Architects keen on conservation status for Pearl Bank

The 31-storey mixed use People's Park Complex (above) in Chinatown was the first of its kind in South-east Asia.
The 31-storey mixed use People's Park Complex (above) in Chinatown was the first of its kind in South-east Asia.
Pearl Bank Apartments, built in 1976, reflect a period when architects designed innovative high-rise and high-density structures.
Pearl Bank Apartments, built in 1976, reflect a period when architects designed innovative high-rise and high-density structures.ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

If URA gives its nod, other modern landmarks can also be protected

If the 38-year-old Pearl Bank Apartments gets the conservation green light, it could pave the way to preserve other buildings which have played a role in Singapore's residential architectural history.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has conserved more than 7,000 buildings, mostly shophouses and bungalows.

Now, for the first time, it has received an application to preserve a multi-strata private development.

If it gives its nod to Pearl Bank, architects say this will make it easier to protect other buildings with architectural, historic and social significance - such as the first Housing Board blocks in Queenstown which were built in 1960.

Conservation architect Lim Huck Chin listed other unique structures such as the Colonnade condominium in Grange Road, which was completed in 1987.

There is also The Arcadia which was completed in 1983. Designed by local architect Chua Ka Seng, it features garden terraces on each level and was inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Mr Lim said they are "physical emblems of our housing history which deserve protection".

Conserving such buildings will also recognise the contributions of local architects, said experts.

Mr Gan Eng Oon, Mr William Lim and Mr Tay Kheng Soon of local company Design Partnership, known as DP Architects today, were behind the commercial and residential development Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road.

The 16-storey building, completed in 1973, reflects a period when architects and planners designed innovative high-rise and high-density structures in the city, said architect and urban historian Lai Chee Kien.

Dr Chang Jiat Hwee, an assistant professor at the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore, said it is important to recognise architects such as Mr William Lim and Mr Tay, who also designed the 31-storey People's Park Complex.

"They are the two most important post-independence architects of Singapore... (who) produced important and influential ideas on architecture and urbanism in Asia," he explained.

However, public opinion on modernist architecture is divided. The Golden Mile Complex and People's Park Complex, for instance, have been described by some as "dingy" and "ugly".

These modernist buildings, which usually feature extensive use of concrete and are geometric in design, do not fit into conventional ideas of heritage buildings which tend to be from the 19th century or earlier.

But experts argue that these modern structures act as markers of different eras and add character to the landscape. They also represent Singapore's early nation-building efforts.

Like Pearl Bank, these buildings came after the Ministry of National Development first pushed for condos in 1972 to get the middle and upper-middle classes to prefer them to landed properties for efficient land use, said Dr Lai.

Singapore Heritage Society's honorary treasurer, Dr Yeo Kang Shua, an assistant professor of architecture at Singapore University of Technology and Design, said that without such structures, there will be a gap in Singapore's residential architectural history.

Already, several iconic developments - including the country's first two condos, the 1974 Beverly Mai in Tomlinson Road and Futura in Leonie Hill by local architect Timothy Seow - were demolished recently after collective sales.

Beverly Mai introduced the concept of shared facilities and maisonettes while Futura had living areas that looked like space-pods.

Architect Chang Yong Ter said: "We should look into selectively conserving these various sites as they serve as milestones of our evolving housing strategies."

melodyz@sph.com.sg


Significant buildings

  • Golden Mile Complex

Formerly called Woh Hup Complex, the 16-storey building located between Nicoll Highway and Beach Road was completed in 1973. Its stepped terrace design cuts down on traffic noise and allows for natural ventilation and light.

There have been several attempts to sell the property collectively over the past few years.

  • People's Park Complex

The 31-storey mixed use People's Park Complex in Chinatown was the first of its kind in South-east Asia.

It was designed by DP Architects, the same company behind Golden Mile Complex, and completed in 1973.

  • The Colonnade

Designed by world-renowned American architect Paul Rudolph, the 28-storey condominium in Grange Road features overhangs and balconies.

Its staggered design provides occupants with shade from the sun. It was completed in 1987 at a cost of $180 million.

MELODY ZACCHEUS