The Evolution of Bugis Street

Once home to a winding extensive canal, the area now called Bugis Street, has evolved in leaps and bounds, becoming an area bustling with vibrancy and life. The street is named after the native Bugis, a seafaring people from the South Sulawesi province in Indonesia who would sail in between Indonesia and Singapore and trade their local produce with Singaporean merchants.

After World War II, Bugis became a social hub where food stalls, hawkers, and the embryonic stages of Singapore’s social nightlife began to emerge. The nightly cabaret shows and parades made Bugis Street flourish as a prominent tourist attraction. Perfectly setting the background to this spectacle, the music jazz and disco craze also exploded and British and later American tourists came to refer to the street as ‘boogie street’, which emphasises the party culture that made it a staple.

The mark of British rule was the complete renovation of the geography of the Bugis area. The canal which ran through Bugis was removed, old shops and the bazaars were razed, making way for the Bugis-Junction shopping complex, Bugis MRT station and new nightspots. The new architecture that we see in Bugis now formed the street’s new modern layer on top of the rubble of the old.

In line with the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) scheme to revitalise the area, there has been an observable increase in the number of new buildings and establishments in Bugis. The latest addition and contribution to URA’s masterplan is DUO, the tallest building in the Ophir-Rochor/Bugis vicinity. Standing tall and proud at the heart of Bugis, DUO serves as the catalyst of the Bugis area, moving it towards modernity and shaping the Ophir-Rochor district into a lively residential, business, retail, hotel and entertainment cluster. The two towers of DUO which shoot out in Bugis reflect a juxtaposition of old and new in the area.

However, that’s not to say that the past has been lost for good. Dotted around the street remain some places that remind everyone about the old Bugis that once was. A famous hawker called ‘Old Bugis Kway Chap’ reminds one that the legacy and practices of the times long gone still exist. A vintage fashion store called “The Good Old Days” also stands ironically at the very beginning of the ‘New Bugis Street’. While progress is inevitable and nothing can stay static, especially here in Singapore, the old Bugis still exists, peering through the cracks.