Bringing Buzz To Bras Basah.Bugis

An NHB team is making the precinct the “It” place for culture and the arts.
Bugis Street Exterior, by Teoh Yi Chie (Urban Sketchers Singapore).

For 12 days in February, shoppers at Bugis Junction were greeted by two massive, gaping “holes” in the ground.

If they weren’t careful, they would step right into those “holes” – and land on top of the dome of the Singapore National Museum. Or find themselves in a Bugis ship, holding a conversation with a parakeet.

That is, if their imagination were as vivid as Joe Hill’s. He is the internationally renowned street artist responsible for the “holes”, which are colourful, 3-D drawings that look incredibly realistic at certain angles.

If the shoppers had acted like giggly kids as they spun on the tip of the dome like ballerinas, or swashbuckled like captains of a ship, they could blame their brief loss of cool on the National Heritage Board (NHB)’s Bras Basah and Bugis (BBB) Precinct Development Unit.

The Unit had brought in Hill and his interactive pavement art. Newly formed in January as a result of a reorganization within NHB , the Unit is staffed by officers in their thirties.

They’ve been tasked to make BBB a place where the young and the creative can converge 24/7 to seed new ideas, against the rich cultural and historical backdrop of the precinct.

Making it unique

Precinct development, explains Jason Chan, the Unit’s Assistant Director, is about building a stronger identity for precincts (districts reserved for a purpose) and making them more vibrant with their own “flavours".

Orchard Road, for instance, is marketed as the nation’s shopping strip while Chinatown and Little India boast rich ethnic offerings. The aim now is to make BBB , already known to some Singaporeans as an arts and culture hub, even more distinctive and appealing to a wider audience.

Street artist Joe Hill (right) and a passer-by on the artist’s 3-D painting of a Bugis ship at Bugis Junction in February 2012. Picture by BBB Precinct Development Unit.
View from Black 231, Bain Street by Teoh Yi Chie (Urban Sketchers Singapore)

The Joe Hill 3-D street art, for example, certainly added buzz to the precinct’s streetscape as some 70,000 people snapped pictures, with many of them spreading the news through social networks.

It was good for art and heritage, and good for the venue owner – a win-win situation the Unit hopes to replicate in the future.

“My role is to create synergies between the partners involved,” says Mr Chan, who has been busy reaching out to as many as 50 stakeholders including arts groups, businesses, educational institutions and religious groups.

It was good for art and heritage, and good for the venue owner – a win-win situation the Unit hopes to replicate in the future.

That means bringing various parties to the table to talk and collaborate as a precinct, instead of stakeholders going solo.

“If we have 10 partners, instead of having 10 sporadic events, why not have one main event that showcases everyone? It is good marketing,” he explains.

Take, for instance, an art gallery opening. “NHB can come in, to find like-minded partners to make it a bigger programme under the whole precinct’s ambit,” he says.

CHIJMES by Paul Wang.
Bras Basah Complex by Paul Wang. All sketches can be found at Urban Sketchers Singapore.

Bridging conversations

A key role for Mr Chan is to act as a bridge between stakeholders who are collaborating for the first time. This involves, for example, finding middle ground between an artist’s ideals and a venue owner’s pragmatic concerns and aesthetic preferences, so that discussions aren’t lost in translation or frustration.

This helps to make things happen without “losing too much of the integrity of the intended project,” he explains.

Although NHB is helming BBB’s development, Mr Chan says the aim is to instil greater ownership within the BBB community so that more ground-up initiatives take off.

“We’re looking to launch an online portal [for BBB] to encourage community engagement,” he says.

The idea is to give the BBB community a platform to contribute pictures or short videos, an avenue to market events, or simply an opportunity to catalyse online conversations that could lead to real-life collaboration.

Which could only mean one thing: more fun for anyone coming to this part of town.

Some BBB Projects

  • Walk Singapore: Bras Basah.Bugis, an app for smartphones and tablets, gives users the lowdown on the history and significance of Singapore’s national monuments, museums and landmarks in the area.
  • NHB collaborated with a team of varsity students to create Singapore Footprints, an interactive and experiential free walking tour to tell the many stories and quirky historical facts of the ’hood.
  • The annual Night Festival is an anchor event for the BBB precinct. The festival is an evening outdoor showcase of spectacular light installations and performances created in and around the precinct. From August 24-25 and August 31-September 1, 2012.

For updates on the latest in BBB, “Like” the BBB fanpage at

    Jul 16, 2012
    Bridgette See
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