what futures are possible for our malls

Is it possible for the spirit of a mall to live on in a virtual ‘body’? The metaverse opens up exciting theoretical possibilities of recreating and reliving the different histories of a place over time that can be pieced together with input from the community. It implies a radical understanding of the archival as a dynamic act, and poses important questions on the value and format of architectural conservation, in ways that are only possible in the virtual realm. Testing the viability of a virtual ‘structure’ in collectivizing past and even present identities paves the way for the even more radical investigation of new conceptions of the mall as an entity.

The Beauty World Metaverse represents a novel use of the metaverse to reveal alternative and unprecious histories of our nation that lie dormant in our malls, and thereby establishes the value of some local aging malls as latent history-rich sites.

Click to watch a nighttime view of our prototype.
Pay attention to the scribbles that populate the world and the background audio that are the works of one of our collaborators, Kar-men Cheng.

We reinterpret the historical fragments from the various incarnations of Beauty World and seek to incorporate contributions from invited local independent creative organizations to create a composite virtual experience of its colorful pasts - as a scandalous amusement park opened by Chinese businessmen and the Japanese during the World War 2, as a popular but chaotic open-air market in the 40s, and as a fresh superstar mall that drew in regulars even from Malaysia in 80s.

World Building

A key narrative to emerge concerns the many ‘lives’ beauty world has undergone and settings it has provided. While the name ‘beauty world’ added in the 50s associates it with the amusement parks circuit comprising Happy World, Great World, and New World, popular in the 40s, its purpose as a market precedes and succeeds its entertainment functions, and was credited as the first neighbourhood shopping centre servicing residents from Bukit Timah, Jurong to even Woodlands before HDB estates were built.

This recognition prompted us to develop the Beauty Meta World environment by taking cue from its former market setting rather than the existing Beauty world Centre. We referenced a sketch of the floorplan from its time as an amusement park (which was largely retained in its later life as Beauty World Market) for indication on layout, rough dimensions, and programmatic distribution, and generated our world plan in the metaverse, consciously retaining the general profile of programmes - the Getai song stage, a cinema and other shops - while introducing a set of partners both native and new to inhabit the spaces.

sketch of original layout from National Archives Singapore overlaid on Google Maps

our reimagined world plan references the sketch

Buildings were modeled with reference to images from the archives and mimic physcial world standards for easy migration of physical to virtual elements.

Spiritual Layering

To build up the spirit of the world, we combed through the archives to mine 2D historical fragments and worked closely with our partners to build up a repositary of images, texts, and even audio. The nature of the content can range from more literal that are more evocative of the period-appriopriate past, to more interpretative, that tend to be generated from our creative partners including artists like Kar-men Cheng, Anthony Chua Say Hua, and indie clothing retailer milieu, and the Opera People.

Some of our partners’ contents are integrated in the whole environment, and/or distributed across the world, while most others’ are situated in specific locations that suit their content and the world.

Audio from a performance of iconic opera pieces recomposed by local composers commisioned by the Opera People plays at the Getai Stage. ‘Performances’ can seasonally rotate and feature other creative groups.

Excerpts of interviews conducted by Kar Men with the existing shopkeepers at Beauty World Centre are dispersed across the world in various formats.

Hup Kee and milieu’s content are both occupying shophouse lots in the Market Zone.

Anthony Chua’s paintings can be viewed at one of the timber structures.

Cinemas like the Projector are able to screen movies virtually at Beauty Meta World.

Stories Migration

One of our content partners is Hup Kee Company, a traditional Chinese wedding goods supplier. Their presence at Beauty World Centre long precedes the lifetime of the current mall - they have been active when it was still Bukit Timah Market in the 20s, and then in the 40s during the Japanese Occupation when it was converted into the Greater East Asia Amusement Park. 

Through hearty exchanges, the shopowner shared with us their stories and artefacts. We then migrated their stories into Beauty Meta World in close collaboration with him, demonstrating the potential of a collaborative and adaptive archive in documenting Singapore’s humbler everyday histories.