Singapore's architectural history under threat from redevelopment frenzy

Singapore's architectural history under threat from redevelopment frenzy
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - A rush to tear down and redevelop buildings in Singapore has prompted calls to conserve aging properties that symbolize the country's recent history and economic rise.

The land-starved island is known for its gleaming skyscrapers and contemporary architectural designs that punctuate its skyline like the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which looks like a surfboard perched atop three towers.

While the city has preserved some buildings from its colonial past, the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) said on Tuesday more needed to be done to preserve brutalist blocks built just after the city-state achieved independence in 1965.

In a paper titled "Too Young to Die", the non-governmental society picked out some of the first high-rise buildings that helped transform Singapore from a British colonial backwater to the global trade and financial centre it is today.

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Buildings mentioned include the horseshoe-shaped Pearl Bank Apartments, which was the tallest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in 1976, just outside the new financial district.

It was sold this year for S$728 million ($531 million) to developer CapitaLand Ltd, which plans to build a new residential tower of 800 units in its place.

Pearl Bank Apartments face demolition

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    The looming demolition of a horseshoe-shaped tower block that symbolised Singapore's growth from a port town to an affluent city-state has sparked soul-searching about whether enough is being done to protect the country's recent history.

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    Pearl Bank Apartments, on the edge of the business district, was groundbreaking when it was completed in 1976

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    - at the time it was the tallest residential building in Singapore, and became a model for high-rise living in the country and across cities in Southeast Asia.

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    It was a turning point for the city-state's Chinatown, as it was the first skyscraper in an area dotted with low-rise buildings.

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    But the 37-storey, 280-apartment block has seen better days, with residents now complaining of leaking pipes and ageing lifts.

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    Earlier this month it was sold for $728 million to a developer, who plans to construct a modern, high-rise residential building on the site.

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    Tan Cheng Siong, architect behind Pearl Bank Apartments

The SHS said Pearl Bank, along with People's Park Complex, a hulking yellow and green edifice that towers over Chinatown, and the Golden Mile Complex, with its unique stepped-terrace design, were of great historical and architectural significance.

Media has reported that People's Park and the Golden Mile Complex, which were also completed in the 1970s, are to be put up for sale.

"It is timely for current land-use policies and regulatory frameworks to be reevaluated to facilitate the conservation of modernist structures for adaptive reuse, and for private owners and developers to plan for a longer building lifespan," the SHS said.

Authorities have since the 1970s granted heritage status to more than 7,000 buildings in more 100 parts of Singapore, including colorful shophouses, so-called black-and-white bungalows, mosques and temples.

But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a National Day Rally speech on Sunday that Singapore had to think about future generations.

"We may keep a few blocks for historical or heritage value or sentimental reasons, or to remind people what the old days are like, but these should be the exception," Lee said.

"For the others we can rebuild, newer, better, more liveable flats, blocks, townships more suited to what our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will want to live in."

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