RSP Architects on designing the Funan experience

By EdgeProp Singapore / EdgeProp Singapore | November 8, 2019 7:00 AM SGT
Prior to the redevelopment of Funan, RSP was already involved in the planning for eight years (Credit: CapitaLand)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Although it has only been six months since CapitaLand’s Funan opened its doors to the public, the building has taken on a life of its own and is maintaining an unceasing buzz.
At 7am on most days, cyclists will ride through the indoor tracks, towards the bicycle hub, where some will freshen up before heading up to their offices.
This scene is in contrast with the retiree crowd that streams in later in the morning to enjoy brunch at Sinpopo Brand.
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These were some of the observations from senior architect Loh Zhu Ping and executive architect Shaziran Shahabdeen of RSP Architects Planners & Engineers who are behind Funan’s architecture together with Woods Bagot as the lead design consultant.
The bicycle hub at Funan houses amenities such as shower cabins, lockers, and a bicycle repair and pump station (Credit: CapitaLand)
“You still have a lot of people coming in at other times, especially the lunch crowd and on weekends,” says Shahabdeen, who adds that it “is quite important to have a mall that people will keep coming, and people will always find something interesting and new every time they are here.”

Not an ordinary mall

Loh says the design of Funan is an “interesting departure” from what most other retail malls offer. While most are designed to pack as much leasable space into its floor plan as possible, one of the main design drivers for Funan came from CapitaLand’s “conscious decision” to open up more non-leasable spaces. “It is almost like co-opting this whole ‘POPS’ or ‘privately-owned public spaces’ concept inside the mall,” explains Loh.
The retail pods at the Tree of Life (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
The Tree of Life, which the team from RSP designed, is one such breathing space. Loh and Shahabdeen have also dubbed it the ‘husband staircase’ or ‘lepak (Malay slang for ‘to chill’)space’. As the focus of the main atrium, the Tree of Life has selected sitting areas for phone-charging, perhaps for the husband to catch up with the latest Netflix hit while the wife tries on the clothes at the pop-up stores.
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“There’s only so much shopping you can do in two or three hours, and it gets exhausting after a while,” says Loh. “It is therefore important in any bustling development to also have space to just unwind and breathe, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he adds.
Furthermore, Loh notes that the mall will gain more exposure on social media if the resting spaces are designed well and allow visitors to take selfies and photos and post them on Instagram or Facebook.
The tables and racks at pop-up stores encircling the Tree of Life are also provided by CapitaLand, which translates into lower overheads for tenants, especially for homegrown brands that are smaller in size and have a niche customer base.
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RSP’s Loh Zhu Ping and Shaziran Shahabdeen, in front of the Tree of Life (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
Funan is managed by CapitaLand Mall Trust. Loh says the mall would not have been so successful had the REIT gone down the traditional road of squeezing as much rental from its tenants as possible. “It needs to be viewed as a symbiotic relationship and I think that’s where Funan has been quite successful,” says Loh. Already, Wild Rice @ Funan already has shows lined up through the end of the year while Golden Village Funan has built up a loyal following of patrons.

Design consideration

Prior to the redevelopment of Funan, RSP was involved in the planning for eight years, with multiple feasibility studies being done. Following the decision to demolish the old building in 2015, RSP was then fully engaged to provide architectural and structural services, all in collaboration with Woods Bagot, the lead designer.
Funan, being situated in the Civic and Cultural District, faced the challenges of the planning guidelines imposed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
“There were very stringent requirements, not only regarding its shape and form, but also the colours,” says Loh. Guidelines also included not making the facade of the building too “flashy” to prevent High Street from turning into “another Orchard Road”, Shahabdeen adds. Both architects also revealed they had to remove a number of LED screens on the Kinetic Wall to the satisfaction of URA.
Funan’s facade features the Kinetic Wall, a multimedia art installation (Credit: Bong Xin Ying/ The Edge Singapore)
“One of the key things for Funan is we have to strike this balance between breathable space and leasable space. We also had to make it an exciting place without flouting Civic District rules. We also tried packing in as many different uses as possible into a small floor plan,” says Loh.
Funan’s interior design has that industrial-chic look reminiscent of the cafes in Boston. This was done through the use of brick walls to achieve that unfinished look. The mall’s colours were also inspired from neighbouring developments, like the red flooring from the Central Fire Station and the yellow from the Supreme Court’s facade.
Apart from design, the concept of “unconscious technology” was also adopted. This means technology should be minimally intrusive and as invisible as possible in a really well-designed building, says Loh.
So instead of putting up a bunch of screens, this had to be done in such a way as if everything came together seamlessly. “That was very important for CapitaLand, Woods Bagot and RSP,” he adds.
The rooftop urban farm and food garden at Funan (Credit: CapitaLand)

Into the future

But with the normalisation of the use of technology, how can retail malls like Funan stay distinct and unique? Without missing a beat, Loh jumps in, “A full augmented reality (AR) experience would be interesting. I think that’s one direction we could be heading.” Another would be a mall that offers a “fully bespoke experience”.
Shahabdeen sums it all up, “When designing for millennials, by millennials, we need the mall to be exciting, and that’s the draw. We millennials will keep coming back because there’s always something new.”
The ideal development would be one that people can live in 24/7, says Loh, and Funan seems to have taken big steps in that direction.
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