The man behind Pearl Bank Apartments

PHOTO: The man behind Pearl Bank Apartments

SINGAPORE - The architect behind the iconic Pearl Bank Apartments - Singapore's first high-rise apartment - is dead-set against the building going en bloc.

Tan Cheng Siong, 75, founder of Archurban Architects Planners, says of a collective sale: "If it has to come down because it's structurally unsafe, then I won't be sad. But if it's speculators wanting to make a quick buck, then I would feel very upset."

For now, the apartment block in Pearl's Hill in Outram will remain - the last en bloc effort fizzled out last year.

It is understandable why he is worked up about en bloc talk. In 1969, his firm won the Urban Redevelopment Authority site tender for the project, based on the merit of its design, even though its client had put up the lowest price offer. The 38-storey residential building was the tallest here when it was completed in 1976.

From there, Tan, who started out as an apprentice in the architecture department at the Housing Development Board, was appointed by DBS bank to design the country's first condominium housing estate - the Pandan Valley Condominium.

The father of three says: "Those were very exciting times for young architects because Singapore had just gained independence and we were tasked with rebuilding and planning the city."

He branched out to China, becoming a consultant planner of the Shenzhen Economic Zone in 1986, introducing condominiums to the Chinese.

That garnered him starchitect status and he has been crowned the "father of luxury housing" there. He shrugs off the tag, saying: "They were in a different era then and were looking for housing solutions. I built these high-rise buildings which just exploded with tremendous interest. Now everyone knows how to do them, so I'm neutral to the term."

Even at his age, Tan shows no signs of slowing down as he looks for new and innovative ways in architecture. "Even though I might be well-known there, the competition is always strong from younger people. So I have to continue to find new ideas."

On his retirements plans, he jokes: "Architects don't die. They just fade away and I will do the same eventually. I consider myself very lucky to still have passion for my work."