One-North comes to life for business and retail

Designed as a business park and high-tech hub, the area is now bustling with people and amenities

There are numerous options for fitness buffs. Runners can pound the pavement and chalk up kilometres around the perimeter of one-north. For those who prefer working out indoors, there are two Fitness First gyms – one at Fusionopolis, which opened i
There are numerous options for fitness buffs. Runners can pound the pavement and chalk up kilometres around the perimeter of one-north. For those who prefer working out indoors, there are two Fitness First gyms – one at Fusionopolis, which opened in 2008, and another at Metropolis that opened in April. -- PHOTO: FITNESS FIRST
Starting at Rochester Park, off North Buona Vista Road, there are numerous black-and-white bungalows built in the 1940s to house British military soldiers stationed at Pasir Panjang Military Complex and their families. -- PHOTO: DP ARCHITECTS
There are ample green spaces for children and dogs to run around. -- PHOTO: DP ARCHITECTS
Part of the appeal for hipsters is that the location of a cafe must be a little off-the-beaten track. -- PHOTO: RUDY WONG
Buona Vista station, one of the best views of southern Singapore. -- PHOTO: RUDY WONG
With more commercial and leisure offerings, The Star Vista is a hive of activity at lunch-time on weekday afternoons. -- PHOTO: RUDY WONG

German expatriate Secina Bornhoeft is secretly glad that her job in the East Coast area takes her out of one-north in Buona Vista, where she lives. Or she may just never leave the neighbourhood, where she spends much of her day.

Not that she is complaining. A short lift ride down from her One North Residences apartment takes her to yoga class at Meraki Yoga on the ground floor. She shops and chills at the nearby mall, The Star Vista, a 15-minute walk away. On weekends, she and her husband take walks in the area, which has a park and plenty of other green spaces.

Her husband works at an adhesive products company. Its regional headquarters is at The Metropolis, within walking distance from their home.

Mrs Bornhoeft, 31, a receptionist for a healthcare company, says one-north was the couple's top pick to set up home when they moved here for his job.

"It's like a small village here, with so many amenities, including supermarkets and restaurants. There're many people in the day, and at night, it's quiet and peaceful. I'm a little glad that I work in the East or I would never leave one-north."

one-north was designed as a business park and a high-tech research and development hub, and building started in 2001. Spread over 200ha, it is home to shiny skyscrapers with "sci-fi" names such as Chronos, Genome, Galaxis and Solaris.

Buildings are placed in various clusters named '-polises' (polis means city in Greek), including Biopolis, Fusionopolis and Mediapolis. Companies with similar businesses, such as healthcare, media or biomedical science, are usually grouped in the same cluster.

But it is not just business at one-north, which has risen out of grassland to become a mini city of sorts. Since the building frenzy started, one-north has lived up to its "live, work, play" tagline.

Cafes, supermarkets, enrichment schools for children and gyms have sprouted all over its grounds. Flanked by Ayer Rajah Expressway and Ports- down Road, with North Buona Vista Road running through part of it, the area has become more vibrant architecturally, as new additions pop up.

The past year has seen much activity. In January, Infinite Studios, an integrated media entertainment company, opened at Mediapolis. The nine-storey Sandcrawler, which houses Lucasfilm and the regional headquarters of The Walt Disney Company (South-east Asia) opened in Fusionopolis View.

On Wednesday, a topping-out ceremony was held at MediaCorp's new premises that will be completed next year. By the end of this year, two more blocks at start-up hub LaunchPad @ one-north, dubbed Singapore's version of San Francisco's Silicon Valley, will be completed. It currently has only one occupied block.

For Mr Heah Soon Poh, assistant chief executive officer of Cluster Group 1 at JTC Corporation, watching the area grow over the years is an exercise in patience, given that he has been with the project from the start.

He says: "The one-north area was not built overnight and neither was it a 'build first, occupy later' mentality that we took. As we were building up the area, like-minded companies decided to set up here too." one-north was masterplanned by international firm, Zaha Hadid Architects.

Mr Heah adds: "When we first opened one-north, it was a little like a ghost town. But over the years, as more people started working here, it has become more vibrant, especially during the work day."

Indeed, with 24,000 people working in the urban precinct, one-north has turned into a busy neighbourhood with more dining and lifestyle offerings such as gyms, wine shops, an upmarket grocer, cafes and even a chiropractor.

There are condominiums - 405-unit One North Residences and 334-unit The Rochester - which bring home closer for those who work in the area.

But what really livened up the area was the opening of The Star Vista two years ago. Designed by American architect Andrew Bromberg of Aedas, the $976-million mall, located next to Buona Vista MRT station, boasts food and retail outlets such as Nando's, Jamaica Blue and Cedele, and a furniture store, Scanteak.

Above the mall is The Star Performing Arts Centre, which has a 5,000-seat auditorium - Singapore's largest in the suburbs - and is used by megachurch New Creation for its services. The centre has hosted performances including a concert by Irish singer Ronan Keating and a show by Mexican-American dog trainer Cesar Millan.

CapitaMalls Asia handles the mall operations while Rock Productions, New Creation's business arm, owns and manages the performing arts centre.

Together with Rochester Mall, which has a mix of restaurants, children's enrichment schools and lifestyle services such as nail salons, they make up the Vista Xchange cluster, which is meant for lifestyle purposes.

While food clusters such as eateries in the central court at the Symbiosis Tower and Connexis Tower deeper in one-north quieten down after 8pm, lunch and dinner crowds are drawn to the plethora of dining options at The Star Vista.

Mr Joe Ong, 32, an engineer at a building services company in one-north, agrees that The Star Vista is a crowd-puller even after office hours.

"The Star Vista has changed a lot over the past year. The open areas are now home to many dining outlets. Compared to the rest of one-north, The Star Vista is more happening as it has more commercial and leisure offerings."

Even those who do not work or live in the area go to The Star Vista.

Bukit Timah resident Shereen Yeo, 32, a private tutor, was there on Wednesday for dinner. She says: "It's not as crowded as town although there are not as many options for things to do besides eating. However, I like that there are many good food choices and you don't have to queue for long."

Other outlets in one-north are enjoying good business too as the area is easily accessible by shuttle services and public transport (it is served by the Buona Vista and one-north MRT stations).

Jimmy Monkey, a cafe at One North Residences, was one of the first to open in the business park in 2011. Back then, Australian- born owner Michael Ryan, 36, called the area "ulu land" (ulu is Malay for out of the way).

The Singapore permanent resident adds: "When I saw this unit, I immediately said I would take it. I didn't have any idea how well my business would do, but I saw that buildings were coming up and I was confident it would work. I just had to be patient."

Today, the cafe, which opens daily from 8.30am to 8.30pm, sees a steady stream of customers throughout the day. On weekends, people from all over Singapore patronise it.

Mr Ryan says: "Unless you work here, one-north is still a place you have to figure out how to get to. But that doesn't seem to be stopping people, which is why we stay open on weekends."

The cafe is doing well enough for him to open another cafe, Jimmy Monkey Too, across the plaza from the first cafe. It will open earlier at 7am and have small bites and coffee for early risers, as well as a retail section and coffee academy. It will open in about two weeks.

Aside from office workers, the area also gets spill- over crowd from its neighbours, in particular, the National University of Singapore and Tanglin Trust School in Portsdown Road.

Hwa Chong Institution student Ong Kai Xuan, 18, who was at the Starbucks outlet at Fusionopolis on Thursday, says: "I come here to study once or twice a week because it's quiet and sometimes for meals with my family. I started coming here a few years ago. Back then, there weren't many people around but now, there are many people."

Mr Heah says that as more people come into the area, there are plans to relook existing offerings and make the place more vibrant. For example, when MediaCorp's building is up and running, there will be sheltered walkways built to link it to the buildings in Fusionopolis, and there are plans to refresh concepts within the central court at the Symbiosis Tower and Connexis Tower.

With more new buildings opening up, more dining options will be available too.

But he says: "As we are growing one-north, there has to be these facilities which support the growth of the working population here. But we're not going to turn one-north into another Orchard Road with many malls. I think people are attracted to this area because it has its own character."

Part of one-north's charm also comes from how well heritage buildings have integrated into the landscape. Colonial bungalows, built for the British military and their families, dot one-north, with many being restored and re-adapted for other uses in Rochester Park and Wessex Estate.

One stunning development is multinational consumer goods company Unilever's leadership development facility, Four Acres Singapore, perched high on Nepal Hill. The area, which has conservation status, has 10 conserved black-and-white colonial bungalows - nine of which have been redeveloped into on-site accommodation, while one has been turned into a cafeteria.

Heritage too, has played a part in attracting businesses to one-north, and in the process, saved old buildings from being demolished.

When NUS Enterprise wanted to expand its operations from its burgeoning campus in Kent Ridge, the Ayer Rajah industrial estate, which is part of one-north, was an obvious choice as it was in its backyard. The place is also steeped in significance for Singapore, given that the country's success story Creative Technologies had its humble beginnings there.

Seeing the potential in the area, NUS Enterprise, and other collaborators, convinced JTC Corporation not to demolish the flatted industrial buildings. Three years on, the area has been transformed into JTC LaunchPad @ one-north.

There are more than 200 start-ups in that single block, which houses numerous co-working spaces, hot houses and start-ups. And with increased interest in the area, two more blocks with more amenities, including a food court, basketball court and shared meeting rooms, are being built.

Mr Khoo Yik Lin, 39, vice-president for Asia for FireForge, a game development and publishing start-up, says that a major draw of setting up in one-north was being in close proximity to other like-minded companies. For him, the exciting vibe of one-north also makes it attractive for new hires.

He says: "In the last three years, so many new things have come up and more things are being added. The area is so much livelier than before. That's a good thing because those who are interested in working here want to know what is beyond their office space.

"Now, they can go to the gym or jog around the area easily. Starbucks and Ya Kun Kaya Toast are really near, so sometimes we can have meetings there too. The one-north MRT station really made the area so much more accessible."

Additional reporting by Phoebe Low


1 Best view of southern Singapore

Take the lift to the 21st floor of the Symbiosis Tower in Fusionopolis and take in the gorgeous view. On one side, you will be able to see the shipping cranes in the distance at Keppel Road, while the lush greenery of one-north Park and the suburban areas beyond are breathtaking.

The sky garden, decorated with plants and landscaped areas, is a spot of relaxation for workers who want a breather. Photographers looking for a picture-perfect opportunity will not be disappointed either.

There are ample seating areas and a bridge that connects the Symbiosis Tower to its neighbour, Connexis. This is just one of the 13 sky gardens spread throughout the two towers.

2 Hipster cafes

Part of the appeal for hipsters is that the location of a cafe must be a little off-the-beaten track.

The numerous coffee joints in one-north certainly have that X-Factor and are attracting a crowd looking for good cups of java. Jimmy Monkey (9 one-north Gateway, 01-51, One North Residences), which opened in 2011, has been revered as one of the early pioneers in Singapore's coffee revolution. Newer ones which have opened in the last two years include Hoopla (21 Media Circle, 01-05 Infinite Studios), Revolution Coffee (21 Media Circle, 01-03A, Infinite Studios) and Envy Coffee (Nexus@One-North, 01-04, 1 Fusionopolis Link).

And they are not just drawing office workers and residents in the area. Cafe owners say coffee lovers from all over the island have been flocking there.

Hoopla's co-owner Natalie Ang, 26, says: "At the start, I might have regretted picking the location because the initial days were a bit of a struggle. We got only two customers every hour.

"Now, we are fully packed at times, even on weekends when there are no shuttle bus services. People like that the area is isolated from the rest of Singapore and they don't have to jostle with the crowd in town."

3 Green spaces

It is not all a concrete jungle of skyscrapers at one-north. Split up across 16 ha of land and separated by roads, 13 green spaces run through one-north. One of the bigger areas is one-north Park, which is next to Biopolis and has been open to the public since October 2005. Nature-lovers should be prepared for a hilly hike - much of the walk will be on a steep hill, with a hilltop level of 37m.

There are many rest areas such as sheltered plazas. And office workers can also take a walk without worrying about missing a work e-mail as the park has Wi-Fi connection.

4 Heritage buildings

History buffs will love the heritage buildings that have been retained in the 200ha one-north area.

Starting at Rochester Park, off North Buona Vista Road, there are numerous black-and-white bungalows built in the 1940s to house British military soldiers stationed at Pasir Panjang Military Complex and their families.

The bungalows have been turned into quaint lifestyle spots such as restaurants. The bestlooking Starbucks in Singapore is housed in one of the two-storey bungalows.

Over at Nepal Hill, on the periphery of one-north, there are 10 black-and-white bungalows that are being refurbished for adaptive reuse.

Nearer to Wessex Estate, there are other bungalows and walk-ups which used to be military barracks. Some have been converted into live-work lofts, with the buildings named after battles the English military fought and won: Arabia, Tangier, Montreal, Pegu, Plassey, Aden and Waterloo.

There are ample green spaces here for children and dogs to run around. Memories of old Singapore remain too with The Green Corridor, where the KTM train used to pass.

5 Exercise spots

There are numerous options for fitness buffs. Runners can pound the pavement and chalk up kilometres around the perimeter of one-north. For those who prefer working out indoors, there are two Fitness First gyms - one at Fusionopolis, which opened in 2008, and another at Metropolis that opened in April.

The Fusionopolis gym is the chain's largest club in Singapore, spread over 30,000 sq ft and three floors. It also boasts a rooftop swimming pool (above) and two sky gardens.

Yoga buffs can head over to Meraki Yoga (7 One North Gateway, One North Residences, 01-15).

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.