Built in the 1973s, People's Park Complex was constructed as the largest shopping complex in Singapore, with the prospect of becoming a significant Asian modernist structure. Being Singapore's earliest prototype of an instant city especially after her independence, the imperativeness of such a structure was to revitalise the traditional Chinese enclaves in the country.
The design incorporated into the People's Park Complex was a revolutionary one that consisted of an internal atrium, and gave the complex a “city room” feel. Apart from that, a residential block was also located above the podium, representing a new type of urban community and development. Shared facilities, like a crèche and open-air play space, were also present on the roof-level common area to append to the communal living present.
Although a built with a rather monumental and revolutionary blueprint during that time, People's Park Complex has been aging and losing its cutting edge in the consumer/service industry due to up and rising shopping malls sprouting up all over the country, each one larger and more appealing both in size and popularity. However, due to its inherited chain of cultural value especially to the older generation, People's Park Complex has still kept its vibe and sustained on as one of the more popular shopping malls in Chinatown.
Having recently gone through a series of renovation works, we suspected that People's Park Complex would have become more accessible especially for the handicapped and elderly, bearing in mind that the people who once patronised this mall more than 30 years ago would have become old and not as mobile as before. However much to our surprise, other than the exterior facade renovation and certain parts of the interior, the accessibility and building structure has not been altered much; still very much unequipped with handicapped friendly facilities.
One of the more salient problems was the fact that People’s Park Complex showed was the lack of handicapped facilities such as lifts and ramps.
Firstly, the lifts were located at a very inconspicuous section of the complex and inadequate signage was present to allow the individuals on wheelchair to find their way there. Secondly, the lifts were not designed to accommodate a wheelchair. According to our measurements, the lift doors were merely a 3-foot-width wide which was evidently too small for a wheelchair to move in. Furthermore the spatial capacity of the lift was too small for an individual on wheelchair to manoeuvre within the lift. Even if they were to be able to enter the lifts, they can only do it by reversing into it, if not they would not be press the lift buttons since for a wheelchair would have to rotate in order to change its orientation. This is even more so for motorized wheelchairs, where the individual has to make a U-turn before orientating himself to the correct direction. Clearly as seen from these evidences, the space inside the lift is too congested for a wheelchair user individual to manoeuvre.
Another obstacle we observed is the lack of ramps in key areas such as that leading from the car park to the main shopping complex. Due to the unleveled floor alignment of both the car park and the shopping complex, ONLY staircases are used to allow people to access the complex. The height difference between the top of the staircase and the bottom is also great and thus making the gradient very steep. Hence, the disabled and wheelchair user individuals would not be able to visit the shopping complex by private transport, given the rather unfriendly facilities and the absence of ramps.
Elaborating on the floor plan of the shopping complex, we noticed that many shops on the ground level resembled that of booths in an exhibition, only that they were permanent. Owing to this, the width between two shops is sometimes quite narrow and during certain times of the day when the human crowd intensifies, a person on wheelchair would have difficulty in movement there.
We also went to examine the situation at the complex’s emporium, a place where most people would shop in. Even before entering, we could see the number of obstructions in the form of clothes hangers and the relatively narrow walkway into the emporium. Such constraints not only deter a person on wheelchair to enter, but also poses as a threat to the person’s safety as the ungainly movement might knock into some objects and cause them to injure him/her.