Queensway Shopping Centre

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To start off with something really unique for this series of shopping places, we headed to one that is undeniably one of its kind – Queensway Shopping Centre (QWSC).

Since September’s post on Hort Park, we’ve revised our write-ups into 3 distinct sections –

  • “First Impressions” – Discussing about our first “feel” of the place
  • “Where Am I?” – Our exploration of the spaces and what they are like
  • “Spend Time” – Random musings of activities happening while we were there

This time round, we’ve a feeling we would be focusing a lot more on “Where Am I?” (already with a sense of nausea).

To be really honest, QWSC always brought out mixed feelings in us.

Most of us would already know that it is THE place to go for anything sports related. It’s smorgasbord of sports shops cannot be found anywhere else in SG, and we’ll get all hyped up just by the huge offerings available and the high prospects of finding something we’d want. And it’s not just sports, there are also several shoes, clothes, camping goods, opticians, tailors, printing services and food shops all competing to form the second major shopping department in the complex.

Here’s the ‘but’. Somehow we always get lost in QWSC. I would like to think I have a fair sense of orientation and direction, but QWSC never fails to prove me wrong despite having been to the place numerous times. So, I always arrive full of enthusiasm, eager to explore the endless corridors of shops and merchandise, to be surprised whenever I turn a corner and discover another shop that I’ve somehow missed. But I almost always leave mentally exhausted after futile attempts to cover every pathway, to maneuver it’s labyrinth-like interiors, frustrated that I kept coming back again and again to the same store when I know there are several out there I just did not manage to get to. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

As such, when I went back to QWSC this time, I went with a conviction to study its layout well enough so that the next time I go, I’ll thoroughly enjoy the experience from start till finish.

Where: 1 Queensway Singapore 149503


FIRST IMPRESSIONS

QWSC lies at one corner of the traffic junction between Queensway and Alexandra Road, the other corners being occupied by Anchor Point, Alexandra Village Food Centre, and Ikea (together with a new development ‘Alexandra Central’ coming up at what was once SAFRA Alexandra) which are well-frequented places in their own rights.

Whichever direction you come from, you will notice that QWSC takes a special building form, with what appears like chamfered corners on all sides, though you cannot really tell as you are unable to circle the building completely. Several of its facades, closely identical in length faces the roads, but are now taken up by large billboards, which completely blocks out any possible view of the shops behind. Further up along Alexandra Road on a separate wing are the only shops you can identify from the outside – MacDonald’s and Hansik, a Korean restaurant.

There are 3 entrances leading into the building at certain corners from the sidewalks around it, and they are easily identifiable from the outside by walkways or terraces crossing over the car parking below. Two of them also have canopies extending from them, guiding the pedestrian inwards. The one facing the traffic junction even has an electronic billboard above it flashing advertisements and looking as if it’s the main entrance into the building.

View as you approach from the traffic junction between Queensway and Alexandra Road

View as you approach from the traffic junction between Queensway and Alexandra Road. The entrance with the outstretched canopy and large electronic advertisement screen is clearly visible.

The most identifiable shops from the exterior - MacDonald's & Hansik.

The most identifiable shops from the exterior – MacDonald’s & Hansik, below which is the second entry point into the building.

View looking across the basement car park as we crossed over the 3rd entrance into the building.

View looking across the basement car park towards the electronic signboard entry as we crossed over the 3rd entrance leading into the building.

If you ever have a chance to drive to QWSC and park there, you’ll know just from your experience in the basement how different this building is. There doesn’t seem to be any right angles, with the lots arranged in concentric circles radiating outwards. This and the equidistant facades which greeted you earlier will prompt you to think that the form of the building was closer to a hexagon or octagon. Furthermore, there is a stairway in the middle of the circular parking which should lead us right into the middle of the building going up, if we arrived by car.

A seemingly symmetrical building with seemingly clear points of entry. Should be easy, no?


WHERE AM I?

{ Before you read any further, it’ll be interesting for you to visit the place and experience it first if you haven’t been there before. Just as we mentioned earlier, part of the excitement in visiting QWSC is the maze-like interiors. One of the reasons why we think we keep going back to QWSC is that aside from causing “fear” due to the unknown, the idea of the maze also “provokes excitement, stimulation and curiosity”, as a form of “pleasure” similar to landscape mazes. (Reference: Passini, Romedi, 1992, Wayfinding in Architecture, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York) The difference being that in the latter we as users of a space remain in control, that we recognize that there is no real danger of getting lost in the space, that we could get out easily if we wanted to. Thus, understanding the building better helps us enjoy its spaces a little more each time. }

In the case of QWSC, we’ll show the plan first before the description, because there’s no better way to analyze the space.

Sketch Plan of QWSC 1st Storey

Sketch Plan of QWSC 1st Storey

Before entering, we were expecting a symmetrical space. Even if not symmetrical along 8 axes which a pure octagon would have, at least along 1! In reality, there is none at all, despite whatever we may have been lead to believe and falsely mapped in our mind’s eye. That’s not the worst of it. The unfortunate fact about the situation is that most of us would not even realize we’ve been duped. Even if we begin to suspect something through the first half hour of walking the corridors, we aren’t that sure of the nagging at the back of our heads, because what should be identical if it had been a symmetrical layout still appears…well…almost identical due to the strength of the form. Let’s have a few examples:-

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Shops at alternating segments appear different because some are open food stalls, while others are semi-open or enclosed. Yet they are of the same size and wedge shape.

Small cluster of shops appear at regular intervals of "octagon" actually varies in size and shop layout, with "missing" cluster in one of the corners.

Small cluster of shops appearing at regular intervals of “octagon” actually varies in size and shop layout. Contrary to what we may think, there really doesn’t exist the fourth cluster although there’s already 3 of them. 

Shops Outer

The shops in the outer most ring seems to cater to bigger shops, with an “anchor” tenant type space as well….but wait! There are small shops too!

As shoppers, we tend to make sure we cover as many stores as possible within a shopping complex, just to make sure we don’t miss out on any selections or bargains. And in most newer shopping malls, with their large central atriums and rectangular layouts, just by circling the atriums we can be sure we’ve made a complete round of the floor.

But not in the case of QWSC. Try as we might, we have yet to work out a path (even on plan) to cover all the corridors without going twice over some. This just adds to the feeling of getting lost. Even if the most disciplined of us strictly followed some form of navigation methodology, you can’t help but ask yourself “Haven’t I’ve been here before?” as you pass by some shops more than once. Not just that,

  • You would probably keep coming back to the central space of the “octagon” countless times,
  • Some of the shops look so freakingly similar as they sell the same exact merchandise, that even if you haven’t walk by it before, you probably thought you already have,
  • As we mentioned earlier some of the cluster of shops may be similar in their footprint but do not necessarily house the same number of shops in the same layouts.
  • Shops often have more than one side of shop front
  • Shops often have more than one point of entry! You could go in one shop, get caught up in its wares, forget to come back out the same way, and there goes all hopes of orientating yourself.
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Try figuring out a path to minimize the amount of doubling up or backtracking. With all the shops looking similar, it’s almost impossible to keep track of whether you’re following your plan correctly anyway.

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Determined to follow a fixed route? It’ll all go fine until you come across some interesting shop with numerous exits (which are aplenty).

Fine, fine. When we’re lost, we usually head back to the one place where we think we can start all over again, the center. However, in the case of QWSC, the central space is so small compared with the other spaces that radiate out from it, and so chockful of information with the stairs and escalator in the way of any possible overview of the space, that some times, we just want to head straight off to the basement and go home. On top of that, we haven’t even got to the upper storeys yet, which also vary (ever so slightly) from the 1st!

Plan of central space. The up going escalator and stairs to upper floors obstructs views towards the other side of the complex whichever point you stand at.

Plan of central space. The up going escalator and stairs to upper floors obstructs views towards the other side of the complex whichever point you stand at.

So how do we unravel this? Actually, one way we’re thinking about is to make use of something that was a little clearer from the exterior. If we couldn’t orientate ourselves purely from the interior layouts, we have to get references from the outside. Just like how if the hedges in landscape mazes were low enough for us to see the surroundings, we could actually have a better grasp as to how to get out of there.

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The same 1st storey plan of QWSC, with the exterior surroundings shown. Imagine if we could somehow always get a view out into the surroundings when we’re inside the complex, it wouldn’t be so easy to get lost, would it?

This is all good, but unfortunately much of the building is actually enclosed visually from the exterior. How can we still keep our orientation with respect to the external spaces?

Here’s where we try to link the external to the internal. Assuming that you have arrived by public transport, one of the key things to note is that despite the prominence of Entry 1 near the traffic junction, which leads you into a relatively featureless interior with three ambiguous corridors, we’re thinking of taking Entry 2 from underneath MacDonald’s as the main point of entrance for the following reasons that make it very identifiable:

  • This entrance is wider than the other two.
  • It actually comes in at mid-level between 1st and 2nd storeys, and is essentially a wide open staircase that connects across all 3 storeys of the shopping complex.
  • There are 2 corridors leading away from the entrance as opposed to 3.
  • Upon entering, you would be greeted on your left by the shops with one of the largest floor spaces in the complex. Furthermore, this segment of the complex houses most of the irregular or dissimilar layouts. Exploring this area first means that we would not be thrown off very much later on.

If we enter and head straight directly into the central space, we will find that the escalator is aligned to our approach. We could mentally construct the space from here into right and left halves with clearer identities. On one side is the half with more irregular layouts not strongly relating to the form, whereas on the other, layouts that are more conforming to the same. This will help better, instead of trying to breakdown the space excessively into 8 segments that are indistinguishable from one another.

If you arrived by car from the basement, use the escalator’s up going direction to quickly grasp your orientation. In fact, upon stepping onto the landing at 1st, you will actually be facing the same direction as you would have if you came in the Macdonald’s entry.

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Coming in from the Entry under Macdonald’s aligns to the up going escalator and helps to construct the space into 2 halves with clearer identity, ie. Irregular layouts not strongly relating to the “octagon” form, and as opposed to that, more regular layout conforming to the same. 

What does all this do, and is it enough for such an intricate space? Well, this method may seem really rudimentary. However, we are now in better control of the space and our orientation because we now know

  • That getting out of the complex is not at all difficult (downwards direction of escalator will point towards Entry 2),
  • That we can tell with certainty how much floor space we have covered (escalator divides space into half; believe us, when the central space is so small and you’re so overwhelmed with the unfamiliar angles of the form, it’s really had to tell which segment the escalator started and ended from) and
  • That we can even tell which half of the space has been covered (2 halves with distinct identities).

For us, we think that this is already a big step towards understanding the place. It also helps that the upper floors follow the same logic in the two halves. Now, we can differentiate where we started and similarly know where to end. True, we’ll most certainly still make those double tracks among the little shops, but we can make well sure we won’t circle the same cluster more than once. In any case, if ever we need to differentiate the spaces any further, there’s a good base to work off. With that, we’ll say that the next time we drop by QWSC, we certainly look forward to a more enjoyable experience. =)


SPEND TIME

After all the intensive brain cracking, here’s where we just let ourselves roam free and enjoy the browsing and buying.

Central Atrium

The central atrium with up-going escalator and stairs. Signage bombards you from all directions.

One of the food stalls at 1st storey seen from upper floor. Their laksa and curry chicken are popular favorites.

One of the food stalls at 1st storey seen from upper floor. Their laksa and curry chicken are popular favorites.

Narrow corridors with small shops on either sides.

Narrow corridors with small shops on either sides.

One of the many sports shops selling everything from clothes to racket bags.

One of the many sports shops selling everything from clothes to racket bags.

A tailor shop at the upper floor.

A tailor shop at the upper floor.

Even niche designer stores have popped up among the other older trades.

Even niche designer stores have popped up among the older trades.

Bags and sandals galore.

Bags, shoes and sandals galore.

Even specialty toy stores can be found here.

The occasional specialty toy store can be found here too.

In addition, I came across another blog The Lion Raw with great photos taken showing more of the life and intimate experiences happening within QWSC. Do check it out.


I recall with great fondness my growing up years roaming around older shopping malls such as Thomson Plaza, Beauty World and Coronation Plaza. At the same time, the feeling is always coupled with a little anxiety that they may inevitably be redeveloped into something completely unrecognizable in the future. It’s not that these old guys are necessarily better than the newer malls. In fact, it’s great that some of the latter are really refreshing. But there’s no limit to the benefits of having more variety, and the older malls are still valuable in adding to that by providing alternative spatial and experiential choices for people. After all, why would we want to keep going to malls that may have different names, located in different suburban towns from Jurong to Pasir Ris, but have the same shops in the same size with the same atriums holding the same weekend fairs? Especially when places like QWSC not only has some of the best selection of products, but also offers us a chance for an intriguing and enjoyable exploration once we get to know them a little better.

 

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