No, it doesn't feel like Singapore. Walking in the Golden Mile Complex can be a strange experience. Filled with people speaking in unfamiliar tongues, the Golden Mile is full of shops selling all things Thai. The internal atrium that runs across its length is dimly lit, with the slightest hint of air-conditioning. The smells of spices, oil and dirt hang in the air and it feels like something illicit is going on. It isn't the typical sanitized experience that you will find in any one of Singapore's generic malls. It is different and I like it.
The Golden Mile Complex, designed by the firm Design Partnership and completed in 1973, is often cited as one of Singapore's metabolist buildings (the other being the People's Park Center). Metabolism was the Japanese avant-garde movement started in the 60s that explored ideas of modularity, change, growth and the application of technology in architectural and urban design. Developed in response to fast growing Japanese metropolises, metabolist concepts and their invented typologies found their way into another Asian context - Singapore.
Containing two distinct parts - a semi-private upper level of offices and apartments sitting above a lower public zone of shops, the mixed use character of the Golden Mile Complex predates present day malls. Its form though, is more inventive and sensitive to the tropical climate. The stepped terraces of the building's upper part not only provides better views for apartment-dwellers, but also creates self-shading effects at the back. The Golden Mile's section is reminiscent of two much larger projects, Kenzo Tange's Tokyo Bay plan and Paul Rudolph's Plan for lower Manhattan expressway, where megastructures straddle a linear circulation route. In this case, it is a public atrium, once naturally ventilated, that runs along the spine of the building like a street. This idea of bringing the outdoors into a building has been cynically discarded in modern Singaporean malls, which remain sealed hermetic boxes designed to keep shoppers wandering within them indefinitely.
One controversy regarding the Golden Mile Complex is its 'slum-like' appearance. Apartments have been adapted by their occupants over time, leading to a visually inconsistent experience when viewed collectively from the exterior. The irony is that the same processes which underlie the development of much-loved historical European small cities are also at work in the Golden Mile Complex: individual decision-making over time. Instead of being an eyesore, its appearance can be considered a successful validation of Fumihiko Maki's concept of collective form. If only more buildings in Singapore would show similar traces of adaptation and change, the effect might be a more vital and less monotonous urban environment.