Famed for sex and violence, Orchard Towers is one of the spiciest parts of Singapore.
It's even more surprising that it's located in the very heart of Orchard Road; and it begs the question: Would you put up with the seedy bits, to live in such a prime area?
This week we asked A, who once resided in the (in)famous Orchard Towers:
The appeal of Orchard Towers
If you can ignore the sleaze and reputation, Orchard Towers has some strong points going for it.
A, for instance, lived in a massive 3,789 sq ft penthouse unit in Orchard Towers – a size that is almost unheard of among newer residential projects today.
A says that the locale at Orchard Towers is also an attractive one, even though he has since moved to Queenstown. He says that Orchard Towers did offer a lot more convenience, even if Queenstown is a lot more peaceful.
"For food, there was the food court in the commercial block opposite, and some standalone eateries like Isle House that serves delicious local fare," he says, "As well as an Indian restaurant where I can get a quick teh peng from.
"There are some really good eateries on the upper floors too, such as the famous Thai restaurant. Sometimes, I'll head over to Forum to take out McDonalds, and I also really like the ramen at Uma Uma Ramen. There's also a revamped Starbucks at Delfi Orchard to chill in.
"Right next door, there's Claymore Connect, a local mall that houses a California Pizza Kitchen among other F&Bs, and now it has a really decent Cold Storage with a salad bar."
*California Pizza has now been replaced with a Japanese restaurant.
As for retail, we probably don't need to explain this location is as good as it gets – for A, the "neighbourhood mall" was nothing less than the ritzy ION Orchard.
An interesting point raised by A is that, while Orchard Towers is in the heart of the concrete jungle, it still has its unique outdoor appeal.
He notes that going for a late-night run along Orchard Road is surprisingly nice, when the malls are closed and the crowds have vanished. It's certainly not an experience many have had (and we imagine it's especially nice with Christmas lights).
That said, A also reminds us that Orchard Towers is a pure apartment complex, not a condo. That means no common facilities like pools, gyms, etc. Even the car park isn't included.
"You have to pay for season parking," A says, "But it's quite affordable, around $150 a month when I was there. But I am not the type that would head to the gym or swim anyway, so this wasn't even an issue for me."
For some buyers, the lack of common facilities may be considered a plus point. This is because it lowers the maintenance fees to rock-bottom rates; and if you were to get a regular condo in Orchard, the fees tend to be quite exorbitant.
They often include amenities you may not want, like concierge services or private lifts, as it is a luxury area.
How visible is the vice at Orchard Towers?
A says that the vice is contained in the building itself; you won't see any spillover even in immediate neighbouring buildings, like Palais Renaissance, Forum, or Delfi Orchard.
The area where the vice is visible would be the front of Orchard Tower's commercial segment (the residential component is located further back). A says that:
"At the front of the commercial blocks, you'll see women standing around, and some people smoking (there's now a designated smoking zone next to the taxi stand).
"The vice is also limited up to the zebra crossing between both blocks. Once you enter the residential block, there really isn't much shady stuff going on there. There's a hardware shop on the right, and a bar on the left…but there are no vice activities going on as far as I can see.
"When I was there, there was a Guardian and a Jasons supermarket, though they've been gone for a while now (interestingly, the Jasons supermarket is replaced by a classy French restaurant, but you can only enter via the back of the residential block).
"I can really appreciate the good work of the security guards at Orchard Towers. They always ensure that suspicious people do not enter the residential lift lobby, which does require card access – not just for the entrance, but to even activate the lift."
A also points out the residential component has been renamed, to protect its image. It is now known as One Claymore instead of Orchard Towers (as its address is 1 Claymore Drive).
However, A opines that they should remove the neon nightclub signage on the front of the residential block, to help with the overhaul.
There are also ways for residents to avoid the vice spots if they don't feel comfortable walking through them.
"The fastest path home from the MRT is to walk past the Thai Embassy, so you would have to cut through the commercial block to get back," A says,
"You could also walk through Palais Renaissance, or take the walkway between Palais Renaissance and the Thai Embassy instead of the commercial block which is less crowded.
If you really want to avoid any element of the crowd, you'd have to go through Claymore Road on the north side of the residential block, then take the back entrance. It's a much longer journey though, and an uphill one at that; so it's not worth bypassing the commercial block area altogether."
The vice crowds may be less troubling if you're a guy
"I've read an article in the Straits Times about how someone didn't wish to visit their mother staying at Orchard Towers because they don't like being solicited for business by women there," A says.
"Never happened to me, and I am a guy – if you're looking straight and uninterested, the women there generally wouldn't bother with you.
So, unless you're a Caucasian (because you're likely a tourist), smiling at them, or dressed in work attire with a flustered face and looking interested, you're pretty much left alone. I can't say the same if you're female though, my mother mentioned being hugged randomly once by a stranger."
The appearance is worst in the early mornings and evenings when the vice starts
A says that before the pandemic in the early mornings – before 8am – Orchard Towers "looks like it had a hangover". You may see some people lying on the steps, or wandering about in a daze.
Between 8am and 6pm, Orchard Towers looks like any older strata title mall. However, even then, the vice trade doesn't fully stop – during the day, there are still sleazy massage shops that are open, and some of the workers do solicit.
It's around 6pm or after, however, before the vice activities spill out to the front of the commercial block, and the pubs roar to life.
A says that Orchard Towers is "definitely noisier" at night:
"In the commercial block, certain bars have loud bass playing which adds a lot of life to the area. People are seen touting visitors into the bars (women in particular stand at the escalators to talk you into a bar establishment).
"There are a lot of tourists that come visit too, so they're just walking around, visiting the bars for a drink or there to partake in said vice activities (usually it's a mixture). It's very lively but not unwelcoming at all."
The Orchard Towers 'bar problem'
Common complaints about Orchard Towers are, surprisingly, not about the sex trade.
Note that besides massage parlours, many sex workers at Orchard Towers don't do business in the building itself – they may meet their clients there, but they take a cab to a hotel or other location.
Perhaps that's why we've noticed the bulk of complaints (from some residents and landlords) are more about the bars and the fights/swearing between drunks.
A says that "Drunk people are always a problem, not just in Orchard Towers but elsewhere in Singapore and anywhere else in the world. Put a drunk person in a car and lives are lost too.
"Orchard Towers just gets a bad reputation due to its already illustrious background. I don't think that a bunch of 'massage' shops in the area directly results in the fights that are reported there, but it may have attracted such people to the building, to begin with.
"I think more could be done on an aggregate level to control this, such as having better building security, to ensure that things are in an orderly manner and do not go out of hand.
"It also doesn't really bother me as a resident, and I've not heard of any resident that got caught in the crosshairs here. Most fights are usually between patrons of the bars."
One of these incidents was in 2019, when a fight resulted in a highly publicised murder case. However, A is unfazed by this:
"Murders happen everywhere, not just Orchard Towers. The one that occurred in 2019 was a fight that simply went too far, in my opinion.
"But these things do happen elsewhere, they're probably just not as frequently reported. A jogger got randomly stabbed to death in Punggol, so should everyone avoid going for a run in the estate?
"The 2002 case seems like an isolated incidence of rage over what was said. I don't think this justifies anyone to really get worried as the residents here are quite pleasant.
"Just be smart – don't walk into a crowd that looks agitated or are about to break out into a fight in the commercial block, and it'll be okay."
Who should consider staying at Orchard Towers?
Orchard Towers is still probably one of the most affordable places to live on Orchard Road. A says that:
"Those looking at convenience and don't mind staying in a more vibrant area can consider Orchard Towers because on a $PSF level, it's very affordable. The overall price is around $3 million for a 1,970 sq ft unit, but it's freehold…and $PSF-wise it's only $1,500+.
"But if you're looking for a residential area that's peaceful, then this isn't for you, since Orchard Towers has always been pretty vibrant from the start. Honestly, this begs the question as to why residents staying there actually complain about what goes on!
"Those looking for facilities should give zero consideration to Orchard Towers for obvious reasons."
It may be a good deal for those who value space, as well as the convenience
A feels that one of the appeals is the amount of space in Orchard Towers units. He says that:
"It might make sense to renovate so that you could do a dual-key unit, where you can live in one, and rent out another portion.
"In fact, one unique point about the layout is that every apartment already comes with two entrances. This could be fruitful since you're not only assured of the freehold value of the land, but can generate income too.
"By the way, the configuration is excellent given the few structural columns; those looking to renovate will find it a breeze.
"There are some columns, but the layout is squarish, which makes it easy and efficient. The original layout has balconies, but many residents have extended it and even put in windows to turn it into a fully indoor space."
So for those who don't mind such a spicy reputation, Orchard Towers does have residential appeal; and some may even point out the en-bloc potential (although the proposed $1.6 billion, as well as a strata mixed-use development, is never going to be easy).
If the government ever decides to clear out the vice area, Orchard Towers would be a prime piece of freehold real estate, right in the heart of the shopping belt – it's hard to imagine developers being uninterested.