Years in the making, Funan DigitaLife Mall has something for just about everyone who steps into its digitally driven shell. Based in Singapore’s Civic District, the mixed-use mall provides a range of amenities including retail, residential and office space. Hong Kong-based Woods Bagot were the primary designers on the project, organized by themes of Tech, Craft, Play, Fit, Chic and Taste, and worked closely alongside developer CapitaLand (Singapore) to bring the behemoth to life.
“It had to have a strong destination appeal because it sits outside the main retail centers,” explains Stephen Jones, Director, Woods Bagot. “It had to address and push the challenges of the O2O (Online-to-Offline) revolution and have a strong sustainability focus.”
At 889,000 square feet – with 507,000 square feet of retail – the structure was originally built in 1984 and reimagined to become a civic hub that was completed in 2019. At the heart of the visual design, a “Tree of Life” concept helped guide the look and feel.
Meant to symbolize the idea that creativity grows from collaboration, the Tree of Life concept is referenced throughout – even on the exterior as stylized Bunyan tree roots. An architectural centerpiece evocative of the concept comprising wood and steel rises roughly 82 feet at the center of Funan. (While the levels represent the tree’s branches, an urban farm atop the space is meant to symbolize a treetop.)
“The [structure] has its own lifts and stairs, mini-auditorium spaces and studios that can be curated and leased by the team there,” says Jones, who came up with the idea in an airport lounge, sketching the concept first on a napkin. Acting as a central totem, the tree spatially rises several floors and houses plug-and-play pods that can host pop-up stores, retail launches or partnered retail events.
Level 4 is where all the amenities connect, says Jones. Above this level sit office and residential floors, so this floor acts as a transitional zone, encouraging visitors to explore co-working and co-living spaces, dining, theaters and wellness services, as well as access the outdoors. These destinations pull visitors through the retail areas and encourage them to move beyond the ground level.
Green/living-wall stairs lead from Level 4 to the top of the building, which houses an 18,000-square-foot food garden where visitors can experience a range of edible plants using all of their senses. At its heart is a 5000-square-foot urban rooftop farm operated by Edible Garden City, reportedly the largest urban rooftop farm in Singapore. Situated alongside leisure space, this rooftop oasis provides outdoor access from the building’s office space for workers looking to feel connected to nature.
Each store is connected to an online customer experience portal where shoppers can access loyalty programs, wayfinding and transaction services; a click-and-collect program allows for items purchased online to be picked up at the mall. Robots (an attraction in themselves) handle moving the goods to a delivery belt, where they are collected by an associate who hands them to the customer. Other notable features include an indoor, one-way cycling path for commuters to ride bikes through Funan’s North Bridge Road entrance, a first of its kind; and a 42-foot-tall kinetic wall that uses 1271 motorized light blades to beckon shoppers inside its futuristic interior.
Arguably, malls across the U.S. and internationally are moving toward a mixed-use reality, something Jones says could be the saving grace for many of these aged complexes. “I think mixed-use is very important; projects like this are examples of how one property can contribute to the vitality of downtowns,” Jones says. “The highest value transactions, both emotionally and financially, happen in real spaces. It’s that simple. We have to create amazing places that people want to spend time in, supporting deeper emotional transactions, learning and discovery.”