Ashish Manchharam’s childhood was shaped by the colour and candour of Kampung Glam’s eclectic shophouses, so it was difficult for him to imagine growing up anywhere else. The founder of 8M Real Estate therefore set out to preserve these very buildings. But conservation is not merely gazetting buildings like architectural taxidermy; he aims to reintegrate them into Singapore’s modern landscape.
Today, 8M has a staggering $400-million portfolio that comprises 31 shophouses, including Ann Siang House, now a hotel oozing with old-world charm and which was acquired for a cool $52 million. But to Manchharam, the real value of the properties he redevelops lies in their history.
He is not unlike the shophouses he laboriously makes over: Peeking from beneath his finely cut shirtsleeve is a well-loved rubber wristband with the phrase, “#StopBullying”. If the faded accessory is incongruent with Manchharam’s inscrutable image, he does not mind. “It’s my daughter’s personal campaign,” he says proudly. “I’ve been wearing it for months. I’m her biggest supporter.”
While other real estate developers look to change a city’s entire skyline, Manchharam is more than content to ensure the shophouses of his younger years last long into the future — with all their charm and heritage intact, and then some.