Are we looking at buildings only as money-spinners?

Are we looking at buildings only as money-spinners?

 

I READ “It’s the end of the Storey” (June 27) with disbelief.

 

How serious are we as a nation about preserving what little is left of our heritage? What, exactly, are these “engineering constraints” that make it impossible to construct the Downtown Line without demolishing the New 7th Storey Hotel? Since the Bugis station already exists, would it be fair to say that they will just be doing works underground? And if so, can they not tunnel around the building, rather than just directly below it?

 

After the recent demolition of the much-loved National Library (and going back even further, other historical landmarks such as the National Theatre, the Van Cleef Aquarium, the old Esplanade — Elizabeth Walk — and Satay Club), have we not learned our lesson? We can’t turn back the clock and save these buildings — some would say, monuments — but going forward, we can try our best to preserve those that are still with us.

 

I feel that we are still not doing enough in this area and tend to look at buildings purely from an economic standpoint — hence, you get the Raffles Hotel, Chijmes and the Singapore Art Museum. These structures are money-spinners and to the authorities, the New 7th Storey Hotel is merely an anachronism from the past, on its last legs, deserving of the wrecking ball.

 

It is not too late. I beseech the authorities to re-consider their decision and leave the New 7th Storey Hotel alone.

 

Source: Today Newspaper

Dive into office pool on the roof

Dive into office pool on the roof

 

When research consultant Danny Lai wants to take a dip after work, he doesn’t head to the nearest public pool or beach.

 

Instead Mr Lai, 38, an associate director, takes the lift from his office on the second floor up six levels and steps out directly to his company’s private lap pool.

 

His company, Acorn Marketing & Research Consultants, at trendy Mohd Sultan Road in the River Valley area, is one of the few offices here with a pool on the premises. Healthy lifestyle product company Osim also has one at its headquarters in Ubi.

 

Acorn’s pool is part of a 10-storey glass annex attached to its premises of two shophouses – and it is quite a water feature. Part of the 1.2m-deep pool has a glass bottom, so workers all the way from the second floor up can look up and see who is making a splash.

 

Mr Lai and some of his colleagues enjoy lounging in the 11.5m long by 3.3m wide lap pool after finishing their evening fitness runs around the area. ‘This happens usually once a fortnight,’ he says.

 

Colleague Ilona Loo, 28, a field manager, comes with her own group and says: ‘We come here for a late night swim after work, as public pools are usually closed by then.’

 

On whether they feel shy stripping to their swimsuits in front of colleagues, both shrug it off.

 

‘It doesn’t feel weird,’ says Ms Loo.

 

The pool, which looks onto the condominiums and offices at River Valley, is open to all 30 employees at Acorn. There are also shower facilities in the toilets for swimmers.

 

Mr Lai says clients are also invited to bring along their swimsuits and towels when they come for meetings. But no clients have taken up the offer.

 

‘Perhaps they worry about their bosses asking about their wet hair,’ he chuckles.

 

The pool costs about $200 a month to maintain. The annex it is in was built in 2005 at a cost of more than $6 million.

 

It’s at the back of two three-storey conservation shophouses which Acorn bought in 2004 for also more than $6 million.

 

Of the pool, Mr Kwan Chong Wah, 53, Acorn’s group director, says: ‘It’s something nice to have.’

 

The frequent flier, who travels around the region, has not had the chance to enjoy it, though.

 

Acorn’s new office was designed by local firms CP Lee & Partners and Strategic Design International. It previously rented office space in River Valley Road and Stevens Road.

 

Under conservation rules, the shophouses’ facade had to be kept, but a new annex could be built at the back. Strategic Design International’s principal architect Philip Lee, 48, chose to use lots of glass to allow in plenty of light.

 

On the glass-bottomed pool, he says: ‘It is a bold idea as this has not been done in an office building before.’

                                  

Source: Straits Times

A Capitol idea

A Capitol idea 

 

After being shut the past decade, the 79-year-old Capitol Theatre is set for a facelift.

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The “grand old dame” and three surrounding buildings between North Bridge and Stamford roads will be put up for tender around December as part of the government’s land sales programme.

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“The sale of the site will facilitate the restoration of the conserved buildings and add vibrancy to the area through the introduction of new entertainment, retail and hotel uses,” the Ministry of National Development said yesterday.

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The theatre itself will be gazetted for conservation, along with neighbouring Capitol Building and Stamford House. However, the fourth building, Capitol Centre, can be redeveloped.

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CBRE Research’s executive director Li Hiaw Ho said this could be suitable for a 600-room hotel. “:As the track for the F1 race is nearby, a hotel on the site will not only cater to the convention participants in the nearby Suntec Convention Centre, but it can also provide more choices :for :F1 fans,” he said:.

 

Source: Today Newspaper

Capitol site and two new growth areas up for sale

Capitol site and two new growth areas up for sale

 

They are among 40 sites across Singapore to be offered in second half of the year

 

By Joyce Teo

 

THE iconic Capitol Theatre, Singapore’s first cinema, and nearby century-old Stamford House finally have a chance for a new lease of life.

 

The Government yesterday announced that it will sell the huge 1.45ha prime site housing these historic buildings in December. Any development must include a hotel.

 

It is also offering developers the first sites in the new growth areas of Jurong and Kallang as part of its half-yearly release of land for sale.

 

Altogether, 40 sites across Singapore will be offered in the second half of this year.

 

The North Bridge Road plot featuring the Capitol Theatre, Capitol Building, Stamford House and Capitol Centre is one of eight confirmed sites.

 

That means these sites go on sale while the rest, on a reserve list, do so subject to pre-sale interest from developers.

 

The Ministry of National Development said in a statement yesterday: ‘The sale of the site will facilitate the restoration of the conserved buildings and add vibrancy to the area through the introduction of new entertainment, retail and hotel uses.’

 

The successful developer may demolish Capitol Centre but will have to keep the other three, which have all been gazetted for conservation.

 

The neo-classical-style Stamford House, boasting the same designer as Raffles Hotel, was built in 1904; Capitol Theatre in 1929; and Capitol Building, previously known as Shaw Building, in 1933.

 

As well as being Singapore’s first cinema, the Capitol Theatre featured top-line cabaret performances over the years and was even a food depot in World War II.

 

The four buildings currently have about 250 retail and office tenants, most of whom will move out by next May.

 

The site, which can accommodate 600 hotel rooms, is arguably the choicest of those on offer, but the conservation requirements could lift costs, consultants said.

 

‘Although this site may attract keen competition, the higher risk associated with undertaking such conservation projects may affect the tender bids,’ said Colliers International’s director of research and advisory Tay Huey Ying.

 

In line with recently announced plans to transform the Jurong Lake District and the Kallang Riverside, the Government is offering sites in these areas.

 

In Jurong East, it will release a new site in November to help kick-start the development of the commercial hub at Jurong Gateway.

 

A hotel site at Kallang River with a beachfront location will also be offered. Both are on the reserve list.

 

One unusual site is a confirmed hotel plot at Bukit Chermin Road, which comprises four black-and- white bungalows set in hilly terrain.

 

Property consultants highlighted the smaller number of confirmed sites, particularly residential ones.

 

There are 32 reserve-list sites and eight confirmed ones, compared with 26 reserve and 11 confirmed sites in the first half.

 

‘This system would be preferred by developers as it would give a more accurate gauge of what true demand is,’ said Jones Lang LaSalle’s managing director (South-east Asia) Chris Fossick.

 

Source: Straits Times

Capitol site and two new growth areas up for sale

Capitol site and two new growth areas up for sale 

 

THE iconic Capitol Theatre, Singapore’s first cinema, and neraby century-old Stamford House finally have a chance for a new lease of life.

The Government on Thursday announced that it will sell the huge 1.45ha prime site housing these historic building in December. Any devlopment must include a hotel.

 

It is also offering developers the first sites in the new growth areas of Jurong and Kallang as part of its half-yearly release of land sale.

 

Altogether, 40 site across Singapore will be offered in the second half of this year.

 

The North Bridge Road plot featuring the Capitol Theatre, Capitol Building, Stamford House and Capitol Centre, is one of the eight confirmed sites.

 

 

Source: Straits Times

Government releases eight confirmed sites for sale

Government releases eight confirmed sites for sale

 

SINGAPORE: Capitol Centre at Stamford Road may be demolished to make way for a new hotel to meet demand for hotel rooms. The location is one of eight confirmed sites that have been released for sale, under the Government’s Land Sales programme.

 

The Ministry of National Development also announced on Thursday that it will release enough land to potentially build nearly 8,000 private residential units, in the second half of the year.

 

Meanwhile, Capitol Building, Capitol Theatre as well as Stamford House have been gazetted for conservation. The Urban Redevelopment Authority said the sale of the site they are on, will not only facilitate the restoration of the conserved buildings, but also add vibrancy to the area.

 

All in, a 1.45 hectare land parcel at the corner of North Bridge and Stamford Roads will be released under the confirmed list of the government land sales programme for the second half.

 

The successful bidder has the option to demolish Capitol Centre to build new and higher-yielding properties.

 

These include a 600-room hotel, which will increase the number of hotel rooms in the vicinity.

 

Analysts expect this site to generate a lot of interest.

 

Nicholas Mak, Director, Consultancy & Research, Knight Frank, said: “If you look at the entire area, I think it is located in a jewel of a location. The location is prime and is located very close to Raffles City, the MRT and has excellent exposure with potential re-development for one component of it, which is Capitol Centre. So, again there’s a lot of imagination. It will certainly attract world class developers.

 

Another 100-room hotel is slated at a confirmed site at Bukit Chermin.

 

This is timed to coincide with the completion of the Labrador Nature and Coastal Walk in 2011.

 

Tay Huey Ying, Director, Research and Advisory, Colliers International, said: “This particular locality is going up very nicely into a tourist attraction as well as drawing more businesses and residents to this locality. I think the availability of this site in the GLS programme will probably generate a fair bit of interest because sites for hotel development in this locality is generally very limited.”

 

She added that the four black and white bungalows would also add character and ambience to the hotel development.

 

Other sites up for sale are residential sites at Yio Chu Kang, Seletar Road, Sembawang Greenvale, New Upper Changi Road, Tanah Merah Kecil Avenue,

Punggol Field, Punggol Road which is marked for the building of executive condominiums

 

Although the site at Yio Chu Kang, Seletar Road will have commercial activities, property analysts are not expecting developers to bite

 

The latest programme also includes two new sites which will transform the Jurong Lake District and Kallang Riverside into a destination for work, life and play. – CNA/vm

 

Source: Channel NewsAsia

Here today, dust and rubble tomorrow?

Here today, dust and rubble tomorrow? 

With Singapore’s old landmarks under threat, YouthInk writers weigh in on how and why these architectural relics should be preserved

 

 

Don’t just conserve, educate the public too

 

BUILDINGS are not just bricks and clay; They tell stories. But only the few which hold significant tales of our cultural identity are conserved.

 

These are chosen for different reasons. Whether it’s the AIA Insurance Building, the first high-rise office building in Singapore, or shophouses in Chinatown, all conserved landmarks highlight an event in our history.

 

However, the Government cannot stop at the mere conservation of landmarks. They have to educate the public on why these buildings are conserved.

 

This should be done so that the landmarks do not become empty shells of a history that we do not appreciate.

 

 

Owen Yeo, 20, has a place to read Social Sciences in Singapore Management University.

 

 

 

 

How should we decide which places to keep?

 

SINGAPORE‘S emphasis on the preservation of our important landmarks and historic buildings seems very parochial.

 

On the one hand, there are commendable projects such as the restoration of colonial government quarters and houses, like at Seletar airbase and Townerville.

 

It is nostalgic to see these houses still around, well maintained and well used by the families who rent them.

 

On the other hand, there are pieces of our past that have been lost. The National Library was demolished to make way for the Fort Canning Tunnel. The Fullerton Building, once home to the nation’s first General Post Office, the Singapore Club and the Chamber of Commerce, has been transformed into a hotel. Chijmes, a former convent school, is now a popular entertainment and nightlife venue.

 

There must be a better way to determine what is worth preserving to benefit future generations.

 

 

Tabitha Mok, 21, is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Western Australia.

 

 

 

 

Embrace our cultural history in architecture

 

AS I walked along the uneven sidewalks of Bangkok, it struck me that the city’s unabashed grime – the litter, flies and mongrels – was part of its character. There is a certain realism about its imperfections that makes for a very seductive personality.

 

In Singapore, city planners seem to have been over-zealous in their pursuit of cleanliness, perfection and comfort at the expense of the nation’s culture and history.

 

The National University of Singapore, for instance, always has some construction work going on, whether it is to upgrade facilities or to build larger, sleeker buildings.

 

Contrast that with Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, where some buildings are not re-built; only maintenance work is done.

 

While NUS students enjoy the modern facilities on campus, there isn’t the same sense of pride and history when they talk about it, as compared to the Thai students, who have proudly shown me their traditional, stupa-roofed buildings, complete with tales of the campus history.

 

Perhaps, contrary to what the authorities seem to think, Singaporeans may prefer older buildings which reflect our cultural history much more than modern ones.

 

There are so many modern, cosmopolitan cities in the world. If Singapore begins to look just like any of them, without buildings of unique and authentic cultural history, how can Singaporeans feel at home?

 

 

Lee Xin En, 21, is currently on an exchange programme at Thammasat University in Bangkok. She is a South-east Asian Studies major at the National University of Singapore.

 

 

 

 

Establish more museums instead

 

IT IS impractical to try and conserve all of Singapore’s historical landmarks, given our land constraints.

 

Why not have more museums instead?

 

Museums take up less space, but still preserve our heritage.

 

Furthermore, they are tourist attractions and very educational.

 

This idea has been employed by Japan’s Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum and California’s Heritage Square Museum, both of which showcase historic buildings.

 

Why not Singapore too?

 

Admittedly, the experience of visiting a landmark first-hand cannot be replaced. But given Singapore’s constraints, museums may be a more viable option.

 

 

Anna Wong, 22, is a third-year psychology student at the National University of Singapore.

 

 

 

 

Put old landmarks to good use

 

RECENTLY, I was miffed to discover the fates of two of my former schools – Serangoon Garden South (SGSS) and Westlake Secondary.

 

The former was bought over by the French school, while the latter remains vacant.

 

Established in the 1940s, SGSS was situated in two estates. Exit through the main gates and you entered a pleasant ‘village’ of houses, five-foot walkways and cobblestone roads. Go through the back and you reached typical heartland with good food and ambience.

 

Though saddened by their disappearance, I am happy that one of them was revived by the French school. It is a chance for new experiences to be forged.

 

Another example of this is the Bencoolen area, which used to be filled with older folk visiting the temple there. Now, it has been given new life with arts and business students who have formed new attachments to old surroundings.

 

What makes a place more meaningful is what you do with it.

 

Aisha Mostafa, 22, is an art honours graduate from the University of Huddersfield.

 

Reminders of a city’s spirit and longevity

 

GREAT cities are not just fleeting centres of commerce sprouting one gleaming tower after another. They are built on the backs of fierce grit and tenacity.

 

Old buildings represent that resilience. These buildings should be preserved where possible, as they are a mirror into a city’s soul, echoing its past, good and bad times, reminding its inhabitants that their city is eternal.

 

 

Eef Gerard Van Emmerik, 19, has a place to read Law in Singapore Management University.

 

 

 

Source: Straits Times

Going, going, gone

Going, going, gone

 

Modern buildings of Singapore as an emerging nation deserve closer look before they go under the wrecker’s ball or replaced quietly

 

EVERY now and then, a middle-aged man shuffles into the Boys’ Brigade headquarters in Ganges Avenue, off Zion Road, taking pensive looks at its wooden windows, sunny corridors and tiny canteen fitted with a quaint chimney.

 

Its staff ask: ‘Can we help you?’

 

And the man goes: ‘Oh, I used to study in this school.’

 

The beige 1950s-era blocks used to house Havelock Primary School. These nostalgic visitors can count themselves lucky. It is one of the few – if not the last – remaining single-storey school buildings left in Singapore.

 

But it may have to go soon. The area sits on the fringe of the Orchard Road shopping belt, home to an increasing number of luxury condominiums and malls. The Boys’ Brigade can renew its lease only one year at a time, which means it can be sent packing quickly if the increasingly valuable land it stands on is slated for redevelopment.

 

The school is just one of the many properties marking modern Singapore’s early years under threat from the current construction boom. Unlike colonial-era shophouses, bungalows and stone-columned monoliths, these relatively modest properties or structures tend to exist out of the limelight until they disappear altogether.

 

Yet, they are equally, if not more, significant. They were built at a time when Singapore was finding its own feet as a nation and laying out the first of its infrastructure on a shoestring budget.

 

This brave new post-colonial world required new ways of thinking – about the way people lived, worked, learnt and shopped – and the utilitarian buildings that consequently emerged reflected such ideals.

 

The heavy ornamentation of the past gave way to clean lines as architects embraced Modern architecture with climate-sensitive touches like perforated concrete screens that provided a clever mix of natural light, shade and ventilation. These resulting schools, libraries, homes and offices were the workhorses for the emerging nation, and the original icons of Singapore before the word ‘iconic’ became commonplace. Today, they are fast disappearing.

 

Many still rankle at the demolition of the red-bricked National Library building in 2004 to make way for the Fort Canning tunnel. Other significant properties have also quietly disappeared.

 

Architectural historian Lai Chee Kien, for example, laments the loss of three blocks of red-bricked flats in Albert Street built by the early housing authority Singapore Improvement Trust in 1949 amid the post-war shortage of building materials. The facade of red brick and panel work were important experiments for future housing designs and a key part of Singapore’s housing heritage, he says.

 

Similarly, 14 blocks of six-storey emergency flats that were built in a year to house victims of the terrible 1961 Bukit Ho Swee fire – which propelled the then-newly formed Housing Board into the spotlight – have been demolished.

 

None of the 6,800 buildings conserved so far comprises public housing, one of the major components of modern Singapore’s built heritage. About 6,400 of those conserved were shophouses, and another 100 were bungalows.

 

Typically, the facades and major structures of conserved properties cannot be altered. While the URA identifies buildings and structures for conservation, owners can also volunteer their own properties for such protection.

 

The first and only batch of government-built housing to be conserved are 20 blocks of pre-war homes in Tiong Bahru currently classified as private flats.

 

The HDB declines to reveal how many blocks it demolishes every year, but says its plans to redevelop Queenstown and Yishun incorporate ‘heritage corners to feature local history and landmarks’. It tries to retain the character of ageing estates by upgrading instead of demolishing them, but resettles residents to higher-rise flats nearby where that is not feasible.

 

The URA says that its conservation officers have systematically combed the island over the years to create an inventory of buildings worth conserving. But it does not reveal what these buildings are apart from those already gazetted for conservation.

 

While the Urban Redevelopment Authority has, in recent years, given legal protection to newer buildings like the former Jurong Town Hall, architects and heritage lovers say there are many more that deserve a far closer look.

 

Quiet heritage markers

 

THEY include the Queenstown Community Library in Margaret Drive – the first full-time branch library in Singapore – the subtly graceful former Ministry of Education headquarters in Kay Siang Road and the striking former Singapore Polytechnic campus in Prince Edward Road, now rented out for office use under the moniker ‘Bestway Building’.

 

Add to that list a rare batch of brick-walled flats in the Dakota Crescent area built by the SIT in 1958, as well as the 32-year-old Tanjong Pagar Plaza, a high-rise, high-density living environment that incorporated spaces for living, shopping and mingling in the heart of the city.

 

Humble bus stops erected in the early years similarly combined modern style with heavy-duty function. Some of the oldest bus stops still standing can be found in Old Choa Chu Kang Road. The elegant concrete structures will be replaced with pre-fabricated ones by 2011, as part of an upgrading exercise by the Land Transport Authority.

 

Finally, there are private strata-titled buildings, of which talk of conservation is most contentious. Owners of noteworthy properties like Pearl Bank Apartments and Golden Mile Complex have made plans to sell the buildings collectively for higher returns. Conservation would probably hurt their chances for a sale as it is more typical for developers to tear down old condos rather than refurbish them for sale again.

 

Pearl Bank is a distinctive 38-storey horseshoe-shaped building in Pearl’s Hill and was the tallest residential building in Singapore when completed in 1976. Golden Mile, meanwhile, is an innovative mixed-use terraced complex in Beach Road, which was feted as a regional pioneer for such developments when completed in 1973. Both were considered hip dwellings for the well-heeled but have today turned scruffy with age as foreign tenants and businesses move in.

 

Long-time Golden Mile resident Ande Lai, 60, harbours no illusions of permanence about the place he calls home, where he also runs a photography shop. He says quietly: ‘There’s no turning back to the good old days. Many people who bought the place and live here are not the people who want the building conserved. They see it as an old building and want it to be torn down.’

 

But the URA’s deputy director for conservation and development services, Mrs Teh Lai Yip, feels that such pessimism is premature. Collective sales, she says, can be a good thing for conservation if the developers who buy such properties retain and refurbish them. That is probably easier than dealing with hundreds of owners with competing interests in a strata-titled building, each with little stomach for the financial commitment needed to overhaul an ageing building.

 

This is a growing reality as modern buildings are bigger – and hence would have more and more stake-owners.

 

But as it stands, no developer has conserved a property after a collective sale. The much-vaunted 32-year-old elliptical condo Futura in Leonie Hill Road will soon make way for ‘a new ‘Futura’ – one that would be iconic, distinctive and futuristic’, according to its en-bloc buyer City Developments.

 

Public awareness of modern buildings is also low, which makes it easy to dismiss the value that they hold. But as architectural writer Dinesh Naidu, who is writing a book about modern Singapore buildings, says: ‘A city should have layers of history in it. You should have a sense of the age of a city and all its different periods through its spaces, and streets and buildings and so on.

 

‘You don’t want to feel like you are living in a city that was built yesterday, even though it’s a 200-year-old city.’

 

A money game

 

TYPICALLY, the Government picks buildings for conservation not just for their architectural merit, but also their importance in Singapore’s history and society. But it treads a policy tightrope. While it dishes out only a slim set of benefits to building owners whose properties are conserved, it is wary of imposing too much of a financial cost on them.

 

The URA extends some owners extra saleable space on the plot where their conserved property stands. If the authority reclassifies a conserved building to allow for a more valuable use – like commercial use – its owner does not have to pay a development charge for improvement work he does on the property.

 

In contrast, authorities in the United States and Australia dole out many sweeteners. They let owners sell off the extra development potential in return for conservation work on their heritage property.

 

Re-use and recycle old buildings

 

TAX credits are also given to owners of heritage buildings in the US on a portion of the costs to rehabilitate a heritage building.

 

The URA does not plan to adopt any financial incentives currently offered overseas. Instead, it is appealing to civic-mindedness.

 

As Mrs Teh says hopefully: ‘It is important to have ‘white knights’ – buyers who recognise and appreciate the value of conservation – to step in to save a building and unlock the untapped potential by embracing conservation.’

 

But heritage advocates here say that conservation is as much about dollars and cents as it is about preserving history. The fact that buildings in land-scarce Singapore always cost less than the land they stand on already acts as a disincentive for conservation.

 

Developer Daniel Teo, chairman of Hong How Group which is currently restoring and redeveloping some heritage properties in Armenian Street, reckons it costs about 10 per cent more to keep and restore a heritage building than to tear it down for another development.

 

‘It’s all a money game. If there is enough incentive, I’m sure more would take it up,’ he says.

 

Architect Tay Kheng Soon, who designed Golden Mile Complex, moots using taxpayer funds to help maintain private heritage buildings. ‘There is such a thing as collective ownership because of our obligations as citizens.’ Even if such buildings are closed off to the public, Singaporeans would at least still have ‘visual’, ‘historical’ and ‘emotional’ access to them, he reasons.

 

Wanted: Fresh ideas

 

IN THE near term, the best way to keep Singapore’s early modern buildings alive is probably to find new uses for them when old ones run out.

 

The former Ministry of Education headquarters is safe from the wrecking ball for now because New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia has turned a part of it, formerly used by the now defunct Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore’s TV studios, into a ’shabby chic’ campus, after a $9 million refurbishment.

 

Tisch president Pari Sara Shirazi will not have traded it for brand-new premises. She says: ‘I don’t want anybody to tear it down. You have stories you tell about buildings – this was once a TV studio during a special time in Singapore’s life…Maybe the next Oscar winner will be educated here.’

 

The former Telok Kurau West Primary School in Telok Kurau Road, meanwhile, houses an art gallery and the studios of about 30 artists. One of them, performance and installation artist Amanda Heng, points out: ‘We have a lot of these abandoned old schools which have to be maintained. When they are converted to art premises, artists can help maintain these buildings.’

 

Ingenuity will also work. Enlightened owners, says Mr Naidu, can help refurbish a modern building well enough to make people see them in a new light. ‘People will start to say, hey, I used to think that was a very grotty heap of concrete – just like people used to say I used to think shophouses were slums – but now after you did yours up, I think that is quite cool, I want to live there!’

 

But leave it to chance, and the alternative scenario could be grim – Singapore will be left with little more than photographs and memories to understand how it got there.

 

He says, almost matter-of-factly: ‘As we lose them, they will become so rare and precious that we will cling to them, just like shophouses today.’

 

Source : Straits Times

Endangered landmarks

Endangered landmarks

 

TAN HUI YEE looks at some special buildings and structures currently not protected

 

 

Pandan Valley condominium

Ulu Pandan Road

 

Then: Built in 1978, this was one of Singapore’s first condominiums. The pioneering design by Archurban Architects Planners made use of the natural contours of the valley to create a spacious condominium with terraced gardens. The development was also built up to a lower density than the maximum allowed to create more open spaces for residents.

 

Architect Evi Syariffudin, 29, who has been living there for 24 years, likes the fact that the gardens and other communal facilities are nestled within a valley. ‘It may not look luxurious, but it’s an architectural masterpiece.’

 

Now: Surprisingly for a private condominium, Pandan Valley is something of an ‘education hub’ as its retail podiums brim with small set-ups providing all sorts of extra-curricular classes for children.

 

Future: Apartments there fetched between $809 psf and $1,000 psf from January to April. There is talk that residents are gunning for an en-bloc sale. If that succeeds, the condo could be torn down.

 

 

Queenstown Community Library

Margaret Drive

 

Then: Completed in 1969, it was the first full-time branch library in Singapore. Generous use of glass windows allowed the reading rooms to be lit with direct light, while clever orientation of rooms allowed the library to stay cool with natural ventilation. The queues to borrow and return books used to snake outside the two-storey building.

 

Now: A major renovation in the 1990s moved its trademark central staircase (below) to one corner and the children’s section has shrunk as young families have moved out to new towns served by newer branch libraries.

 

Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, the National Library Board’s director of reading initiatives who worked at Queenstown library from 1980 to 1982, says: ‘The library really served a function at that time. Nobody can demolish these memories – how people grew up with it, how they used the library. It’s good enough that we have helped so many people acquire reading habits.’

 

Future: The lease of the building comes up for renewal in 2010. The former thriving Margaret Drive neighbourhood around it is shrinking. The polyclinic next door has been relocated and the blocks of flats opposite will be demolished under a HDB resettlement scheme by end-2011.

 

The HDB plans to incorporate a market with a parabolic-shaped roof nearby into its future plans for a new generation estate in the area. It is not clear if a library will be part of the new scheme of things.

 

Singapore Improvement Trust flats

Dakota Close, Dakota Crescent, Old Airport Road and Jalan Enam

 

Then: The 17 intimate brick-clad blocks in the area were built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1958 and handed over to the HDB management in 1960. Some of the two- and three-room flats in the area come with breezy balconies. The cluster has an eye-catching variety of designs created out of low-cost materials, like crushed stones set in panels that line external walls.

 

Now: Some of the flats are let out to lower-income residents, while others are under the care of managing agents. Resident and odd-job worker Choo Yew Seng, 46, has lived there all his life. He says: ‘The rooms are bigger than what you can find in new flats, and the environment here is very nice. I hope they can conserve them.’

 

Future: The HDB says it has no plans to redevelop the blocks, so it is safe for the immediate future.

 

 

Former Ministry of Education headquarters

Kay Siang Road

 

Then: Built in the late 1960s, the sprawling modern complex comprises a 12-storey main block, a seven-storey annex, an educational television production building and four three-storey blocks.

 

Now: In 2000, the MOE moved to a new site in Buona Vista after the URA earmarked Kay Siang Road as a site for residential and commercial development in the long term. After it moved out, however, part of the site was used as temporary premises by Republic Polytechnic, and later the ill-fated University of New South Wales Asia.

 

That section of the compound is now occupied by the Youth Olympic Games organising committee, while another part which used to house TV studios has been overhauled by New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia to become a ‘New York shabby chic’ campus for budding filmmakers.

 

Future: The complex (right) is safe for the time being, given the long-term plans of both institutions using it.

 

 

Tanjong Pagar Plaza

Tanjong Pagar Road

 

Then: This high-rise 1,116-flat Housing Board project was designed as a mammoth self-sufficient development with an internal courtyard and a hawker centre, market and banks on the lower levels, and flats going up the 27 storeys. Blocks 1 to 5 were built in 1976, while Blocks 7 and 8 were built in 1979.

 

Now: The HDB flats in the heart of the city are much sought after by home buyers, while white-collar workers from nearby offices throng its shops at lunchtime. Elderly folk exchange gossip in its courtyard, while giant orchid motifs adorn the side panels of the blocks.

 

But to many residents like Mr Mark Chee, 40, it’s just a very convenient place to live. The businessman laughs when asked about the architectural value of the development: ‘There is nothing special about it. It’s nothing impressive.’

 

Future: The seven blocks have been scheduled to have their lifts upgraded, which means that the flats will stay for now.

 

 

Golden Mile Complex

Beach Road

 

Then: Built in 1973 and conceived by Design Partnership, the much-feted example of an early mixed-use building houses apartments, shops and offices. This ‘vertical city’ has a sloping slab form which aids natural ventilation and shades a concourse above the shopping podium.

 

The signature terraced design of apartments – all of which come with balconies with a sea view – maximises natural lighting within each unit. Long-time owner Ande Lai, 60, who runs a photography shop, says: ‘This design is like a typewriter, where all of us are able to see the sky…If you have good neighbours, you can stand at the balcony and talk to each other.’

 

Now: Many professionals who moved in when it was first built have left. They have since been replaced by foreign tenants. Some owners have covered their balconies to create more space, resulting in an unsightly mish-mash of metal sheeting on one side of its facade. The retail section is known for its authentic Thai food and groceries, and the lively Thai community that gathers there to eat and chat on any given day.

 

Future: An apartment there fetched $864 psf in January. Owners have made plans to sell the building collectively. If it succeeds, the building may go.

 

 

Singapore Polytechnic (former)

Prince Edward Road

 

Then: Built in 1958 to house Singapore’s first polytechnic, the handsome complex featured an 150-seat auditorium supported by four stonewash columns which doubled as an entrance porch. Within the leafy compound of the institution on the edge of the Shenton Way financial district, many technologists and professionals were trained to support Singapore’s industrialisation efforts.

 

Now: Singapore Polytechnic moved to its new Dover campus in the late 1970s. In 1994, the state tendered out the space to developer Bestway Properties (right) for use as offices. Today, it is home to MediaCorp’s TV12 and a host of other firms.

 

Future: The lease of the building comes up for renewal next year. It is not clear what are the Government’s plans for the site. Bestway director Anthony Tan says: ‘Other institutions like Harvard University keep their buildings, too. In time, when Singapore Polytechnic becomes one of the best around, (but the building has been demolished), we’ll feel like we’re missing something.’

 

 

Havelock Primary School (former)

Ganges Avenue

 

Then: Believed to be built in the 1950s. This is possibly the last remaining single-storey school compound in Singapore.

 

Now: The Boys Brigade has been using the premises as its headquarters since the mid-1980s, with a lease that is renewed yearly. The charming, laid-back compound has many kinks: Rotted wooden doors fall off their hinges. It’s difficult to find replacement tiles when the ones on the roof break. Termites once chomped through books in the storeroom.

 

But the building attracts film producers looking for period settings.Boys’ Brigade executive director Desmond Koh says it’d be willing to put more money into refurbishing the premises if the building is conserved and the organisation can stay there for the long term.

 

Future: With the lease renewed every year, it could be turned over for redevelopment at short notice. Property consultant Ku Swee Yong from Savills Singapore thinks it could be used for new homes as there are an increasing number of condominiums sprouting up in the vicinity.

 

Nan Chiau High School (former)

Kim Yam Road

 

Then: It was designed by James Ferrie and Partners, and built at a cost of $2 million in 1969. The C-shaped complex, which used to house 2,700 students at its peak, hugs a five-lane running track and two basketball courts.

 

Classrooms were flanked by corridors on both sides and distinctive pointed roof vaults capped its auditorium. Chemistry teacher Tien Chee Wai, 37, recalls: ‘Everyone could see everyone in the building. It was very open and airy.’

 

Now: The school moved to Sengkang in 2001 and its former premises in the gentrified River Valley neighbourhood have been vacant since.

 

Future: The site has not been identified by the authorities for any particular use. But property consultant Ku Swee Yong from Savills Singapore thinks it could be used for art galleries or cafes instead of condominiums since the surrounding district is too crowded with homes.

 

 

Telok Kurau West Primary School (former)

Lorong J Telok Kurau

 

Then: The compact four-storey building was completed in the 1960s and is typical of many built by the Public Works Department during that period. The use of materials like brick and precast concrete vents give it a distinctive look and tropical feel.

 

Telok Kurau West eventually merged with Telok Kurau East Primary to form Telok Kurau Primary and relocated to Bedok Reservoir Road.

 

Now: From 1986 to 1995, the building housed the then-LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts. In 1997, it became studios for about 30 artists under the National Arts Council’s arts housing scheme. Performance and installation artist Amanda Heng, who occupies a ground floor studio, says: ‘You need all this – some space where you can see the sky and be quiet. Being quiet in Singapore is very difficult these days.’

 

Future: The lease on the building is up for renewal next year. After which it could be redeveloped.

 

 

Bus stop

Old Choa Chu Kang Road

 

Then: This particular concrete design, created in the 1970s, served generations of military men from the army bases around sleepy Old Choa Chu Kang Road. It was where young men bade lingering goodbyes to doting sweethearts and caught their last glimpse of civilian life before they booked into camp.

 

Now: The elegant concrete and metal structure looks none the worse for wear even after multiple coats of paint. It is the oldest bus stop in Singapore.

 

Future: It will not be around by 2011. The Land Transport Authority is replacing it with a new one that will incorporate facilities like lighting and bins.

 

But architectural writer Dinesh Naidu says: ‘Its an artefact, and it’ll get more valuable with time. Someone should kidnap it, if it really has to be replaced, and park it somewhere. It’s going to be a great fixture for some museum or park – maybe an urban history or transport museum or an outdoor rest area or part of some sort of art installation.’

 

VOTE & SAVE

 

YOU’VE studied in them, lived in them, worked in them, and travelled past them. But have you realised how important these early modern icons are to Singapore’s landscape? Tell us which landmarks you will like to see conserved. Cast your vote.

 

Source : Straits Times

Building conservation: French lessons

Building conservation: French lessons

 

A SEMINAL post-war housing project in France could provide some ideas for building owners seeking viable ways to conserve their property.

 

Designed by French architect Le Corbusier, Unite d’Habitation in the city of Marseille is an 18-storey slab block that can house up to 1,600 people. It comes with an internal ’shopping street’, a gymnasium and an open-air theatre on its roof.

 

The 56-year-old building even has a hotel which is frequented by architecture buffs keen to get a taste of life in the 1950s. Depending on the size of the rooms, visitors pay between 59 euros ($124) and 120 euros a night. They can also arrange to visit an apartment furnished as it was in the 1950s.

 

Similar arrangements could work for noteworthy Singapore buildings.

 

Architectural historian Lai Chee Kien says: ‘We could argue that housing is one of the great innovations of Singapore, whether it was built by the Housing Board or the Singapore Improvement Trust before that. It would really be great if we have places like that to narrate the history of Singapore.’

 

But the Unite model is just one of many options that building owners can take. Ultimately, they are limited only by their imagination.

 

Dr Lai says: ‘If there’s a will, human imagination can work its way out of problems.’

 

Source : Straits Times