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

Canopy design adheres to heritage guidelines

Canopy design adheres to heritage guidelines


WE THANK Mr Loke Hoe Kit for his letter on Monday, ‘Canopy doesn’t do old Supreme Court justice’.


A key requirement for all entries to the architectural design competition for the National Art Gallery (working title) is that they must satisfy the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB) guidelines. This is to ensure that the selected design for the National Art Gallery respects the heritage and architectural significance of the City Hall and the Former Supreme Court buildings.


The preservation guidelines stipulate that the main external architectural features of the City Hall and the former Supreme Court are their facades. The international jury panel and the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts have ensured that the selected design adheres to this guideline, among others.


The proposed design discretely sets the canopy back from the building edge. The original roofs of both monuments are left intact. This juxtaposition of old and new is an internationally accepted practice for making new extensions to historical monuments. For the Tan Si Chong Su temple, the main external architectural feature of its traditional Chinese architecture is the roof. Any changes made to the shape, ornamentations and materials of the roof, therefore, impact on the architectural significance of the building, especially if the change is irreversible.


We share Mr Loke’s concern on the need to preserve our monuments while ensuring their appropriate adaptive re-use.


K. Bhavani (Ms)

Director, Corporate Communications,

Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts


Source: Straits Times

Shophouses up for sale in Kampong Glam

Shophouses up for sale in Kampong Glam 



A row of freehold shophouses in the Kampong Glam area has been put up for sale by tender.


The shophouses sit on a 7,400 square foot site which is currently occupied by a single tenant.


Under the 2003 Master Plan, the property is zoned for commercial use.


Executive Director of investment sales at Colliers International, Ho Eng Joo, said the indicative price of the property is about 10 million dollars.


Source: 938Live

House this for history?

House this for history?


This clubhouse’s glass panels and timber fittings are from the 1900s, and have been restored to look as good as new


By Sariwati Latif


PROGRESS is inevitable. But when it encompasses the best of the past, it becomes special. That is what has happened at The Sea View condominium, where a bungalow built in the early 1900s has been restored and put into use as the clubhouse of Wheelock Properties’ new development.


The building, once owned by brothers Joseph Aaron and Ezra Aaron Elias, now has two games and entertainment rooms on the ground floor and function rooms on the second level.


Coming from a family of property speculators and brokers, Joseph ran a bottled water business and the now-defunct Malaya Tribune newspaper.


Back then, the bungalow was an annexe to their main mansion. It was later used as a storeroom by the Seaview Hotel in the 1990s.


Wheelock spent $1.3 million on the restoration works, which were carried out by RSP Architects Planners & Engineers. These included sprucing up many of the original fittings – the panoramic stained-glass panels above the grand entrance, the timber interior such as the stairs and the intricately designed cast-iron railing on the verandahs.


These elements have been restored in accordance with the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s guidelines on conservation areas.


While some parts were not restored as they were not in good condition and could raise safety issues, Wheelock Properties has attempted to recreate some floor designs to resemble the original.


When asked why the bungalow was chosen to be restored, Wheelock Properties director Tan Bee Kim said: ‘The architecture of the house epitomises the charming character of the Katong area and we felt strongly that retaining this piece of historical grandeur will heighten residents’ enjoyment of The Sea View.’


Source: Straits Times

Tricky to convert old schools into offices

Tricky to convert old schools into offices


Some firms leasing the buildings from Govt have run into teething problems


By Fiona Chan


IT WAS an unusual proposition by the Government: Turn old, empty school buildings into functional offices fit for companies to occupy.


Firms hit by the acute office crunch last year responded warmly to the suggestion. They took up several former schools leased out by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), drawn by their attractive locations, sizeable grounds and low rentals.


The offer by the Government was part of its efforts to meet the immediate needs of companies forced out of the central areas by office shortages and soaring rents. Since February last year, the SLA has tendered out 15 vacant buildings, including schools and community centres.


Experts hailed the move as prompt and quick-thinking – but some of the companies that actually took on the conversion tasks quickly found themselves mired in unexpected problems and hidden costs.


The SLA does not make public the names of companies that win its tenders, but it asked three firms to share their experiences with The Straits Times. All said that while they had expected some complications with these old buildings, they had not expected the going to be so rough.


Two ended up busting their renovation budgets tackling problems such as a lack of power supply, flooding grounds and missing blueprints.


Mr Andy Ong, the managing director of education provider ERC Holdings, had to get leaking pipes repaired at the former River Valley Primary School after they flooded the field twice.


‘We had no water for three days while they were being fixed,’ he said. ‘We had to bring in portable toilets.’


The conversion process was ‘nightmarish’, he added. ‘Every step we took was like being on a roller coaster. It was much harder than we had thought it would be.’


Property investment firm Richzone, which is converting the former Pasir Panjang ITE into modern office blocks, also ran into problems.


Heavy rains led to more water flowing in than the existing drainage could handle, so Richzone had to spend more than $1 million on 1km of new and improved drains. Another $1 million had to be spent on underground wiring and electricity. A new substation was installed, as were four lifts.


‘It was not just plastic surgery, it was more like organ transplants,’ said Ms Agnes Tay of Knight Frank, who worked closely with Richzone in leasing out the former school as offices.


Both ERC and Richzone ran over budget, the latter by about 30 per cent. Richzone said it now needs about five years to break even; it had estimated four originally. Meanwhile, it has to pay rent to the Government even before it collects any from its own tenants.


A third company, Hean Nerng, which specialises in converting old properties for new uses, is still within the $4 million budget it drew up for renovating the former Gan Eng Seng Secondary at Raeburn Park.


But managing director Kelvin Lim said Hean Nerng would now need longer to break even on the project because of unanticipated hiccups. For one thing, the old school had been designed to fit safety codes that are now outdated.


‘Part of the school building we inherited could not be used because it adhered to old fire safety codes,’ Mr Lim said.


For instance, a soundproof room in the basement that had been used by students as the school’s rifle range is now just dead space because it has only one exit.


Nevertheless, having graduated from the school of hard knocks, most of the companies are now happy with their newly done-up offices and their sprawling grounds.


‘Financially, it works out to be about equal to our old space, but we now have our own building and branding, and all this is unquantifiable,’ said ERC’s Mr Ong.


‘People are amazed we’re occupying such a big space in a prime location. Even if we stay only six years, it would be worth it.’


 Source: Straits Times

HDB-style living in Tianjin eco-city

HDB-style living in Tianjin eco-city


The $5.8b project is the biggest S’pore-China venture in 15 years


By Jessica Cheam


A LANDMARK project to build an ecologically sustainable city from scratch in Tianjin will see a touch of HDB living in northern China.


It will feature an LRT station within walking distance of flats, which will also be close to amenities such as eateries and schools – all familiar sights in HDB estates here – to cut down on the need for transportation.


Many other Singapore touches are likely as the flagship Tianjin eco-city is being modelled on some of Singapore‘s HDB new towns.


A bold masterplan for the eco-city is being made public today by the National Development Ministry.


China news reports say investments of at least 30 billion yuan (S$5.8 billion) will be pumped into the project.


It is the most significant cooperative project between the two nations in about 15 years. And leaders in both Singapore and China believe that it could serve as an important blueprint for similar future eco-friendly projects.


Speaking to reporters earlier this week, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said the eco-city would have a ‘clear Singapore imprint’ and would reflect ‘a lot of the experience that we have gathered for many years’.


It would pave the way for the further adoption of green features and technologies here, he added. It would also allow government leaders and businessmen from both nations ‘to interact…broaden and deepen the engagement and relationship’.


The eco-city, 40km from the port city of Tianjin and 150km south-east of Beijing, will tackle the growing problems of pollution by providing a ‘green lung’ and eco-corridors with extensive greenery for 110,000 energy-efficient homes.


Singapore‘s Green Mark scheme – which sets environmental standards for buildings – will also be used.


Green technologies such as water recycling and harnessing waste heat from power stations will be adopted. The LRT will link four major districts, cutting the need for cars. The city will derive 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources as an initial target.


The masterplan will see 30 sq km of marshland transformed into a mini-metropolis. Construction of an initial 3 sq km will begin after a ground-breaking ceremony in Tianjin in July.


The eco-city, first mooted by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong during a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing last April, is the most significant cooperation between the two countries since the Suzhou Industrial Park in the early 1990s.


A boon to Singapore firms, the project will provide opportunities for those with products and services, such as waste and water treatment, to expand into China, said Mr Mah.


About 20 per cent of the eco-city’s homes will be public, subsidised housing – an idea put forward by Singapore to ensure the city is made up of residents ‘from all walks of life’, he said.


He said the project resonates now as ‘countries all over the world are facing serious challenges in trying to grow but to do so without damaging the environment’.


The eco-city will be set apart because ‘economic development will be balanced with sustainable development that is holistic and pragmatic…and it has to be practical, scaleable, replicable’ .


It will be built by a joint venture – a Singapore consortium led by Keppel Corp and a Chinese consortium led by Tianjin TEDA Investment Holdings, with equal stakes.


Mr Mah acknowledged the project as a major challenge:


‘We’re under no illusions that this is…easy to achieve. but looking at the goodwill, amount of effort and commitment that’s going in, I think there is every chance that we will achieve what we set out to do within the timeframe.’


Source: Straits Times

Govt rejects Aljunied site bid; offers flood Jalan Sultan plot

Govt rejects Aljunied site bid; offers flood Jalan Sultan plot


By Fiona Chan, Property Reporter & Joyce Teo, Property Correspondent


THE Government has decided not to sell a short-term office site in Aljunied because the sole bid that came in last week offered too low a price.


This decision follows a recent string of lower-than-expected offers for state land and is the first time since 2001 that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has rejected bids for a government-owned site.


Demand for some commercial land, however, appears to still be going strong. A state parcel at Jalan Sultan, reserved for office or hotel use, received 20 offers when its tender closed yesterday, the URA announced.


The top bid came from Chiu Teng Estates. It offered $14.8 million, or $973.60 per sq ft (psf) of gross floor area, almost double the lowest bid, from NYP Holdings, of $8 million.


The Jalan Sultan site, comprising 17 two-storey conservation shophouses that have to be restored, also got offers from Fragrance Group, Hotel Royal and Hind Lifestyle.


This compares to the single bid for the Aljunied office site, submitted by Mezzo Development, at $7.8 million – just $38.37 psf of gross floor area.


Property consultants say the market may have reached a saturation point for transitional office sites, introduced last year as a quick relief to the office space crunch.


Any development built on these short-term sites is likely to be completed only next year or in 2010, when they will have to compete with a slew of new office space set to come onstream, they added.


One such building is the new $60 million Straits Trading block in Battery Road. The 28-storey building is expected to be completed late next year and could fetch high rents of $18 psf, analysts estimate.


Average rents of Grade A blocks in Raffles Place are now $16.64 psf, said Colliers International. The old Straits Trading building fetched rents of $7 psf.


Mainboard-listed Straits Trading, which owns the building, brushed aside worries that it would be affected by a possible office oversupply that could emerge after 2010.


Source: Straits Times

Record 20 bids for Jalan Sultan site

Record 20 bids for Jalan Sultan site


$14.8m is top offer for parcel with 17 shophouses




A RECORD 20 bids have been received in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) public tender for a site including 17 two-storey conservation shophouses at Jalan Sultan.


The URA said that this was the highest number of bids it has received for a public tender in at least 10 years.


The 15,200 sq ft Reserve List site was put up for public tender after an unnamed bidder last November committed to place a minimum bid of $7.8 million.


The highest bid received by the URA – $14.8 million – exceeds this by about 90 per cent.


The $14.8 million bid was from Chiu Teng Estates Pte Ltd, which is in the construction, development and property management business. The price works out to $973.63 psf of site area, or about $870,000 per shophouse.


The second highest bid, $13.61 million, was from Brilliant-1 Investments Pte Ltd, followed by KMC Holdings Pte Ltd’s bid of $12.8 million.


Colliers International executive director of investment sales, Ho Eng Joo, said that as the top three bids varied only by about $1 million, it is fair to assume that the prices were ‘fair market value’. Mr Ho had himself earlier estimated the site could fetch a top bid of around $14 million.


Estimating that the potential developer will have to pump in another $500,000 in renovation and restoration costs, the cost for each shophouse unit could rise to $1.3 million.


Based on this, Mr Ho expects that the potential developer will possibly seek a monthly rental of between $5,000 and $7,000 per shophouse unit.


Separately, the URA said that it will not award the tender for a transitional office site at Aljunied Road/Geylang East Avenue 1 because the only bid it received, Mezzo Development’s $7.8 million (or a unit land price of $38.35 per square foot per plot ratio), was too low.


Three transitional office sites have been awarded so far. However, demand for these sites has been on the wane, with some property consultants saying that the sites may no longer be relevant.


URA said: ‘The government is evaluating the market response to the recent tender and the demand for transitional office sites. URA will continue to release more sites if there is demand for such short-term office space.’


Source: Business Times

This grande dame is ready to shine again

This grande dame is ready to shine again


We take a peek at newly renovated Tan Chin Tuan Mansion


By Radha Basu


A COLONIAL-ERA mansion in Cairnhill Road has emerged from a makeover, ready for the next chapter of its history.


Four years and $3 million in renovations have turned the Tan Chin Tuan Mansion into a venue for the charitable Tan Chin Tuan Foundation to host events for its partners and beneficiaries.


The works have added, atop the old house, a 20-storey condominium, the design for which was conceived by the late banker and philanthropist.


The renovations have been completed on time to mark the centenary of the birth of the former OCBC Bank chairman, who died in 2005. The house itself, the family home, fuses colonial architecture and Peranakan influences. The Straits Times was given a preview of the place, now a treasure trove of artefacts linked to Mr Tan’s life.


In the chandeliered living-cum-dining room on the ground floor, a 12-seater dining table holds pride of place. It was where he entertained former presidents Benjamin Sheares, Ong Teng Cheong and Wee Kim Wee.


The walls in the house are adorned with photographs and memorabilia, including his marriage certificate dated 1926 and a yellowed newspaper clipping announcing his marriage to Helene Wee. More recent artefacts include a hard hat he wore to supervise the construction of the OCBC Centre and his Order of the British Empire medal.


Upstairs, his wooden desk sits in an alcove, and on it are a decades-old magnifying glass, an ornate paperweight and a 1926 edition of Webster’s dictionary. His handwritten diaries have also been preserved.


The restoration has been a labour of love for the family, said Ms Chew Gek Khim, 46, one of the granddaughters who oversaw the project.


Built in the 1920s as the home of entrepreneur and philanthropist Tan Kah Kee, the house was bought by Mr Tan Chin Tuan just before World War II broke out in 1939.


When Mr Tan and his family were forced overseas during the Japanese Occupation, the house was taken over by Japanese generals. They gave away all the furniture in the three years they were there from 1942. By the time they left the house, vanquished in the war, all that was left was a wooden chair, now on display.


The entire project to a large extent reflects Mr Tan’s ‘philosophy of life’, in that while history always has a place, it cannot hinder progress, explained Ms Chew, who is also deputy chairman of the foundation.


Asked for his reaction to the mix of old and new in the look of the place, conservation activist Terence Hong acknowledged that many like him were initially apprehensive about whether the condo would mar the history of the place.


He said: ‘In the end, the project turned out beautifully, marrying the old with the new and remaining useful and relevant at the same time.’.


Source: Straits Times

Two property investment opportunities in the offing

Two property investment opportunities in the offing


Changi Hotel site going for $55m, Geylang shophouse devt priced at $36m




THE site of Changi Hotel, on Changi Road, is being offered for redevelopment with an asking price of $55 million.


The 26,433 square foot site has a plot ratio of 3.0 and can be redeveloped with a maximum gross floor area (GFA) of 79,299 sq ft. The site is being marketed by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).


The property consultancy estimates that, including a development charge of about $12.5 million, the unit price for the site equates to about $850 per square foot per plot ratio (psf ppr).


Various corporate buildings sit on this same stretch of road, including AIA Changi and Great Eastern @ Changi.


CBRE executive director of investment properties Jeremy Lake said: ‘This regular site provides an excellent investment opportunity for the redevelopment of a corporate building or a boutique hotel.’


Colliers International has also put up for sale a newly restored two-storey shophouse development located at 512-534 Geylang Road with an indicative price of around $36 million.


To be sold via private treaty, the freehold property comprises 12 two-storey shophouse units with a total strata floor area of 29,504 sq ft.


Under the 2003 Master Plan, the subject property, which is also located in the Geylang Conservation area, is zoned for commercial use.


Colliers executive director of investment sales Ho Eng Joo said the island block of shophouses comes with 24 strata titles. They will be sold with vacant possession.


Mr Ho said that a potential use for the property is as a food and beverage establishment, as the area is already known for F&B. ‘Alternatively, the property is also suited for showrooms, karaoke lounges, pubs, shops and offices,’ he said.


Source: Business Times