Rooftops turning out to be real-estate gems in land-scarce Singapore

Oyster bar Southbridge (above) on a rooftop in Boat Quay offers a panoramic view of the Singapore River, while the Elephant Slacklines group (left) practises slacklining on the roof of *Scape mall.
Oyster bar Southbridge (above) on a rooftop in Boat Quay offers a panoramic view of the Singapore River.PHOTO: FOTOGRAPHEY/ ERIC YIP
Oyster bar Southbridge (above) on a rooftop in Boat Quay offers a panoramic view of the Singapore River, while the Elephant Slacklines group (left) practises slacklining on the roof of *Scape mall.
The Elephant Slacklines group (above) practises slacklining on the roof of *Scape mall.PHOTO: ELEPHANT SLACKLINES SINGAPORE

More businesses and event organisers are using the wide, open spaces atop malls as well as office and commercial buildings

Once regarded as crummy and drab, rooftops are turning out to be real-estate gems in land-scarce Singapore, where rentals in some locations can be through the roof.

With wide, open spaces spanning the top of buildings in prime zones such as Orchard Road and the Central Business District, more businesses and event organisers are making use of such places.

Aside from snazzy bars that have set up shop on rooftops, more alfresco areas atop malls as well as office and commercial buildings have been dusted and beautified to make way for restaurants, urban farms and event venues.

In the heart of Chinatown, the 31-storey People's Park Complex, a 1970s landmark home to massage parlours, travel agencies and jewellers, is attracting a new breed of visitors.


Since late last year, its open-air carpark has become one of the hippest spots in town, with no less than eight shindigs such as concerts, craft markets, film screenings and a yoga festival.

The 63,000 sq ft space is managed by Lepark, a restaurant-bar that sits on the prime space and regularly organises events in the outdoor area.

Owner Lionel Ang, 31, picked the spot because it is on the rooftop of an architectural landmark.

"This unconventional space, together with its heritage, attracted us to bring a new lease of life to Chinatown and make it relevant to youth and visitors alike."

The idea to use the rest of the vast area for events was inspired by a bigger aim to be a "creative hub for local original content, be it food, beverage, music, film, design or sports", Mr Ang adds.

These activities are co-organised by events and art curation agency Getai Group. For instance, music festival Getai Ethnica was held in May as part of the Singapore Heritage Festival and it attracted close to 3,000 people over two days.

Urbanscape, a fringe event to upcoming yoga festival Soulscape, was also held there last month, and more than 400 people participated in a sunset rooftop yoga session.

Mr Marc Dass, 34, co-founder of local online lifestyle magazine intheLoop, which organised the event, says the airiness of the place was "appropriate as we wanted people to experience the city from a different perspective and share with them the history of the building since it's SG50 this year".

Using rooftops to hold events has also extended into the heartland, such as myVillage in Serangoon Garden estate.

Last month, A Rooftop Affair, a concert which featured YouTube singing sensations Us The Duo as well as home-grown acts Gentle Bones and rapper Shigga Shay, was held on the rooftop of the fourstorey mall.

Mr Edmund Chye, executive director of Chye Lee & Sons, the mall's developer, says: "In space-starved Serangoon Garden and Singapore in general, it's difficult to find a space where the community can come together to bond.

"The rooftop was a natural choice because it's the tallest point in the vicinity and breezy enough in the evening for the comfort of attendees."

For the past few months, a bespoke cocktail bar by the folks behind Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall in Boat Quay has been popping up on the mall's rooftop on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Tonight and tomorrow night will, however, be the bar's last run as it is looking for a new location, says co-owner Kevin Ngan, 35.

"The view from the rooftop at myVillage in the evenings is really beautiful. We wanted to offer residents a different kind of bar experience in their own backyard."

Over at the sky terrace in youth hub *Scape in Orchard Link, groups such as the Legacy All-Stars cheerleading team, Kpop Dance Off and Elephant Slacklines regularly make use of the 7,908 sq ft open space throughout the week to practise their routines. Elephant Slacklines is a group that does slacklining, which resembles slackrope-walking and tightrope-walking as the line is held under tension.

Rooftops also provide fertile ground for urban farms. Since the top level of the five-storey *Scape was converted into Singapore's first sustainable rooftop urban farm last year by social enterprise Comcrop, others have followed suit.

Mr Bjorn Low, co-founder of urban farming company Edible Garden City, is on a mission to convert ornamental rooftop gardens into productive agricultural spaces.

Since last October, he and his team of urban farmers have been working hard to turn a part of the 3,300 sq m garden on Wheelock Place's sixth-storey rooftop into a vegetable patch.

Another project is on the seventhstorey rooftop of Raffles City Shopping Centre, where Edible Garden City is building a farm that harvests herbs with healing and calming properties for use at Spa Esprit Group's beauty chains Strip and Browhaus.

Both spaces are not open to the public, but guided tours will be introduced early next year at Wheelock Place.

Mr Low, 35, explains that farming in rooftop gardens helps offset high set-up costs since the soil foundations have already been laid.

He says: "In a nation like ours where every plot of land is precious, it's important to turn these spaces into productive ones."

Restaurants and bars such as the newly opened Peruvian bar Tiger's Milk at The Club hotel, Potato Head Folk in Keong Saik Road and Malaysian restaurant Agrobazaar Malaysia in Sultan Gate have also taken advantage of rooftop spaces to draw patrons.

For them, the allure of a rooftop space lies in offering customers an alfresco experience coupled with spectacular skyline views.

Mr Beppe De Vito, owner of oyster bar Southbridge, says picking the rooftop location in Boat Quay was strategic.

"The building is at the highest end of the Boat Quay stretch, which gives a spectacular panoramic view overlooking the Singapore River," he explains.

"With Southbridge, we want to recreate the summer rooftop bars in Saint-Tropez and New York: chic and stylish, but with no airs."

At barbecue restaurant Charcoal Pit, owners and married couple Nicholas Lee, 31, and Ang Hui Juan, 28, aim to surprise customers with the eatery's nondescript spot at the top of a rundown office building in Tanjong Pagar, the 12-storey Realty Centre.

Mr Lee says: "Being on a rooftop in an old, rundown building adds to the experience for our customers. It makes Charcoal Pit a lot more memorable."

The rent is lower too, compared with spaces on the first floor.

Mr Lee reveals that his monthly rent is the same as that for a first-floor unit that is half the size.

Mr Jacky Ng, who is now doing national service, counts Lepark at People's Park Complex as one of his favourite hangouts because he likes the alternative experience offered by a rooftop space.

The 21-year-old says: "Lepark has shown that we can do plenty of things on a rooftop - from live music to mass yoga to outdoor movie screenings. It's really up to the rooftop vendors to crack their brains and be creative."

But Singapore's humid weather is a challenge when it comes to spending time outdoors, says entrepreneur Tiffany Tan, 32.

Although she enjoys the alfresco vibe at rooftop bars, she finds many to be too small and cramped.

"Since space is a luxury in Singapore, most rooftop bars are tiny and can be claustrophobic at times."

But she adds: "It still beats going to a club with bright laser lights hitting you in the face."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'RAISING THE ROOF'. Print Edition | Subscribe