May 29, 2024

Interconnected spaces in our historic shophouse office world

The whole idea of being in a heritage space is very exciting, as we get to build our own world on the inside of a shophouse, and be as versatile and adaptable as we want. 

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April 25, 2024

Worldbuilding future retail spaces in historic shophouses

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Guests at the Dior pop-up, held at the 4 Jiak Chuan shophouse.

These days, shophouses aren’t just for F&B establishments. The Afternaut is working with Meir Collective, a real estate investment and management company, who own multiple shophouses, and we’ve noticed a rising trend of high street and luxury brands opening up in shophouses in Singapore. The Coach Play Singapore Shophouse and House of Birkenstock opened to much excitement as they sprinkled a little magic onto our heritage shophouse rows.

At 4 Jiak Chuan Road, MEIR Collective was proud to welcome three very distinct brands into its threshold - DIOR, Shiseido, and Love Bonito, for pop-up launches. This sparked some excitement on the possibilities of shophouse spaces as mediums for brands to engage with customers in a unique way, outside of the usual shopping mall space.

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The interest in shophouses is still going strong and we think it will continue to do so, for as long as shophouses remain. Beyond just speaking about shophouses in terms of its monetary value, we decided to pen our thoughts here to discuss the deeper value of shophouses that we feel is the anchor for its consistent demand.

The Beauty of "Chancing Upon"

Shophouses are a platform for brands to build their own world outside of the world of the shopping mall and its rules. Instead of having to draw attention in a cluttered commercial space, the shophouse offers a quieter, charming experience. Customers can stumble upon brands situated in a historic, quaint enclave. The pleasant surprise of “chancing upon” a brand you did not expect to see in a heritage shophouse elevates the retail experience, arouses curiosity and helps to place brands in a different light.

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The entrance of Love, Bonito's pop up at 4 Jiak Chuan.

Being in a shophouse presents endless possibilities - brands can build any kind of world they want inside the shophouse, from an exclusive launch of a luxury product line to the celebration of a new marketing campaign. Here are three different campaigns that left their mark at MEIR’s Jiak Chuan shophouse:

The World of Dior

The World of Shiseido

The World of Love, Bonito

Leveraging our heritage to build meaningful spaces

Shopping malls may present homogeneous experiences - most of the time, the same few anchor tenants can be found in the malls around our tiny island. But shophouses are a unique Southeast Asian story of our shared history and culture. Anyone can build a shiny new shopping mall with sky gardens, water features and technological marvels, but to create a whole new world in a heritage shophouse that has been repurposed meaningfully is a satisfying accomplishment.

Heritage shophouses are the medium and platform to connect brands, investors, landlords and the community. More than just relics that we look upon through lenses of nostalgia, Afternaut and MEIR are repurposing pieces of Singapore's history to make them relevant, adaptable, and meaningful for present and future generations. The Afternaut too is building our own world in our new shophouse office at 71 Kampong Bahru, and we can’t wait to show it to you once it’s ready.

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September 26, 2023

‘Geylang Unfolded’ — Lighting a spark of growth in one of Singapore’s most historic and controversial neighbourhoods

Together with our partners, MEIR Collective, we are working to repurpose an important part of Singapore to make it relevant and meaningful for future generations.

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In the early evening hours of an ordinary Thursday, we and our partners at MEIR Collective gathered at the newly launched shophouse nestled in the corner of Lorong 27 alongside a small crowd of individuals, each with their own stake in Geylang. Our purpose was clear — to celebrate the start of an exciting new collaboration to placemake Geylang and to stir the imaginations of attendees.

What would Geylang look like, 50 years from today? What would you see strolling through the various lorongs? What kind of businesses or services would be operating in the district by then? Will the area still serve as an active red-light district?

For context, Geylang has gone through multiple changes over the years. The district began as a humble lemongrass plantation before transitioning into a commercial district lined with ornately carved shophouses. In the late 20th century, night crawlers began to prowl the streets and Geylang again transformed. This time, into a hub for “alternative activities”. Since then, the streets of Geylang would be bursting with eclectic energy and life after sunset.

However, this all changed when the pandemic hit. Restrictions and social distancing measures were imposed across the country and like a light switch, suddenly everything went off and the district was suddenly devoid of life. Geylang was transformed yet again.

Today, we stand at yet another crossroads now that the pandemic is over. Life is returning to the streets of Geylang but still, it is not the same as it was before. The old narrative of Geylang is but a distant memory in the minds of its inhabitants and a new one has yet to be formed. Before us, we saw an opportunity to reimagine the future of Geylang as businesses and communities begin to stir.

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At the session, we invited our guests to co-create a piece of AI art, with a focus on envisioning how Geylang will be like in 50 years. Each guest was given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the future of Geylang from their respective standpoints, be it that of a new or existing business, a resident, or a member of the local community at large. Much like how one peels the layers off the iconic Lapis Sagu, we peeled back the layers that make for Geylang’s eclectic charm and painted it — and its dwellers — with colour and vivacity.

The inputs from the activity were collated and loaded onto an AI art generator, MidJourney, to form the final art piece. Each guest was offered a fragment of the art piece in the form of an NFT.

Much to our amusement — but not to our surprise — food was on everyone’s mind. Durians in particular was a popular response in the activity, with one cheeky attendee suggesting that the future Geylang should have a durian museum.

Some attendees considered that perhaps placemaking Geylang would gentrify the area. However, this is not the typical neighbourhood rejuvenation project. In our efforts to change public perception of the neighbourhood, our approach will not be to sanitise the district. Rather, we seek to amplify the voices and narratives that already exist within the community, but are currently overshadowed by stereotypes of the red light district.

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Kok Yong, our Co-Founder, once told us, “Within Geylang, there is an entire community of regular people and families, businesses, clans, and religious groups — much like any other district in Singapore. These ordinary members of the community are worth celebrating.”

From our perspective, Geylang is more than just a supper spot or a hub for vice; it is a district with its own unique identity, community, and spirit.

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Our partners at MEIR Collective are of the same mind. Sebastian, Chief Placemaker of MEIR Collective, shared, “In developing the urban fabric of this cultural neighbourhood, MEIR Collective and the Afternaut intend to conserve Geylang’s unique heritage and flair while making it relevant and meaningful for future generations.”

Since embarking on this project, we have always kept in mind that our goal is to find balance between preserving Geylang’s unique heritage and sparking a community that is meaningful and relevant for Singaporeans today and in the future. After all, the initial spark that caught our attention was the rich and vibrant history of Geylang.

The launch party also featured an assortment of drinks and canapes with an Asian twist, kindly provided by newly launched cafe & the Hare — heritage brand JiXiang Confectionery’s first cafe concept.

The shophouse in which the party was held is one of the three properties in Geylang owned by MEIR Collective today. Besides this shophouse at 483 Geylang Road, MEIR Collective will also be launching another two developments at 211 and 465 Geylang Road in 2024, with the latter designed by the Afternaut Group.

More photos of the session here.

Visit our website and see our other stories here.

August 4, 2023

Why Placemaking in Geylang?

What sets one neighbourhood in Singapore apart from the other? For many Singaporeans, it’s the food. Prata from this neighbourhood, chicken rice from that one, satay from another one. But besides food, what else distinguishes neighbourhoods in Singapore from each other?

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March 10, 2023

What does it take to be a female leader in the design world?

We chat with Gwen Tan, Afternaut’s Design Principal. She shares her favourite projects with us, chats about questioning the status quo, and why she doesn’t have a project she calls her “greatest”.

Gwen is also Co-founder of Formwerkz, and Co-Founder/Principal Designer of interior design firm Studio iF. This interview was done as a special for International Women’s Day 2021.

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February 2, 2023

Placemaking to rejuvenate dead spaces

More than just an exhibition, the Zero One Tech Festival is a placemaking project that merges technology and sites with old uses into something valuable.

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December 19, 2022

How can we design living spaces for seniors

The topic of designing for the seniors is something close to our heart, as we have loved ones who are getting on in years and we want to ensure that they lead the best quality of life. What can we do to help them? These are some of our initial thoughts, questions, and what we’d like to do about it.

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November 19, 2022

Is the future of retail a services-only mall?

Talks about the future of retail and of decentralising shopping malls has been going on for a while now. But when developing Seedplaza, Afternaut didn’t want to just move the mall outside the city.

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The Afternaut Group Pte Ltd. 2024


The Afternaut Group Pte Ltd. 2024