Almost a year after it opened, Space Asia Hub received a formal nod of affirmation with its recent win in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) 2012 Architectural Heritage Awards. The thoughtfully designed retail showroom was commended by the URA judges for its sensitive restoration of the old architecture, reinvention of the interior spaces and addition of a statement glass block, the final work contributing to the conservation and restoration of Singapore’s built heritage. Designed by award-winning WOHA Architects (The Met in Bangkok, Thailand, and the School of the Arts in Singapore), Space Asia Hub has become a major design destination in Asia. Occupying two retrofitted national gazetted conservation buildings, with the insertion of a brand-new glass infill in between, the new and expanded showroom gives the historical buildings renewed life and purpose as a premium furniture retail space.

The prewar buildings, a bungalow (a former hotel) and a block of shophouses, were the last of their kind along that stretch of road. The starting point for the design was the interplay of old and new spaces: how to redevelop the historical buildings to create a contemporary experience while preserving their original quaint charm.

Digging deep into archives of old photographic records enabled the architects to faithfully reinstate former architectural details of the façade, such as decorative wall elements, fenestrations and timber detailing lost over years of modifications. A particular challenge was restoring the bungalow’s prestigious soaring roof.

The internal spaces were cleverly adapted in an open-plan configuration to optimise their function as exhibition spaces. Without sacrificing the character of the conserved architecture, existing party walls were stripped and staircases were introduced to visually open up and enhance the flow of spaces. In the shophouses block, new free-spanning roofs were rebuilt in timber to highlight the high-volume, column-free interiors of the original building.

The boldest intervention is the glass infill between the bungalow and shophouses that assumes the structural frame of a building no longer there. Fully glazed and inset it offers a sharp and interesting contradiction to the solid conserved façades of its neighbours and a clear view of their architecture. The glass block connects not just the two conserved buildings but also the interiors to the external street. The tiled finishes within the glass infill visibly continue the woven tapestry of terracotta and pebble-dash strips in the plaza outside.

Beyond just preserving a façade, quality restoration should also retain the inherent spirit of the building. Situated in one of the most dynamic arts and cultural districts of Singapore, Space Asia Hub shows how quality restoration can keep an old building relevant to its contemporary context.