Khong Guan Building wins architectural design award for its carefully refurbished, elegant and clever interiors



Khong Guan Building won the design award in the Special - Others category at the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Architectural Design Awards this year.

Among the industrial buildings in Tai Seng, a wedge-shaped building stands out - and not just because it bears the name of a nostalgic household brand.

Constructed in the 1950s, it was the storeroom, office and shopfront of home-grown biscuit brand Khong Guan. Located at the apex of Mactaggart Road and Burn Road, the main shopfront was at the building's "sharpest" end and where people went to make purchases.

For years, the three-storey trapezoid structure was one of the tallest in the neighbourhood filled with single-storey buildings. It was given conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2005.

Today, while the biscuit tins are no longer produced or sold in the building, it retains many of its original design features - along with a new addition.

Last year, Meta Architecture collaborated with Lua Architects Associates to refresh the interior of the existing building and add a new wing.

Meta Architecture principal Adrian Lai at the private spiral staircase connecting the old and new wings of Khong Guan Building. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

For the Chew family, who owns the business and building, preserving the heritage and legacy of the multi-generational business through design was a priority.

Mr Adrian Lai, 43, principal at Meta Architecture, says: "While the business must evolve, it's rooted in the old. Likewise, the design narrative must take inspiration from the old and tell its story using architecture as a cue."

The new extension, which sits on top of the old building, is differentiated from the original building by its stone facade, a material specially selected over concrete and metal for a more dignified look.

Construction took 20 months and the completed building has a built-up area of 2,549 sq m, excluding the more than 1,300 sq m for sky gardens.

The jury of the SIA awards liked that the architecture adapted a conservation style that is "clever, careful and elegant".

The Chews - with Mr Chew Soo Eng, managing director of Khong Guan Limited, at the helm - still maintains an office space in the building across two levels. Mr Chew's office occupies the "sharpest" point on the building on the third floor. The office is joined with the fourth floor, in the new extension, via a staircase accessible only to Khong Guan staff.

Alchemist, a cafe and coffee roaster open to the public, operates in the space formerly occupied by the old storefront. Mr Lai says: "With this extension, this heritage building is even more distinctive and people can immediately see the building from every angle, just like back in the day when this building used to be a landmark in the neighbourhood."

Written by Michelle Ng for The Straits Times.