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THIRTY years or so ago, they were residential buildings that helped pioneer the start of modern architecture here. And they stood tall and proud during Singapore's formative years.

Architects lament five iconic buildings that are succumbing to en bloc fever and may soon go under the wrecking ball
By Tay Suan Chiang

THIRTY years or so ago, they were residential buildings that helped pioneer the start of modern architecture here. And they stood tall and proud during Singapore's formative years.

Mention their names, and they are bound to evoke a flood of memories for many Singaporeans: Pearl Bank Apartments in Outram Road, Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road, Futura in Leonie Hill Road, Beverly Mai in Tomlinson Road and The Habitat in Ardmore Park.

Beverly Mai and Futura were Singapore's first condominiums, Pearl Bank has its unusual horse-shoe shape, The Habitat is a distinctive child of the 1980s and rundown Golden Mile Complex was the first here to mix homes and businesses.

Yet, the physical presence of these iconic five is set to be just a memory, too. The en bloc frenzy has them in its sights.

While for owners this is a windfall, history buffs and architects told LifeStyle the razing of the iconic residences will be a loss for Singapore's architectural heritage.

The famous five are also written about in a book called Singapore 1:1 City, published two years ago by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and featuring a selection of significant architecture over the last 40 years.

It may seem strange to think old condos are part of the Republic's heritage, just like grand colonial buildings, monuments and conserved shophouses.

Yet Mr Tai Lee Siang, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), says these residential projects have left a strong impression on the collective memory of Singapore.

'They also have a unique architecture form and were designed by local architects,' he says. Beverly Mai was designed by Singapore architect Timothy Seow in 1974 and was the first to introduce the condo principle of high-rise living and shared facilities to Singaporeans.

Dr Goh Chong Chia, managing director of TSP Architects & Planners, who worked with Mr Seow on the project, says Beverly Mai marked a change in housing type. 'It was a pioneer of luxury housing,' notes Dr Goh, an SIA past president.

Futura, also designed by Mr Seow in 1976, certainly lived up to its name. Mr Tai points out that its unique form lies in the space-pod look of the living spaces.

'Clearly inspired by the space age explorations, the design is bold and futuristic in outlook,' he says.

He adds that although its location at Leonie Hill created less impact in the public memory due to its status as a high-end private development off Orchard Road, 'there is no denying that the building is a quiet tour de force in Singapore architecture landscape'.

Architect Mink Tan of Mink Tan Architects agrees that these five buildings should be kept because of their historical significance to local architecture.

He is passionate about retaining Golden Mile Complex, which, of the five, is the only one whose en bloc sale is uncertain.

'The complex marks our first mixed-use development,' he says, and he hopes that instead of tearing it down, it can be refurbished to its original condition.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the Singapore Heritage Society, says the five are 'all important and aesthetically and architecturally important buildings. Their demise or impending demise is to be much lamented'.

The SIA, meanwhile, is working to identify modern buildings that are less than 30 years old that may be worthy of recognition and future conservation - even though it is too late for the five featured here.

'To realise the development of potential of these buildings that may be demolished due to en bloc sale, SIA would like to make suggestions to the relevant authority on how to integrate the new potential with the old landmarks,' says Mr Tai.

However, home-owners at these landmark buildings have a different take. Ms Wong Chin Chin, a Pearl Bank Apartments resident for 11 years, says most owners in her block have agreed to sell at prices of about $1,300 psf, but adds it is more than just the money. Factors pushing them to sell include high maintenance fees, leaky pipes and lifts that break down.

'No doubt the building is unique and historical, but living and dealing with the inconvenience is a chore,' she says.


FUTURA
14 Leonie Hill Road

The deal: The condo, with 69 units and three penthouses, was sold en bloc last year for $287.3 million to City Sunshine Holdings, a subsidiary of City Developments. However, the deal is still in the works as minority owners have gone to court, claiming that the sale was not made in good faith.

History: It was completed in 1976.

Why it's so special: Futura was the second condominium to be built in Singapore. Its main architect is Mr Timothy Seow, who also designed Singapore's first condo, Beverly Mai, two years earlier. This, too, has gone en bloc.

The Futura was the first residential project to incorporate lifts that open directly into the apartments, giving residents much privacy. It was a novelty to most Singaporeans living in flats with a shared lift opening onto a shared corridor.

The 25-storey block has a distinctive curved facade, a move away from the usual linear configurations.

Its name reflects its architecture, considered advanced at the time: three radial wings linked by a central service core. As a result, the living rooms are in an elliptical shape, resembling space-pods, while the rooms are geometric shaped.

'Slum' becomes landmark

GOLDEN MILE COMPLEX
5001 Beach Road

The deal: The en bloc is not yet a done deal. Some owners at the strata-titled mixed development are lobbying for one. But there are many units and it may be difficult to get the mandatory minimum of 80 per cent of individual owners to agree.

History: The 16-storey building, with 411 shops, 226 offices and 68 residential units, was designed by Gan Eng Oon, William Lim and Tay Kheng Soon of then Design Partnership - now known as DP Architects - and was completed in 1973.

Why it's so special: It pioneered the idea of a mixed-use development. And its unique sloping form is unforgettable.

Today the complex is a hot spot for Thai clubs and eateries, as well as travellers going to Malaysia by bus.

It was even mentioned in Parliament once, when it was described as a national disgrace and a vertical slum because residents had put up zinc sheets and patched boards over their balconies to create an extra room.

The complex may look run down, but it is appreciated by architecture gurus.

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas said at a press conference when he visited Singapore in 2005: 'These buildings (Golden Mile Complex and People's Park Complex) were not intended to be landmarks, but became landmarks.'

Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki said it is a prime example of an urban building where people can live, work, shop and play - all in a single development.

Professor William Lim, a veteran architect here, says the demolition of the complex 'will be a definite loss for Singapore'.

Welcome to my horse shoe

PEARL BANK APARTMENTS
1 Pearl's Hill

The deal: LifeStyle understands from residents and industry experts that more than the mandatory 80 per cent of residents have agreed to sell. The apartments, near Outram Park MRT, could fetch more than $500 million.

History: The building was designed by local architect Tan Cheng Siong of Archurban Architects Planners, and completed in 1976.

Why it's so special: The 280-unit, 38-storey Pearl Bank Apartments has a distinctive horse-shoe shape for a reason. The block's horse-shoe opening faces west, shading the building from the afternoon sun.

Being located on a hill, it was the tallest residential building in Singapore at the time. And it had the highest density of apartments for a private residential development.

There are eight penthouses and 272 split-level units that are either two-, three- or four-bedroom apartments, with eight units to a floor.

Much thought went into the layout. Living rooms and bedrooms are at the front, giving great city views. Utilities and service areas are situated at the rear, overlooking a courtyard.

Prefab boxes

THE HABITAT 1 & 2
2 & 3 Ardmore Park

The deal: Property developer Wheelock Properties bought Habitat 1 for $180 million last year, and Habitat 2 for $103.88 million in 2005. The site of Habitat 2 and its neighbouring Ardmore View, which was also sold en bloc, is making way for Ardmore II condo. Habitat 1, which is still standing, will become Ardmore III condo.

History: The condo was completed in 1984, and was designed by local firm

RDC Architects in association with internationally renowned American firm Moshe Safdie & Associates.

Why it's so special: The two blocks can be considered a local version of Montreal's Habitat '67, a housing project done by Moshe Safdie for the 1967 World Exposition. The Canadian project, today a heritage landmark, pioneered the design and implementation of three-dimensional prefabricated housing. Each unit, resembling a box, was constructed elsewhere and connected together on site. There are 158 units.

Singapore's version is similar but on a smaller scale - there are just 61 units in both blocks.

It makes use of the same concept as in Montreal - vertically stacked precast boxes with hanging roof terraces, giving the condo a three-dimensional facade.

Both towers have single-storey units and maisonettes that overlook a garden with a pool and squash courts.

Airy bungalow

BEVERLY MAI
31 Tomlinson Road

The deal: The 28-storey tower was sold en bloc in April last year for $238 million to Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL).

History: It was built in 1974.

Why it's so special: It helped kick off Singaporeans' famous obsession with attaining the 5Cs: car, credit card, cash, country club and, of course, condos.

Yes, this is Singapore's first condo.

It was built by architect Timothy Seow, who also designed several other old favourites in LifeStyle's feature.

Mr Seow, founder of Timothy Seow & Partners, now known as CPG Consultants, pioneered the 'bungalow-in-the-air' concept with Beverly Mai. The 48 maisonettes, two deluxe apartments and two-storey luxury penthouses are all linked by a central service core, giving residents privacy.

As the first condo, it had other firsts - the first to incorporate shared facilities such as a swimming pool, to have maisonettes and to have apartment units with no party walls.

It also has big balconies, inspiring residents to build gardens in the sky.
 

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About this story, the Famous 5 should go under the wrecking ball? I don't think so. How about we demolish the Golden Mile Complex (and the 24-story tower next to it) and we preserve the other four? If we look at the Golden Mile Complex's exterior to the north, it looks like it has been cleaned up recently. But when we look at it from the south, it looks like a crappy slum.
 

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Out of those 5, Habitat is gone, Beverly Mai I think too. The other three are still there and I do hope they stay.
 

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Should have demolished both towers in the Habitat complex. And the status of Beverly Mai is unknown.
 

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In an update to this story, I just found out that the Futura Apartments building did get demolished - in 2012. Not sure about any new buildings coming up on its site, though.

Also, Beverly Mai and the other three apartment buildings are still standing as of this writing.
 

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In an update to this story, I just found out that the Futura Apartments building did get demolished - in 2012. Not sure about any new buildings coming up on its site, though.
That's sad. I think URA did make mention of it in one of their publications. There is just something snazzy about old-school condos.
 

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It looks like all 5 are gone or about to be. I see Pearl Bank is going for demolition, is Golden Mile Complex gone as well? What's replacing it?
 

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It looks like all 5 are gone or about to be. I see Pearl Bank is going for demolition, is Golden Mile Complex gone as well? What's replacing it?
Golden Mile Complex recently tried for a collective sale in March 2019. There were no takers so for now, nothing yet.
 
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