Nestled in Singapore’s central business district’s (CBD) network of dazzling skyscrapers is a once-coastal street and prominent landing bay for our nation’s early immigrants (Source). Telok Ayer has changed plenty since its waterfront days and will soon welcome a new addition to its burgeoning skyline, Frasers Tower, in 2018.
In this first segment of our two-part Telok Ayer feature, we embark on a trip down memory lane to uncover the history of Telok Ayer, marked by the heritage shophouses and historic cultural monuments hidden in this modern Chinatown.
Telok Ayer in Malay refers to “Bay Water” (Source) and holds significant historical value for Singapore. Before land reclamation of the Telok Ayer Basin started in the early 1900s, Telok Ayer Street originally faced the seafront and was the initial and main landing site for early immigrants who arrived by sea.
The Chinese Hokkien and South Indians, who took up residence along the original waterfront of today’s Telok Ayer Street, made up the majority of the immigrants on the shoreline (Source).
A cultural melting pot
Sir Stamford Raffles had designated Telok Ayer to be a district for the Chinese in 1822 (Source). However, as the first landing point of a large number of immigrants, Telok Ayer naturally grew into a melting pot of races and religions.
Over time, those who braved the seas and arrived to our land safe and sound began setting up sites of worship to give thanks to their gods upon arrival. Several places of worship and cultural sites sprung up organically in Telok Ayer, reflecting the cultures and values that the early immigrants brought with them to their new home (Source).
The Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (a Chinese clan association), Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple Thian Hock Keng, Al-Abrar Mosque, Nagore Durgha shrine, and Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, are among the many preserved historical entities that still stand along Telok Ayer Street today.
The fast-evolving Telok Ayer
The Telok Ayer district has developed into a bustling entrépot that pays homage to its rich coastal settlement past. Reminiscent of its multi-cultural roots, Telok Ayer street is now home to a multitude of hip cafes, restaurants and bars and is prime property for businesses in the CBD. Boasting a delightful variety of food, drinks and sights, this trendy district attracts both the food-loving local and the curious tourist.
Telok Ayer Street alone is home to 72 national monuments of rich cultural heritage in Singapore. Hence, developing new buildings within the area of Telok Ayer requires careful planning to balance out preserving the heritage structures and the advent of modern glass-panelled skyscrapers.
Adjacent to the Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church is the upcoming 38-storey Grade A office development, Frasers Tower. Formerly Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC) (Source), this site was the first performing arts centre converted from the now defunct Telok Ayer Primary School, established under the Arts Housing Scheme (Source).
To preserve the iconic national monument, Frasers Tower is built around the church and the two structures present an intriguing juxtaposition. The church’s unique mix of European and Chinese architectural styles reflects the district’s cultural diversity, while the upcoming Frasers Tower embodies a new era of infrastructure and workforce in Singapore.
Complementing Telok Ayer’s stylish and charming vibes, Frasers Tower will feature a three-storey retail podium, The Oasis, and a park of its own, The Park, for those working in and around Telok Ayer and Cecil Street.
Frasers Tower was designed with four inviting community zones to promote greater community interaction and integration – The Sky, The Park, The Oasis, The Terrace, where tenants can work, socialise and relax amidst lush landscaping and communal amenities.
Though entering a new urban era, Telok Ayer still retains its eclectic characteristics of a bustling hub where different communities co-exist and collaborate, just as it once was an iconic landing site and settlement teeming with our nation’s early immigrants.
Find out more about the captivating history of Telok Ayer Street and the 128-year history of Singapore’s oldest Chinese-speaking church, Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, in an upcoming part two of this feature!
Find out more about Frasers Tower here.