SINGAPORE - The iconic Golden Mile Complex, which resembles a typewriter with its terraced facade and towering columns, has been conserved.
Minister for National Development Desmond Lee on Friday (Oct 22) announced that the 16-storey building has been gazetted as a conserved building, one year after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had proposed to do so.
To address concerns from building owners that conservation may affect the chances of a collective sale, the URA will offer a package of incentives to make development options for the site more attractive to potential buyers.
In a pre-recorded video posted on Facebook, Mr Lee said Golden Mile Complex - completed in 1973 - is the first modern, large-scale, strata-titled development to be conserved in Singapore. This decision was not taken lightly, he added.
He acknowledged that some owners may see conservation as a constraint, and noted that owners have been planning for a collective sale, with some intending to use the proceeds to fund their retirement.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has thus made efforts to ensure that the conservation will not undermine collective sale efforts, by offering potential buyers incentives to rejuvenate the building.
"The development potential of the site is increased with conservation," Mr Lee said.
The incentives include allowing developers to build a new tower block about 30-storeys high beside the main conserved building.
The site boundary will may also be extended to include part of adjacent state land to allow for design flexibility, while tax incentives will be provided, lowering development costs. The lease could also be renewed to 99 years, subject to approval from the relevant authorities.
Mr Lee said the incentive package is unique to Golden Mile Complex, which he described as “one of finest examples we have of the ‘Brutalist’ style of architecture, which favours minimalist construction over decorative design”.
In a statement, URA added that the package was devised based on the site’s attributes, including its “exceptional standing as a rare and iconic landmark from Singapore’s initial years of post-war nation building”.
"We hope that developers will consider the potential of the site, alongside our vision to rejuvenate a national icon," Mr Lee said.
He hailed the building, which was built in the 1970s and designed by local architects Gan Eng Oon, William Lim and Tay Kheng Soon, as bold and visionary at the time.
"It challenged conventional views in Singapore and across the world, of what modern urban living could look like, adapted to our tropical environment," he said.
In its proposal last year, the URA said Singapore has thus far conserved more than 7,200 buildings, with most of them dating from the colonial period.
With its conservation, Golden Mile Complex joins a handful of other post-independence heritage buildings like the Singapore Conference Hall and Jurong Town Hall to be legally protected.
International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) Singapore president Yeo Kang Shua called the conservation decision a significant milestone.
“The unprecedented incentives show that the state has the political will to balance market forces to push the decision through,” said Associate Professor Yeo, an architectural historian at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
He hopes the incentives would help developer-buyers, as well as the building’s current owners, to see heritage buildings as sites with financial potential rather than a liability, due to the need to adhere to heritage guidelines during redevelopment.
Docomomo Singapore chair Ho Weng Hin said the conservation sends a strong signal that Singapore is ready to recognise its own architectural heritage.
“Golden Mile Complex, along with other modernist buildings, were designed, built, planned and owned by Singaporeans. Gazetting it is a watershed moment and opens a new chapter in the heritage conservation journey for Singapore,” said Mr Ho.
He said he was encouraged by the authorities’ willingness to think out of the box and offer a “unique cocktail” of planning incentives addressing owners’ concerns, ensuring that conservation would be a win-win situation for all parties involved.
In its conservation proposal last year, URA said it had conducted an extensive two-year study that included engaging diverse groups of stakeholders, as well as working with various agencies.
“I hope this has positive ripple effects and that such discussions become a norm for other modernist buildings in the future,” said Mr Ho.
Mr Tay Hong Beng, head of real estate at KPMG in Singapore, said interest in a collective sale among developers is likely to pick up following the announcements.
However, he said potential buyers might choose to adopt a wait-and-see approach as the tax incentive package offered is unprecedented.
“Some of them may still have reservations over navigating conservation guidelines and how the requirements could impact them,” said Mr Tay, who added that developers may also be concerned about the cost of maintaining and rejuvenating 48-year-old building.
Retrofitting the building to include greener technologies may also prove a challenge for developers, he noted.
One of the building’s architects, Mr Tay Kheng Soon, said he thought the conservation was good for history, but added: “Single buildings do signify a time in history, but today, it’s much more important to consider the nature of the city, its economy and its culture.”