Adaptive Reuse: Funan

Expertly fighting the rising tide of online shopping decline of brick and mortar, Funan is a destination that pushes the expectations of retail design towards an entirely new definition. Porous, hyper-connected and thematically considered in meticulous detail, the project is a civic hub that allows users to explore its offerings vertically and horizontally – walking or even cycling through the space to enjoy its dining, theatre, wellness, coworking, offices, co-living, retail, and outdoor spaces.  

Seamlessly bonded to its city, Funan is linked to many of Singapore’s key landmarks – bringing community engagement, experience, and recreation under one roof.  

Empowering the creativity of a city.” 

Historical photo of original site at Coleman Corner.

What was the approach?

For Woods Bagot’s Hong Kong team, CapitaLand’s design brief for the redesign of Funan – to deliver a ‘new era of retail’ – was nothing short of inspiring.  

Built in 1985, the project’s first life was that of a nerdy-but-beloved tech mall by the name of Funan DigitalLife Mall. A product of the dawn of the personal computing age, Funan DigitalLife Mall was a place to shop for computers – it’s sixth floor was devoted to around 50 niche IT stores.

By the time Woods Bagot was tasked with the design of Funan in 2016, the retail sector had moved forward – demanding a more experiential approach in order to keep customers shopping in-store. Responding to this need as well as the shared belief in the benefits of retail as a civic gesture, the approach for the redesign of Funan can be understood in two parts: Visioning and Feasibility. 

Part one – Visioning. Delivering a new era of retail required a vison, which was to “empower the creativity of the city.” This part of the approach took every opportunity to “make passion possible,” carrying out user-focused design strategies driven by early-stage user profiling to identify community interests that could be embedded into Funan’s programme.  

Funan’s commitment to its vision resulted in its ‘Tree of Life’ design concept. Representing a habitat for creativity, this concept physically manifests in the form of a 25-meter tall ‘tree’ extending from the malls’ basement to level 4. Referred to as ‘Passion Clusters’, platforms up and down the tree host flexible spaces that centre on a specific passion or hobby – tech, fit, taste, craft, chic, and play. Embodying Funan’s vision, the Tree of Life is a destination for people to express themselves and showcase their creativity in a new-age retail setting.   

Part two – Feasibility. There is no vision without value. Delivering Funan was a complex endeavour that required an approach that was both economic and efficient. Programming required a super-efficient workable core and for a mix of uses to be integrated into a very small, previously retail-only plot. Mindful that Funan needed to be a part of the city, the project also needed to connect to public transport –linking to the metro tunnel as well as a city-wide biking track.

These factors saw 10% of  stores brought back to the malls centre and the integration of opportunities for creatives and retailers to be imaginative with their opportunities. As a result, Funan is now home to Wild Rice theatre, a Climb Central rock-climbing wall and a bike fixing-and-testing studio as part of Brompton’s Bike Store – all profitable outcomes accommodated for by the mall’s design.   

Why was it better than defaulting to demolition?

Even in its first life as a tech mall, Funan was known and beloved by its community. The decision to honour the digital history of the building meant that Funan had a chance to appeal to more people – expanding its niche fan base to create a haven for the community’s creatives.  

Evolving retail without it being at the cost of history.” 

Lessons learnt/problems solved?

The main challenge to address in the design of Funan was fulfilling the aim of keeping the intricate mixed-use programme feel as seamless to the end user as possible. This was addressed in two ways:  

Forging interconnections. For Funan to thrive, connections between functions and stores needed to be thoughtfully embedded into the programme early on. To ensure that the project’s many advantages could be used to their full potential, great care was taken to make sure that the complimentary uses of certain stores are as seamless as possible. For example, hireable barbeques on the building’s roof are made more usable via the use of an app that allows purchases to be made and delivered from the supermarket below.

This interconnectivity is also evident in the decision to have a bike track weave through Funan. Part of city-wide tour, the inclusion of the track has seen additional features included in Funan – like showers and Brompton’s Bike Stores fixing and repairs services. The track’s popularity sees that the site opens at 8am instead of 10am, creating two more hours of potential revenue for shareholders.  

Creating room for the unexpected. Funan is set apart by novel experiences, all of which required highly considered design solutions to reach their full potential. Serving as the 6th location for Singapore-based rock-climbing business Climb Central, Funan’s 16-meter-tall climbing wall was deliberately placed in a central position to create visibility. As a result, this location is seen as a place for rock climbers to exhibit their skills, making it the businesses most popular location.  


“A new era of retail.” 

“Memories retained and revived.”