Eye on Somerset: From rural to urban

Opened in 2014, Orchard Gateway towers above surrounding buildings.

Somerset is the place to be, at least according to the legions of shoppers and diners who flock to the area every evening and on weekends.

By Joanne Poh

The Somerset area, which makes up the eastern half of the Orchard Road shopping belt, no longer plays second fiddle to the western end around Orchard MRT station. In the last decade, Somerset has been rejuvenated with spanking new malls that have turned it into the liveliest and hippest section on the shopping belt.

The making of a giant

Orchard Road, the Somerset area’s main thoroughfare, was formerly a rural road surrounded by a cluster of fruit, pepper and nutmeg orchards in the 19th century. Some of these plantations are now commemorated in tiles on the sidewalks.

The transformation of Orchard Road from rural to urban began in the middle of the 19th century. The first developments to supplant the plantations were residential, and shortly after, amenities such as markets, hawker centres, temples and cemeteries began to emerge.

But it was only in the early 20th century when Orchard Road began undergoing a transformation to become the retail hub it is today.

In 1903, the first Cold Storage outlet was built on the land where present day mall The Centrepoint stands. Then, in 1958, C. K. Tang, the very first department store on Orchard Road, was established.

By the 1970s, Orchard Road’s transformation into Singapore’s most popular shopping district was complete, complemented by entertainment options such as bowling alleys and cinemas.

Singapore’s favourite playground

Today, when Singaporeans mention they are heading “to town”, they are really referring to a trip to Orchard Road. The area has come a long way from its early days, and it is hard to believe that Plaza Singapura, the first multi-storey shopping mall within the area, was once the nation’s biggest.

Orchard Road has become an eye-opening parade of glitzy malls and stunning architecture. From the futuristic building housing ION Orchard, with its dizzying media wall, to the imposing Ngee Ann City, a walk down Orchard Road is a sensory smorgasbord. More than 5,000 shops, eateries and entertainment providers attract throngs of people on weekdays and weekends alike.

The Somerset area has undergone a transformation in the past few years, and many say it has all but stolen the show on the shopping belt. The 2010s have seen new malls being built at lightning speed, each more dazzling than the last.

Somerset MRT station opens up into 313@Somerset, a bustling mall with a huge selection of high street fashion retailers including Zara, Cotton On and a multi-storey Forever 21 outlet. The mall also contains an outdoor area where patrons knock down after-work beers at JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar and Brozeit German Bier Bar & Restaurant.

Further down the road, the former Specialists’ Shopping Centre and Phoenix Hotel have made way for Orchard Gateway, which opened in 2014 and features an overhead bridge which takes on the form of a glass tube. The units above the shopping mall are home to Hotel Jen, with a stunning rooftop bar and infinity pool.

Orchard Central, just next door, possesses a gorgeously-landscaped roof garden with stunning views and artwork by local artist Victor Tan and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

Another major landmark in the area is TripleOne Somerset. The shopping mall doubles as an office building, which houses Singapore Power’s corporate headquarters and the Swedish Embassy. Incidentally, PropertyGuru just moved to its new headquarters at TripleOne Somerset at the end of March 2017.

The Somerset area is a tourist hotspot and home to many hotels at various price points. Accommodation options range from five-star hotels such as Mandarin Orchard and Grand Park Orchard to boutique options such as Hangout@Mt Emily and Lloyd’s Inn.


Median sale and rental psf for D9


Wong Xian Yang, Head of Research and Consultancy at OrangeTee, is confident that Somerset will continue to be a popular residential and commercial location for a long time to come.

He said: “Somerset has strong locational attributes given its location along the Orchard shopping belt. As such, the area commands premium prices and the supply in the vicinity is scarce.

“Medical tourists will also find this area attractive due to its proximity to Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Paragon Medical Centre. Furthermore, the area is served by Somerset MRT station which makes transportation a breeze.”

Tay Huey Ying, Head of Research at JLL Singapore, maintains that Somerset’s enduring appeal as a residential area lies in its strategic location straddling Orchard Road and the CBD.

“One gets to enjoy the convenience of easy accessibility to a diverse range of shopping, entertainment and leisure options along Orchard Road while at the same time benefitting from the convenience of being close to work, be it in Orchard Road, City Hall and Marina Centre, or Marina Bay and Raffles Place.

“Yet the Somerset area is not far from nature as Fort Canning Park, an iconic hilltop landmark boasting an expansive sprawling lawn, is just nearby for residents looking for a tranquil place to unwind after a hard day’s work.”

Those who are lucky enough to live in the Somerset area are not unaware of the advantages they enjoy as residents of the city’s core.

April Lim, a 34-year-old legal counsel and Somerset resident, echoes the benefits raised by Tay.

“I can walk to Fort Canning and Robertson Quay in under half an hour, or choose to go for a walk in nature or next to the river. I am also not far from the CBD,” she said.

For Lim, having many food and shopping options close to home is a big draw. Some of her favourite nearby haunts include the Killiney area, with its local eateries, the basement of Liang Court, where she goes for affordable sushi, and UE Square, where she recommends a cafe called Epicurious.


Cairnhill Nine

Sales have been brisk at Cairnhill Nine, a new luxury condominium. (Photo: CapitaLand)


The future looks bright

As demand for housing in Somerset continues to dramatically outstrip supply, new developments in the area have been generating considerable interest.

Cairnhill Nine, a luxury condominium by CapitaLand on Cairnhill Road, is one of the most hotly-anticipated developments in the area. It has seen brisk sales and, according to Wong, is expected to be popular with expatriates with school-going children who wish to be close to international schools in the area.

Another noteworthy development is Lloyd SixtyFive by TG Developments, located a stone’s throw away in the River Valley district, just a short walk from Somerset MRT station. The freehold condominium pioneered a rent-then-buy scheme which has enabled prospective buyers to first commit to a two-year lease before deciding to purchase a unit.

What is more, according to Tay, City Developments Limited has announced that the sales launch for the 124-unit freehold New Futura condominium could happen as early as the second half of 2017.

Existing building TripleOne Somerset is also undergoing a facelift slated for completion in late 2018 or early 2019. The works aim to enhance the existing retail space, convert some office space into strata units for sale, and introduce medical suites into the complex.

These enhancement works have thus far proved successful. Tay said: “Strata sales of the medical suites and office units in the Somerset Tower commenced in Q3 2016 and reportedly, a few office units were transacted at an average price of above $2,680 psf.”

Park Mall is another existing building that will be given a facelift. It will be redeveloped into a mixed-use development comprising office and retail space, as well as bicycle parking facilities, shower rooms and lockers.

With a slew of initiatives to keep the area buzzing, Somerset’s star will continue shining for a long time to come.

Did you know?

– A house on Orchard Road was once bought by King Chulalongkorn, who was at the time King of Siam.

– The distance between Somerset MRT and Dhoby Ghaut MRT stations, when measured in terms of track length, is the shortest of any two stations on the North South line, and it takes only one minute for an MRT train to make the trip from one station to the other.

– Emerald Hill, located across the road from Somerset MRT station, is home to a row of historic residences with Chinese Baroque architecture that formerly served as homes of wealthy Peranakan families.

The PropertyGuru News & Views This article was first published in the print version PropertyGuru News & Views. Download PDFs of full print issues or read more stories now!