Saved… but it’s a numbers game

Saved… but it’s a numbers game


Once the tallest building in S-E Asia, the old Asia Insurance Building was saved when its new owners were granted an extra 14 per cent in floor area


IT WAS the first modern high-rise building in the Collyer Quay area and once the tallest building in Southeast Asia. Yet the groundbreaking Asia Insurance Building faced an uncertain future a few years ago.


Its original owner, the Asia Insurance Company, opposed the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s suggestion to conserve the property because that could hurt its chances of a sale. The 53-year-old, 20-storey building was eventually sold to service residence operator The Ascott Group in 2006 for $110 million.


That gave the building a second lease of life.


Ascott chose to ride on the building’s heritage and refurbish it to provide 146 serviced apartments for top business professionals. The URA sweetened the deal by allowing it to expand its floor space by 14 per cent. This let it make enough adjustments to add 6 per cent more floor space and squeeze in about 20 more units, a substantial bottom-line boost, given daily rates ranging from $780 for a studio to $2,300 for a two-bedroom apartment.


This made conserving the building a no-brainer for Ascott.


Designed by the late architect Ng Keng Siang, it had a brass mail chute similar to one found in the historic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Large parts of its facade were clad in Italian Travertine marble. Its stone panels at street level were made of Nero Portaro, a black marble from Sicily that comes with gold and whitish veins.


It would have been hard to build something as iconic within the tight 969 sq m site at the junction of Finlayson Green and Raffles Quay, Ascott’s senior vice-president for product and technical services, Mr Jean-Claude Erne, tells The Straits Times. Demolishing it for a new one would also have added up to a year in the construction process.


Refurbishment turned out to be no mean feat though. First, the old building had two separate lift cores, which had to be carefully moved to a centralised area for more efficient access for residents.


The 1950s brass-handled window panes were too thin to block out noise from the busy junction. Instead of replacing the windows entirely, Ascott mounted thicker glass on the original frames and hired a specialist to seal them securely.


The original building also had no carpark, and Ascott needed to cater to its car-owning clientele. It got around the problem by carving out a new driveway at its ground-floor entrance and offering valet parking instead.


No luxury residence would be complete without a swimming pool. Ascott put one on its rooftop by reinforcing the structure to take additional weight.


Finally, Ascott wanted to the tie its interior decor to 1950s Singapore without being too kitschy.


It commissioned artwork from local artists like Han Sai Por, Goh Beng Kwan and Tan Kian Por in the lobby as well as rooms, keeping sepia-toned pictures of old Singapore to lift lobbies on the building’s upper levels.


All in, Ascott spent about $60 million refurbishing the building, which opens for business in October.


While Mr Erne expresses pride about the final product, he admits its success came about ultimately because the numbers worked out in Ascott’s favour.


He says: ‘It’s almost an organic process. Whatever the building or site has, you see how best to make it work, and (from the) extra gross floor area that comes about as part of the process, we try to maximise every inch that we can sell to customers.’




It would have been hard to build something as iconic within the tight 969 sq m site. Demolishing it for a new one would also have added up to a year in the construction process.


Source : Straits Times

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