One Pearl Bank should be a mixed-use project

One Pearl Bank (above), the 99-year leasehold condominium that will replace Pearl Bank Apartments, will be ready by 2023.
One Pearl Bank (above), the 99-year leasehold condominium that will replace Pearl Bank Apartments, will be ready by 2023. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

While the exterior design for One Pearl Bank is aesthetically pleasing, I share former Singapore Institute of Architects president Theodore Chan's view that it is also a safe and formulaic offering that has broken no new ground (Design of One Pearl Bank draws mixed reception, May 16).

This is in contrast to the soon-to-be demolished Pearl Bank Apartments, distinguished by its horseshoe-shaped block comprising various types of split-level units held by a communal corridor.

It quickly became a contemporary architectural landmark that identified with the zeitgeist of nation building in a newly independent Singapore.

Such an intriguing site at the foot of a hill in the heart of town - and there are not that many here - is also wasted on what looks set to be just another private condominium development with a staid-sounding name that, unfortunately, also reflects the character of its developer.

A more imaginative concept - one that is perhaps inspired by the mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon - is to be expected to justify CapitaLand's decision to demolish an iconic symbol of our architectural heritage.

Has the developer not considered that this project can potentially be the marker of green tropical biophilic architecture, as well as in the programming of events for the eventual transformation of Pearl's Hill and the nearby York Hill into elevated vibrant leafy districts according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority's masterplan?

Given the strong interest that the site has garnered, as well as the panoramic view from the summit of the new development, a mixed-use project that is accessible to the public would spell progress from the current single-use iteration targeted at a closed community of residents.

The residential component should make up no more than a quarter to a third of the project - especially in view of a projected market oversupply in the next five years - with the rest dedicated to a luxury design hotel, a luxury spa and wellness urban resort and a design gallery showcasing the evolution of post-independence Singaporean architecture, with Pearl Bank Apartments getting special mention, of course.

The ghost of history and heritage can be laid to rest only if the developer and its appointed architect possess the verve and finesse to embrace and surpass their predecessor's achievements.

This can be done by remaining invested in a mixed-development complex and nurturing its soul, as opposed to selling out the site to a bunch of condominium dwellers or, worse, investors who may treat their apartments as an empty inflation hedge.

Suffice to say, One Pearl Bank deserves to be put back on the drawing board.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2019, with the headline 'One Pearl Bank should be a mixed-use project'. Print Edition | Subscribe