Unveiling the Magnificent Heritage: A Deep Dive into the Architectural Marvel of Lau Pa Sat

By Brayden and Corum

Lau Pa Sat, literally meaning “Old Market”, is well, an old market. Its modern incarnation traces back to 1894 when the previous incarnation was demolished due to land-reclamation. However, its origins (including its distinctive octagonal shape) can be found as early as colonial 1823. It originally served as a wet market but that would change in the 1970s.

The government wished to transform Telok Ayer into a commercial district, and a wet market was deemed unsuitable. As such, Lau Pat Sat would have to adopt a new persona as a hawker center. It would undergo one last transformation in the 1980s when it was taken apart piece by piece for the construction of Telok Ayer MRT. When it was reconstructed, it would be christened its familiar name, Lau Pa Sat, along with its role as a festive market.

This is not to say Lau Pa Sat has not changed since the 1989. The bells were only included in 1991 and the government has made numerous renovations including ceiling fans which certainly make the Singapore heat more tolerable. In 2020, retailers and F&B business opened in Lau Pa Sat, making it something more than just a hawker center. If anyone needs evidence of its tourist spot credentials, one only has to look at its de facto gift shop.

Most people never bother looking at the architecture of a place, often distracted by the hustle and busy of our city state. However when one does take the time to look at the unique architecture of Lau Pa Sat, you begin to wonder where had it originated. Why this structure? What meaning does it have?

It’s octahedral, cast iron structure who adopted from George Drumgoole Coleman’s original octagonal shape dates back literally thousands of years. Throughout time, the octagon shape has been a symbolic architectural theme representing regeneration, rebirth and renewal. It is a marvel to observe how the soaring arches, fretted eaves and slender Victorian columns topped with intricate filigree work—wrought from solid iron—have achieved an airy, delicate lace-like effect.

If you take a closer look you will notice a lantern (a windowed superstructure on the roof) at the centre of the building which illuminates the interior space. Crowning the lantern is a beautiful clock tower which can be seen from afar; it is perhaps the Former Telok Ayer Market’s most prominent feature. It boasts a clock face on each of its four sides. Topped by a wind vane, the lantern and tower are adorned with ornate filigree and shaped like a pavilion. A carillon of bronze bells and a jacquemart (figure of a bell-striker).

These are all things that you would not normally notice while taking a walk through Lau Pa Sat. But when you do slow down and just admire the place, it is truly marvelous.

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