Handy Road: Where amenities, the arts and urban parks converge

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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August 5, 2021 10:00 PM SGT
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The Atrium at Orchard office block, linked to the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station and Plaza Singapura shopping mall, with MacDonald House and UBS headquarters at 9 Penang Road nearby.
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - British expatriate C Young and her partner lived in a condominium in the Newton Road neighbourhood when they first moved to Singapore. But they moved to a newly completed condominium in Mount Sophia, and then to a condominium on Handy Road a few years ago. (See also: Handy Road-Mount Sophia area could get a lift from CDL’s future launch)
She likes the proximity of the Handy Road area to the arts and heritage district, with the Singapore Art Museum, National Museum, National Library, Objectifs — Centre for Photography and Film, as well as the many art galleries and art shops along Middle Road and Bencoolen Street.
“It was just 100 steps to Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station, and Plaza Singapura has everything you need — cinema, practical shops like banks, pharmacy, mobile stores,” she adds. “Everything was within walking distance.” It also helps that the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station is an interchange for three lines, namely North-South Line, North-East Line and Circle Line.
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Prior to the pandemic, Young and her partner would attend movie screenings at Fort Canning Green, art exhibitions and shows at the Singapore Repertory Theatre, as well as the Singapore Grand Prix.
The cluster of malls in the Somerset area, such as 313@Somerset, Orchard Central, Orchard Gateway and The Centrepoint, are just a short walk away, or one stop from Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station. Just off Peranakan Place on Orchard Road are the rows of conserved shophouses and terraced houses of Emerald Hill Road, many owned by the wealthy, old Peranakan families. Some of the shophouses closer to Peranakan Place and Orchard Road have been turned into F&B outlets.
The attraction of the Handy Road-Mount Sophia area is that it is nestled between Orchard Road and the arts and heritage district. “It’s like living in a small gated community,” she says.
That stretch of Orchard Road around the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station is different from the rest of Orchard Road: Instead of being flanked on either side by shopping malls and hotels, it has wide open spaces and parks. There are also a number of national monuments in the area, for instance, MacDonald House, Temasek Shophouse and SMA House.
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Dhoby Ghaut Green - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Dhoby Ghaut Green, a landscaped park above the Dhoby Ghaut MRT interchange station (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

‘Continuous green oasis’

Under the Master Plan 2019, URA intends to enhance the connections between the open spaces to create “a continous green oasis”, starting from Istana Park to Dhoby Ghaut Green (the green lawn above Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station, directly in front of the new office building at 9 Penang Road).
One possibility is to pedestrianise this section of Orchard Road, according to the URA Master Plan. This will allow the existing green spaces to be linked with the surrounding developments, and open more spaces for activities in the area. These include family-friendly features and children’s play areas, as well as a sheltered event space. The Istana Park could be turned into themed gardens.
Turning Orchard Road into an urban green corridor is a recollection of its heritage when it was an area of mainly fruit orchards, nutmeg plantations and pepper farms in the 1830s.
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Rejuvenation

The landmark that signifies the end of Orchard Road and the start of the arts and heritage district is The Cathay. The original building, called Cathay Building, was built by Cathay Organisation founder Loke Wan Tho in 1939. Designed by English architect Frank Brewer, Cathay Building opened in 1941, and at 16 storeys, it was the first skyscraper in Singapore, as well as the first air-conditioned cinema and the first cinema to screen American and British films in Singapore. During the Japanese Occupation, it was occupied by the Japanese military information bureau; and after the war, the building became the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, Louis Mountbatten, until February 1949.
The current mixed-use complex is a redevelopment of the former Cathay Building in 1999, to the tune of $100 million, The art deco façade of the former building has been retained. The new complex was designed by Japanese American architect Paul Tange of Tange Associates.
Rejuvenation is taking place elsewhere too. On Penang Road, the former Park Mall at 9 Penang Road has been redeveloped into a nine-storey office building, which now serves as UBS Southeast Asia headquarters. Also along Penang Road is Regency House, with serviced apartments by Far East Hospitality. The property has been refurbished and will be rebranded.
Faber House, located along Orchard Road (between Design Orchard and Orchard OG), will be redeveloped into a 250-key hotel, according to UOL Group in April. Nearby, The Heeren, located at the junction of Orchard Road and Cairnhill Road, will see Courts Singapore’s flagship store taking up the space vacated by Robinsons department store.
The Cathay - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The Cathay is the landmark that signifies the end of Orchard Road and the start of the Arts district (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Mount Sophia residential enclave

The Cathay is at the foot of Mount Sophia, which was one of Singapore’s earliest middle-class residential neighbourhoods in the 1800s. Early residents were said to include William Flint, who was appointed by Stamford Raffles as Singapore’s first master attendant; Theodor August Behn and Valentin Lorenz Meyer, two merchants from Hamburg who co-founded trading company Behn, Meyer & Co; as well as Eu Tong Seng, a leading businessman in the 19th century and early 20th century, who was involved in tin mining and rubber plantation, and founded Eu Yan Sang traditional Chinese medicine shops. Eu Tong Sen Street was named after him.
Mount Sophia was originally known as Bukit Selegie. Adjacent to it is the former Bukit Rawa, which was renamed Mount Emily. Charles Robert Prinsep purchased Mount Sophia, and by 1840, had established a huge nutmeg and coffee plantation on the hill and the surrounding areas. In 1959, Prinsep subdivided his estate into lots for sale.
In 1996, the area around Mount Sophia was acquired for the development of the nearby North-East MRT Line. Under the 2008 Master Plan, the Mount Sophia area was zoned for residential development. However, URA conserved 80 buildings in the Mount Sophia area due to their heritage value.
The Mount Sophia area has since been redeveloped into low-rise apartments and condominiums. The biggest development at Mount Sophia is the 493-unit Sophia Hills by Hoi Hup Realty, which includes the conservation of three heritage buildings: the chapel of the former Trinity Theological College that was built in 1969; the Olson Building of the former Methodist Girls’ School that was built in 1928; and the former Nan Hwa Girls’ High School, which opened in 1941. The former chapel has been repurposed as a restaurant, while the former Olson Building has been turned into a residents’ clubhouse and the former Nan Hwa Girls’ building is now a childcare centre.
The Singapore Management University - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The Singapore Management University campus extends from Bras Basah Road to Stamford Road, Victoria Street and Armenian Street (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

The arts and heritage district

Many educational and religious institutions had their origins in Mount Sophia, for instance, Trinity Theological College, which opened at Mount Sophia in 1948, and has since moved to Upper Bukit Timah Road. Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), which moved to Mount Sophia in 1953, has relocated to its current premises at Bencoolen Street. Methodist Girls’ School was founded in 1887 and was located at Mount Sophia before moving to Blackmore Drive in 1993. Its former premises at Mount Sophia was then occupied by The Singapore Hotel Association Training & Educational Centre (Shatec) and St Francis Methodist School. Shatec has since moved to Bukit Batok, while St Francis Methodist School has moved to Upper Bukit Timah Road. Nan Hwa Girls’ High School was at Adis Road from 1941 to 1982, when it relocated to Clementi Avenue 1.
The Bras Basah-Bugis precinct has developed into the arts, heritage and civic district of Singapore. It is not only populated by museums and national monuments such as the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and the Armenian Church of St Gregory, but it is also where the arts schools are. The School of the Arts (Sota) is located at Zubir Said Road, next to The Cathay. Nafa is on Bencoolen Street, and will become University of Arts by 2023, following its alliance with LaSalle College of the Arts, which is also nearby at McNally Street, off Prinsep Street.
Singapore Management University’s city campus, which extends from Bras Basah Road to Victoria Street, Stamford Road and Armenian Street, has further enhanced the vibrancy of the area, with its large student population.
Haus on Handy - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Artist’s impression of the 188-unit Haus on Handy, which is scheduled for completion in July 2023. It sits on the last development site on Handy Road (Photo: City Developments)

Latest and final residential project

Handy Road is a short road on the edge of Mount Sophia. Since 2006, it has become a little enclave of upscale residential developments. There are only four relatively boutique developments along the road fronted by The Cathay, which is at 2 Handy Road. Next to The Cathay is The Luxe, a boutique development with just 20 apartments for lease, which was completed in 2007. Nomu, with just 50 apartments, was launched for sale in 2006 and completed in 2009. The 118-unit Suites at Orchard was completed in 2014.
The last site along Handy Road was sold to City Developments (CDL) in January 2019, after it emerged at the top of 10 bids received. The developer paid $212.2 million or $1,722 psf per plot ratio for the 51,626 sq ft site. CDL is developing a 188-unit condominium that includes the Tower House of the former Methodist Girls’ School. Located at the pinnacle of Mount Sophia, the Tower House is a double-storey bungalow built in 1892. CDL will be conserving the bungalow, and turning it into a resident’s clubhouse.
Launched in July 2019, CDL has sold 40 units at an average price of $2,841 psf to date, based on caveats lodged with URA Realis as at Aug 3. The development has a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom premium and dual-key units, with sizes ranging from 420 to 980 sq ft. CDL will provide a covered walkway that connects the project to The Cathay. It is also just a two-minute walk across the road to Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.
Prior to the launch of Haus on Handy, the last residential project launched on Handy Road was Suites at Orchard in 2010. Hence, there has not been a new launch in over a decade. Haus on Handy will also be the last new residential project there, as there are no more development plots available.
CDL rolled out a “National Day Special” promotion in conjunction with National Day celebrations, with discounts of up to $110,000 for selected units plus absorption of 2 years of maintenance fees, for a limited period.
The residential enclave nestled in the Handy Road-Mount Sophia area is expected to benefit from gentrification taking place in both the Orchard Road and the arts and heritage districts. As it becomes an even more desirable place to live, this will have a significant impact on prices and rents too.
Wanna do a virtual tour of new condo launches in 2021? Don’t forget to visit the virtual show flat of Haus on Handy & The Lilium

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