Bras Basah Complex

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The facade of Bras Basah Complex. Photo from Roots.sg.

Completed in 1980, Bras Basah Complex is a mixed-use building that houses both commercial and residential units, much like the Golden Mile Complex. Consisting of two 25-storey blocks, the complex's first five floors were reserved for shops while the rest of the floors were built for residential use.[1] According to reports, the complex cost S$15.2 million to build.[2] Located at North Bridge Road, Bras Basah Complex was constructed with the intention to be a book centre and gained the name the 'City of Books'.[3][4]

Origins[edit | edit source]

The complex was named Bras Basah to allude to the history of the area. The name 'Brassbassa' or ‘Bras Basah’ was derived from beras basah which means ‘wet rice’ in Malay. In the past, it was common practice to dry the rice that had been brought in to Singapore by boat as they would have been soaked by the journey.[5] The area where the rice had been dried was then called Brassbassa Road.

Residential units[edit | edit source]

The corridor of Bras Basah Complex's residential floor. Photo from National Archives Singapore.

Bras Basah is comprised of 240 units of 4-room flats.[6] In 1980, prices for the residential units started from S$28,800.[7] In an effort to encourage Singaporeans to buy their own homes, tours were conducted at Bras Basah Complex to allow potential buyers to make a more informed decision.[8] The purchase of the residential units was conducted using a balloting process.[9]


As the complex is a mixed-use building, the architecture and design of the residential floors were made slightly different from normal HDB flats. For normal HDB flats, the void deck is located on the first floor. However to accommodate the commercial floors and yet allow residents to have privacy, the void deck for the complex was built on the fifth floor.[10]

Retail units[edit | edit source]

The storefront of Basheer Graphic Books presently located in Bras Basah Complex. Photo from The Smart Local.
Speciality gift shops like Cats Socrates has opened for business at Bras Basah Complex. Photo from The Smart Local.

'City of books'[edit | edit source]

Bras Basah Complex has established a niche for themselves as the ‘City of books’ but from the start, it had been built with the vision of it being a book centre.[11] When the complex was first opened, some of the shop units were taken up by bookshop owners that previously had stores along North Bridge Road and Bras Basah Road. It was also reported that the majority of the retail units in Bras Basah complex had been reserved for bookstore owners.[12][13] According to then Labour Minister Ong Pang Boon, Bras Basah Complex was an exemplary case study of HDB's efforts to preserve an area's heritage.[14]


The Bras Basah Complex Merchant’s Association (BBCMA) was created with the shop owners as the committee members. This allowed the shop owners to cooperate and discuss issues pertaining to the complex. In 1983, there were several cases of robberies at Bras Basah Complex. To reinforce security and deter crime, security guards were hired and a crime prevention committee was formed by some of the shop owners.[15]

Diversification[edit | edit source]

Other than bookstores, businesses like Up Enterprise Book Rental Centre also set up shop in Bras Basah Complex. Customers of the business could rent books at a fraction of the book's cost price and were given a week to return their books.[16] However, it was reported that rentals were high and business was slow in the initial years of Bras Basah Complex resulting in the closure of two bookstores and one restaurant.[17] In December 1980, 29 out of the 106 retail units reserved for bookstores remained vacant.[18]


In 1985, bookstore owners in the Bras Basah Complex Shopholder Association appealed to the HDB for permission to be able to change their trades but retain their retail space in Bras Basah Complex.[19] A year later, it was reported that most of the store-owners had moved out of the complex even though HDB had approved the appeal.[20]


Over time, different kinds of shops began opening at Bras Basah Complex, providing more variety for residents and customers. Shops selling items such as musical instruments, art materials and watches were opened. It has also become a popular place for antique shops, art galleries and speciality gift shops.[21]

Renovations[edit | edit source]

In 1989, a fibreglass roof was built over the atrium to prevent bad weather from affecting the events held frequently at the complex.[22] This upgrading work cost S$80,000. In order to finance the roof construction, shopkeepers organised a culture and arts festival at Bras Basah Complex that lasted for three weeks in June.[23] The festival consisted of Xinyao performances and sales of paintings by Chinese master painters.


In 2013, the complex underwent a renovation to modernise the complex in an effort to appeal to a younger crowd.[24] During the renovation process, LED lights were added, a central staircase was built, the toilets were upgraded and shelters were added over the corridors.

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. "Bras Basah Complex, Singapore’s City of Books". Remember Singapore. October 23, 2016. Accessed on 19 June 2019. Retrieved from: https://remembersingapore.org/2016/10/23/bras-basah-complex-book-city/
  2. "$15 mil centre for bookshops". New Nation. January 31, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  3. "Bras Basah gets facelift". The Straits Times. March 22, 2013. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  4. Tong, Yoke Tho. "Shops in Bras Basah Complex to stick to books". The Straits Times. June 28, 1986. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  5. "The Night Soil Carriers". Straits Times Weekly Issue. February 16, 1982. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  6. "$15 mil centre for bookshops". New Nation. January 31, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  7. "$15 mil centre for bookshops". New Nation. January 31, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  8. "Bras Basah Complex, Singapore’s City of Books". Remember Singapore. October 23, 2016. Accessed on 19 June 2019. Retrieved from: https://remembersingapore.org/2016/10/23/bras-basah-complex-book-city/
  9. "Flats ballot". The Straits Times. January 10, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  10. "Bras Basah Complex: The City of Books". Ghetto Singapore. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed on 19 June 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.ghettosingapore.com/bras-basah-complex-the-city-of-books/
  11. "$15 mil centre for bookshops". New Nation. January 31, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  12. "Preserve old in allocating shops, HDB urged". Straits Times. January 13, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  13. Yong Pow Ang. "Complex as book centre: Move hits snag". The Straits Times. December 30, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  14. "Preserve old in allocating shops, HDB urged". Straits Times. January 13, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  15. Goh, Beng Choo. "Rivalry turns into friendship". The Straits Times. March 20, 1984. Accessed on 21 June 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  16. "Colour it upbeat". New Nation. November 30, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  17. Yong Pow Ang. "Complex as book centre: Move hits snag". The Straits Times. December 30, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  18. Yong Pow Ang. "Complex as book centre: Move hits snag". The Straits Times. December 30, 1980. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  19. Tong, Yoke Tho. "Shops in Bras Basah Complex to stick to books". The Straits Times. June 28, 1986. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  20. Tong, Yoke Tho. "Shops in Bras Basah Complex to stick to books". The Straits Times. June 28, 1986. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  21. Lum, Bryan. "Bras Basah Complex Guide - More Than Just Books For Your Parents". The Smart Local. November 11, 2016. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from: https://thesmartlocal.com/read/bras-basah-guide/
  22. "Bras Basah Complex, Singapore’s City of Books". Remember Singapore. October 23, 2016. Accessed on 19 June 2019. Retrieved from: https://remembersingapore.org/2016/10/23/bras-basah-complex-book-city/
  23. "Cultural fair for the needy and for a roof at shopping centre". The Straits Times. June 13, 1989. Accessed on 4 July 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  24. Tan, Sue-Ann. Cheng, Jingjie. "Bras Basah makeover: new look, same great contents". Asia One. March 24, 2013. Accessed on 19 June 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.asiaone.com/print/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20130322-410504.html