This unassuming mall near Orchard Road was once a hotbed for Singapore’s rock music scene, as it housed a hip “live” concert venue for popular local bands.
Despite its location near Orchard Road, few young Singaporeans would have heard of Ming Arcade, much less entered the premises.
Located at the “quiet” end of the famous shopping street, opposite Forum The Shopping Mall and Hard Rock Café, the seven-storey mall with three basement levels seems unobtrusive, blending into the background among its more eye-catching neighbours.
Completed in 1982 and designed by Tay Kheng Soon and Chung Meng Ker, Ming Arcade’s architecture can be described as modernism with a twist, thanks to its rectilinear volumes and colours being surprisingly interjected with contrasting elements for a break from the otherwise-bland design. It was awarded the Singapore Institute of Architects Design Merit Award in 1983.
What is more remarkable about the building is despite its narrow site, it used to house The Rainbow Lounge, a theatre disco lounge and music venue set up by doctor, poet and award-winning writer Goh Poh Seng.
Dr Goh was known for being good friends with David Bowie, and even brought the British superstar to Singapore for his only local performance. The Rainbow Lounge saw local rock bands like The Quests and Tokyo Square performing there, cultivating its status as the go-to place to enjoy Singapore’s rock and blues scene.
But all was not well at The Rainbow Lounge, as a planned appearance by Bowie was cancelled because Dr Goh failed to apply for a licence. The doctor’s licence to run the lounge was later revoked because a member of its resident band made an indecent remark on stage.
At the time of writing in 2018, what used to be The Rainbow Lounge has been turned into a family karaoke outlet, and although the premises are still being used for a music-related business, the halcyon days of rock and blues seem all but gone, leaving behind nothing but a sense of nostalgia.
Many of the other shops have also shuttered, leaving mostly pubs and entertainment outlets in operation.
Further redevelopment might be on the horizon, as 59 of the mall’s 88 shop units – a combined strata floor area of approximately 11,410 sq ft, making up a third of the development's total share value -- were put up for collective sale in 2018.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Ming Arcade. A renewal may bring back the buzz and footfall in the area but may result in the mall losing its sleepy charm.
Buildings and sites featured on Roots.SG are part of our efforts to raise awareness of our heritage; a listing on Roots.SG does not imply any form of preservation or conservation status, unless it is mentioned in the article. The information in this article is valid as of December 2019 and is not intended to be an exhaustive history of the site/building.