As the first major project for Design Partnership, there was naturally great excitement in the office when it opened. At the time of its opening in 1971, the firm was only about 30 people strong, and the opening of People’s Park Complex was a major milestone.
We had actually created a big chandelier in plastic for the atrium. It’s an abstract chandelier which was there in the big atrium till the late 1980s, before it was removed. Outside, facing the theatre where the pedestrian crossing is, we had four chandeliers as well. At the opening, the whole atrium was filled with people, and there was this chandelier light, which created a bit of a drama. Everyone in Chinatown was looking forward to the opening of People’s Park Complex so there was tremendous reception and positive write-ups in the newspapers.
People’s Park became a great success. There was a lot of media coverage on People’s Park by The Straits Times and Singapore Herald between 1968 and 1971. After it was completed, its atrium became a civic space. Across the road, some of the people in shophouses didn’t have modern sanitation. So they went to the toilets in People’s Park to bathe. I think the key thing is that we created a people’s space, an urban space where people feel comfortable and provided spaces for community bonding. The shops and F&B outlets were very well received by Singaporeans – and they came from all places, from all over Singapore. It was this project that gave Design Partnership its reputation, and following this project we worked on Golden Mile Complex which had a similar concept.
People’s Park Complex was the best project Design Partnership had ever done. When we did that project, we considered the people, we considered the residents of Chinatown and Ho Kok Cheong – who knew the site very well.
We had passion. We were very passionate Singaporeans who felt that in the aftermath of colonialism, we should develop our own personality and identity and what Singapore should stand for as an island city-state with a diverse population. People’s Park Complex served to support our vision as a firm connected to social issues, a firm interested in helping to create a new nation through planning and architecture that accelerates the process of social bonding. Social cohesion was a key element driving the architecture behind People’s Park Complex.
The design concept behind People’s Park Complex had one simple humanistic idea – that there needs to be room in the city for people. That’s why DP created that and future projects such as Bugis Junction and Far East Square also continued to stay close to this concept.