Haji Lane’s Transformation
Published: January 23, 2016

admin | Article | 23 January, 2016

    One may wonder what Singapore looked like before skyscrapers filled the country, reshaping its skyline. What was there to see and admire in its architecture when it was still untouched by progress, urbanisation and globalisation? Fast forward to the Singapore of today, another Asian city filled with western aesthetics of architectural grandeur, with shopping malls that have even intrude the heartland areas, each complete with a million lights adorning the buildings. The buildings compete to be taller, shinier and brighter than the other, trying their best to pull in the crowd. However amidst the clutter of the buildings, hidden gems of respite are tucked away, waiting to be discovered, one of which is Haji Lane.

    Buskers add a trendy touch (Image © Archibazaar)
    A stall that still sells products for the Muslim community (Image © Archibazaar)

    Located near Arab Street, much of the structure in Haji Lane remains untouched by the modernisation that has been changing the face of Singapore. Its pre-war buildings and street have developed its own atmosphere and transformed it into one of Singapore’s best alternative destination for locals looking to be surrounded by a sense of the past while tourists are invited in by the many alternative stores offering products not found in most of the shopping centres.

    Image © Archibazaar
    The young are attracted by the variety of stalls (Image © Archibazaar)

    Haji Lane’s name itself is a reference to Islam: the term haji indicates a man returning from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj); the reference also passes a historical test, as many pilgrims waiting to depart for, or returning from, Mecca used to stay in Haji Lane’s shophouses, traditional two-floor high buildings typical of South Asia that served as shops during the day and the shopkeeper’s house by night. This was important in land scarce Singapore, where this is a constant battle for space. Thus a place that serves multiple functions is not uncommon. Such shared functions are duplicated in the present time.

    Cafes share its spaces with souvenir shops or one can easily sit and have an ice cream, while browsing through a clothes rack, all within the same shop. The lane is extremely narrow and flanked on both sides by two lines of these small shophouses. Haji Lane is Singapore’s narrowest street, measuring only 4 meters wide. Giving in to demand for more creative spaces, the authorities finally relented to having the lane closed off from traffic during the nights and weekends, creating a pedestrian only space, a rarity in this country.

    Image © Archibazaar
    Bars are common (Image © Archibazaar)
    Attractive window displays to draw in the crowd (Image © Archibazaar)


    One of the things that stand out is the street art and the transformation of the spaces into breeding grounds for entrepreneurs. Their bars—a sort of anomaly in an area of Muslim heritage—attract young, trendy crowds and their boutiques sell unique clothing, jewellery and art. In a city where art is not seen as one of the driving forces of economy, unlike finance and trade—despite various initiatives to establish Singapore as a cultural hub—Haji Lane’s graffiti stands as the most evident manifestation of the new energies that run along these 200 meters, and represent a spontaneous, authentic rise of the local urban culture. Haji Lane represents how a space in Singapore can be transform, to progress with the times and yet, how much of its soul has Haji Lane gave away to be where it is today?

    Written By: Sarah AK

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