Singapore waterfront industrial transformation
Li Jing   May 05.2016


The mouth of the Singapore River was the old Port of Singapore, being naturally sheltered by the southern islands. Historically, the city of Singapore initially grew around the port so the river mouth became the centre of trade, commerce and finance. To this day, area around the old Singapore River mouth, the Downtown Core, remains the most expensive and economically important piece of land in Singapore.

Some of the temples, shrines and other places of worship still stand in the vicinity of the river. Bridges such as Anderson Bridge, Elgin Bridge and Cavenagh Bridge still remain, the Merlion, the shophouses, and the large trees such as Banyan and Madras Thorn. Some parts of this area include quays such as Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay, which generated trade and extensive demand for services with the boats that landed at the quays. Boat Quay itself was handling three quarters of the shipping service in the 1860s. Shophouses and warehouses flourished around the quays due to their proximity to trade during the colonial era, but presently house various bars, pubs and restaurants, as well as antique shops.

When Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore in 1819, he realised the importance of the river for, in the same year of 1819, the north bank was drained for government buildings and, in 1822, the south bank was reclaimed and a retaining wall and steps were built.

Through lack of knowledge or foresight, the bridges were constructed too low and the river was too shallow for the demands that were to be made on its use. This historic river, which Raffles had fashioned from salt marshes, sand barsand mangrove swamps, has witnessed the British rule and the Japanese occupation, and has supported years of economic activity by the Chinese, Malays, Indians and others. However, with the expansion of trade came congestion and pollution.

Reason to Be Selected

Pollution and cleanup

Starting in the 1819s, there was heavy traffic on the Singapore River due to rapid urbanization and expanding trade.[1]At the same time, it brought in water pollution caused by the disposal of garbage, sewage and other by-products of industries located along the river's banks. The sources of water pollution into the Singapore River and Kallang Basinincluded pig wastes from pig and duck farms, unsewered premises, street hawkers and vegetable wholesaling. River ineactivities such as transport, boat building and repairs were also found along the Singapore River. Some 750 lighter splied along the Singapore River and Kallang Basin in 1977. Waste, oil spills and wastewater from these boats and lighters added to the pollution of the rivers.


The Singapore River has been the centre of trade since modern Singapore was founded in 1819. During the colonial era, Boat Quay was the commercial centre where barge lighters would transport goods upstream to warehouses at Clarke Quay.

At the height of its prosperity, dozens of bumboats jostled for mooring space beside Clarke Quay. This continued well into the later half of the 20th century. By this time, the Singapore River had also become very polluted. The government decided to relocate cargo services to a new modern facility in Pasir Panjang. The bumboats and lorries departed to their new home and Clarke Quay fell silent.

The government then cleaned up the Singapore River and its environment from 1977 to 1987. Plans were made to revamp the area and turn it into a flourishing commercial, residential and entertainment precinct. These plans took into serious consideration the historical value of Clarke Quay, making it mandatory that new buildings complement the historical character of the area and that certain old buildings be restored.Clarke Quay Festival Village, the biggest conservation project for the Singapore River, was developed and officially opened on 10 December 1993. In later years, Clarke Quay was managed and owned by CapitaLand.

Ten years later, works were commenced to revamp the Clarke Quay area in order to give the place a better tenant mix. The development also saw major changes to the exterior and riverside areas.

Alsop Architects an International Architecture practice was commissioned to redesign the shophouse facades, streetscapes and riverfront dining areas in two development phases. The newly redeveloped Clarke Quay consistently attracts over 2 million visitors a year and is a major social and tourist component of brand Singapore. Crucial to its success is the ingenious moderation of the micro-climate through the design of sophisticated shading and cooling systems which reduce the ambient temperature by 4 degrees Celsius while enhancing the riverfront and streets with tremendous visual interests. The project won in 2007 Cityscape Architectural Review Award (Tourism, Travel & Transport – Built) and the Cityscape Asia Awards, Best Waterfront Development in 2008.

The Satay Club and a number of establishments vacated Clarke Quay to make way for new tenants. The upgraded Clarke Quay features the Zirca, The Clinic, Forbidden City by the Indochine Group and the whole development was completed in October 2006.

The Clarke Quay area at present is drastically different from the preservation/conservation effort from 1993.TodayAt present, five blocks of restored warehouses house various restaurants and nightclubs. There are also moored Chinesejunks (tongkangs) that have been refurbished into floating pubs and restaurants. The Cannery is one of the anchor tenants of the place. There are over 5 different concepts in one block. Another anchor tenant, The Arena, will be home to Singapore's First Permanent Illusion Show (starting August 2008) starring J C Sum and 'Magic Babe' Ning.[1] The G-MAX reverse bungee, the first in Singapore, is located at the entrance which opened in November 2003. Notable restaurants and nightclubs include Hooters and Indochine. River cruises and river taxis on the Singapore River can be accessed from Clarke Quay. One of its most popular attractions is its exciting host of CQ's signature events happening once every quarter. Clark Quay has become known as a hub of Singaporean nightclubs including Zirca, and up until 2008, the Ministry of Sound.

Clarke Quay MRT Station is located within the vicinity. A new SOHO concept development cum shopping centre called The Central, above the MRT station, was completed in 2007.

In July 2012, Hong Kong lifestyle retail store G.O.D. opened a 6,000 square foot flagship store in the Quay.Boat QuayHistorySince the founding of modern Singapore in 1819, the Singapore River was the artery for much of the island's trade and economic activities. The south bank of the river, where most of the commerce took place, is known as Boat Quay.

In the 1820s, the area was swampy and built over with raft houses occupied by local traders. It was reclaimed with earth taken from a small hill where Commercial Square, now Raffles Place, stands.
As early as 1822, Sir Stamford Raffles had already designated the area south of the river to be developed as a Chinese settlement. Boat Quay was completed in 1842 and the Chinese, mostly traders and labourers, settled there in large numbers. Conditions were squalid but Boat Quay flourished, rapidly exceeding in volume the trade on the north bank where the Europeans had their offices, houses and government buildings.
In the midst of Boat Quay were the trading offices of some of Singapore's leading towkay (Hokkien for business owners) and philanthropists, such as Tan Tock Seng and Tan Kim Seng. The level of activity on the river was an indicator of the island's economic status. In prosperous times, hundreds of bumboats would fight for limited berthing space. Goods were carried from ships anchored in the river, to the road by lighters and coolies. Traders bought and sold many items, from raw materials such as rubber, tin, and steel, to perishables such as rice and coffee, and many other manufactured goods.

Since the 1990s, Boat Quay has been transformed into a pedestrian mall with restaurants, pubs, cafes and clubs.

Boat Quay was very resilient to change. Its role did not diminish even when a new harbour was built at Tanjong Pagar in 1852. On the contrary, it continued to grow, spurred on by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, when steamships started calling at the port of Singapore. In fact, during that period, three quarters of Singapore's overall trading business was transacted from Boat Quay.

Its decline really began in the 1960s, as mechanisation and computerisation gradually usurped the bumboat's role in the shipping industry. In September 1983, the government opened a modern, high-tech cargo centre in Pasir Panjang. This led to the rapid demise of Boat Quay's river trade, as the highly mechanised container port replaced the laborious and hazardous lighter system. Therefore, during the mid-1980s, after all the trading companies had moved out and the lighters removed, Boat Quay was devoid of activity, with the river deserted.

In 1986, the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced plans to conserve Boat Quay as part of a master plan for conserving the whole of the Singapore River and its environs.

On 7 July 1989, an area encompassing South Bridge Road, Circular Road, Lorong Telok and North Canal Road was gazetted. The two- and three-storey shophouses in that area, with their characteristic five-foot way beneath projecting upper floors, were preserved and transformed into new businesses. The shophouses and godowns along the river bank were restored in the 1990s and are now bustling shops, restaurants and bars.Robertson QuayHistoryThe upper reaches of the Singapore River were originally mud flats and swamps. As the population and commerce of Singapore increased, the area was reclaimed in the mid nineteenth century. Warehouses and boatyards were constructed in the 1880s in both European and Chinese styles.

In the 1990s, the Urban Redevelopment Authority rezoned the area for new development of residential, hotel, and commercial use.


Lat: 1.31473
Lng: 103.847
Region: Asia
Scale: Region
Field: Compositive
City: Singapore