original character of the shophouse that had two distinct architectural languages; Neo-Classical and Edwardian on the building facades. Refurbishment work was done over 18 months to carefully preserve the unique appearances and long history of the shophouse. Attention was also paid towards selecting sustainable materials for the restoration, as well as utilising natural light and LED light fixtures. For their green efforts, the building obtained the BCA Green Mark GoldPlus for existing buildings.

“We thank URA for recognizing the efforts behind the restoration. Temasek Shophouse was initiated by Temasek back in 2017 to transform the unoccupied conservation shophouses into a social impact hub right at the heart of Orchard Road. Managed by Temasek Trust, Temasek Shophouse is a gift from Temasek to the community. As a cradle for social impact to advance sustainability and achieve common good for the community, this award gives affirmation to the teams behind the project as we build a place where purposeful hardware and heartware come together,” said Yvonne Tay, Director of Temasek Shophouse.

“The shophouse had witnessed several key milestones in Singapore’s history, and Surbana Jurong is honoured to be given the opportunity to breathe new life to an otherwise forgotten building. The Award for Restoration at the 2019 URA Architectural Heritage Awards is a recognition of our capabilities in restoration works and we hope to continue to play a key role in preserving the heritage of Singapore’s colonial buildings,” said Yeo Choon Chong, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore, Surbana Jurong.

“We are pleased to see the preservation and adaptive reuse of this conserved State property into a co-working space that supports both business and philanthropy. We welcome more of such innovative proposals for State properties that optimise land use and benefit the community,” said Yap Eai-Sy, SLA Director of Business Planning and Development.

Into its 25th year, the annual Awards aim to promote public awareness and appreciation of quality restoration of National Monuments and conserved buildings in Singapore.

As part of URA’s Architectural Heritage Season, Temasek Shophouse will be open for a public tour on Saturday, 9 November 2019. All interested parties are required to register in advance. Find out more details below, or from

For photos of Temasek Shophouse, please refer to this link. Please credit the photos to Temasek Shophouse.

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About Temasek Trust

Established in 2007, Temasek Trust is an independent Trustee of philanthropic endowments and gifts. Its purpose is to ensure sustainable funding for the long term well-being and security of our communities. Our work supports our beneficiaries to uplift people, communities, and capabilities and to rebuild lives. Temasek Trust provides governance and financial oversight for its beneficiaries which include the Temasek Foundations and Stewardship Asia Centre. The Trust serves to create new pathways for philanthropy and to inspire and enable giving.

About Temasek Shophouse

Temasek Shophouse is gifted by Temasek to Temasek Trust as a cradle for social impact that seeks to encourage, enhance and elevate initiatives and activities that contribute towards the common good. Nestled along downtown Orchard in a heritage building constructed in 1928, its facilities today include an event space and an embedded social enterprise café, a rooftop garden, co-working spaces, meeting and function rooms, and offices for the staff from the Temasek Trust, Temasek Foundation, and Stewardship Asia Centre.

About Surbana Jurong

Surbana Jurong is one of the largest Asia-based urban, infrastructure and management services consulting firms, with close to 70 years of track record in successful project delivery. Headquartered in Singapore, the Surbana Jurong Group of companies comprises SMEC and Robert Bird Group in Australia, Sino Sun in China, AETOS, KTP and SAA in Singapore and B+H in Canada.

Our global talent pool of over 16,000 employees from more than 120 offices in over 40 countries worldwide includes architects, designers, planners, engineers and other specialists, who are driven by progressive thinking and creative ideas to help shape a better future.

Our technical experts deliver best-in-class solutions that cover the entire project life cycle from planning and design, through to delivery and management, and even decommissioning and closure. We provide a full suite of consultancy services across a diverse range of sectors such as aviation, healthcare, hospitality, transport, water and environment, energy and resources.

With a wealth of experience, we have built more than a million homes in Singapore, crafted master plans for more than 30 countries and developed over 100 industrial parks globally, building homes and designing cities that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable, empowering communities to thrive.

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Annex A: Heritage building refurbishment of Temasek Shophouse

Temasek Shophouse covers a site area of 835 square metres, with a floor area of 2,334 square metres. Visitors will immediately be drawn to an interior green wall of locally grown flora upon entry. There are also outdoor gardens attracting butterflies, birds and bees, as well as carefully conserved features such as outdoor spiral staircases and lighting which accentuate the building’s historical façade at night.

The refurbishment of this heritage building, which has been unoccupied for nine years, was done over 18 months to sensitively preserve the façade and character of the building’s history. Its renovation is inspired by conservation and biophilic design.

The building was constructed in 1928 as part of the post-war development plans for Orchard Road. It was gazetted for conservation in 2000 for its rich and diverse architectural style, ranging from ornate and decorative classical features to a modern Art Deco style.

Biophilic design, or designing with nature, takes centre stage when refurbishing the Temasek Shophouse. Led by Surbana Jurong, great efforts have been made to creatively incorporate natural elements into the three-storey shophouses.

Upon entering the Temasek Shophouse, visitors are greeted by a green wall created for its ability to clean the air by reducing dust, carbon dioxide and sound abatement. Housing some 27 plant varieties, a special microclimate cooling system was also installed to help the flora thrive in the urban space.

Temasek Shophouse seeks to increase the biodiversity within a small footprint, and especially to mimic a habitat within a rainforest in the tropics. In consultation with urban greening specialist Greenology, more than 100 different local species of plants and trees were planted during the refurbishment of the building.

The Temasek Shophouse was awarded the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark GoldPlus Award for its efficient ventilation system, energy saving system, smart water system, use of sustainable building materials and furnishings, and greenery living.






Interior design inspired by nature

Designed by Asylum, the interior of Temasek Shophouse is largely influenced by the distinct Art Deco architectural style of the building.

Visitors entering the Temasek Shophouse are greeted with an open Atrium that connects Level 1 and Level 1 Mezzanine, through to Level 2. As the heart of Temasek Shophouse, this open Atrium with its lush green wall, aims to bring nature closer to guests.

Recognised by its streamlined aesthetics, an Art Deco-inspired light feature suspends above the Atrium as a distinct centrepiece, bringing ambient lighting and a warm environment to welcome guests. A café sits on Level 1 – a centre for community gathering and budding ground for Temasek Shophouse, a cradle for social impact.

The design team aims to reflect the building’s heritage and beauty through the design process and further reimagine it with modern lenses – all the while staying true to the building’s origin and projecting a spirit of optimism to the interior space. Pockets of green and natural light are introduced throughout the Temasek Shophouse, including washrooms, for one to be close to nature on every level. A bright colour palette is selected to complement the nature within the space.

Offices, meeting rooms and lounge spaces are designed for organic use. Furthermore, meeting rooms are named after native bird species to amplify the biophilic design concept.

● On Level 1 – Bulbul and Dove
● On Level 1 Mezzanine – Flameback, Heron, Kingfisher, Koel and RedShank
● On Level 2 – Sunbird and Swallow
● On Level 3 – Sparrow and Starling
● Sky Garden – Hornbill


Curated art pieces and a collection of furniture made from recycling waste materials can be found in selected spaces to reflect Temasek Shophouse’s values and beliefs.

Credit all photos to: Temasek Shophouse