History At Stake

There are plenty of outstanding buildings in Singapore, so why the fuss over Golden Mile Complex, People's Park Complex and Pearl Bank Apartments? Heritage specialists and architects say that they reflect visionary architecture, designed entirely by Singaporean architects, and are large-scale megastructures that have shaped the visual character of our built landscape.

Photos by Darren Soh

Golden Mile Complex

Completed in 1973, this 16-storey building is a mish-mash of 400 shops, 220 offices and 70 apartments. Originally called Woh Hup Complex, it was designed by William Lim, Tay Kheng Soon and Gan Eng Oon, who were part of Design Partnership, now known as DP Architects.

Located along Beach Road, the building, together with Golden Mile Tower next door and The Plaza, were intended to raise a 'Golden Mile' of modern skyscrapers.

Golden Mile Complex was designed as a high-density, vertical 'self-contained' city. The building has a 'stepped-back terrace' form, the first of its kind in Singapore. On one side, it gave offices and apartments unobstructed views of the seafront, with terraces for small gardens, and on the other side, the reversed tiers meant that each floor shaded the floor below from the sun. The shallow, staggered profile also allowed for better ventilation and lighting.

In August 2018, it was announced that the building is going en bloc as 724 owners of 550 units have signed the collective sale agreement – representing 80.83 per cent of the total share value of the development – and the required approval of 80 per cent has been met.

People's Park Complex

This yellow and green building is such an icon in Chinatown that it is hard to imagine it not being there. The site where People's Park Complex stands was formerly the People's Park Market, which comprised makeshift stalls and single-storey shops. After a major fire broke out in 1966, the government reparcelled the site for sale to a private developer in 1967, under the Sales of Sites Programme.

The architects behind it are William Lim, Tay Kheng Soon and Koh Seow Chuan, of Design Partnership, now known as DP Architects.

The 31-storey building, completed in 1972, is divided into two zones – a six-storey podium block for shops and offices, and a 25-storey slab block of apartments.

A three-storeyed atrium in the podium block with a sunken plaza was accessible from all sides of the building, with all shops visible at once. The public atrium was intended as "the people's living room", open at all hours for Chinatown residents to eat, shop and play. Residents in the high-rise block had a roof deck to mingle in.

At the time, People's Park Complex was the largest and tallest shopping-cum-residential complex ever built in Singapore and the atrium was the first in Asia. It was internationally hailed as a masterpiece of 1970s experimental architecture.

Pearl Bank Apartments

Heritage and architecture buffs had better head down to Pearl Bank Apartments to take the last shots of the 41-storey horseshoe-shaped building before it gets demolished. In February, it was sold to CapitaLand in a collective sale for S$728 million. CapitaLand said it plans to redevelop the site into a high-rise project of around 800 units, to be completed in early 2023.

Rather than follow the standard model of shorter tower blocks clustered together, architect Tan Cheng Sion created a single skyscraper which would allow apartments to have privacy and yet have panoramic views.

Its C-shaped cylinder design came with an opening for better ventilation and shade against the afternoon sun. Another distinctive feature of the building would be the interlocking, split-design apartments which maximised the number of apartments and allowed for a variety of 288 two-, three- and four-bedroom units.

When it was completed in 1976, it had the largest number of apartments in a single block, was the tallest apartment block in South-east Asia, and the highest density for a residential development.

This was first published in The Business Times. Click here to read the original