RIDING on the wave of en bloc fever, four post-independence landmarks in Singapore, known for their gritty appearances, might disappear from the Republic’s landscape.
The fate of People’s Park Complex and People’s Park Centre in Chinatown, as well as Golden Mile Complex and Golden Mile Tower at Beach Road, hangs in the balance. These structures are mostly half-way into their 99-year leases.
A committee was formed for the collective sale of People’s Park Complex on Monday (March 5) at an extraordinary general meeting following “unanimous consensus”.
The Straits Times understands that People’s Park Centre has also formed a collective sales committee and will be appointing a real estate firm soon. A committee spokesman said about half of the owners attended the last meeting and 90 per cent of them are in favour for the sale.
The neighbouring Golden Mile Tower, designed by architect Goh Hock Guan and his team, is also in the process of forming a collective sale committee and is due to hold an extraordinary general meeting on Thursday (March 8).
Of the four, People’s Park Complex, Golden Mile Complex and Golden Mile Tower are widely recognised by experts as architecturally and historically significant.
The trio were inspired by the Brutalist-architectural movement. The style usually features monumental structures made of off-form concrete without being plastered over, for an appearance of “strength and solidity”.
They also represent a chapter in the island’s post-independence architectural history.
The three were completed as part of the Government’s first Land Sales Programme beginning in 1967 where land parcels were offered for sale with a leasehold of 99 years.
Mr Randy Chan, principal of architecture firm Zarch Collaboratives, said: “We were building mega-structures like these fresh out of independence.” This slew of en-bloc attempts follows news last month (Feb 13) that the striking horse-shoe shaped Pearl Bank Apartments near Outram Park MRT station, was sold to CapitaLand in a $782 million collective sale. Launched in 1976, it will likely be torn down.
Unit owners at People’s Park Complex told The Straits Times that they are eager to sell the property “if the price is right”.
The owner of Golden Watch Gold and Jewellery at People’s Park Complex, who only wanted to be known as Mr Kea, 75, admitted the structure is special. However, he said: “Just like an ageing person, an old building will have its issues. As long as the selling price is reasonable, it can move undecided owners.” Mr Kea has been at the complex since 1988. He said the sentiments among parties present were split down the middle with two camps for and against the en bloc bid.
However, second-generation co-owner of Hang Lang Jewellery, Mr Henry Ho, 47, said his family is not interested in selling their shop and the idea of a shinier and new development is not exactly enticing. He noted that business is thriving with heavy traffic for stalls on the ground level which might mean that some owners, like himself, would be reluctant to give up the space.
The complex which was completed in 1973, is located next to an exit of the Chinatown MRT station.
Mr Ho said: “We’ve been here for about 40 years. Business is good enough. Our roots are here – it’s where my father started his business. Compared to an Orchard Road Mall, it’s not as swanky but there are tourists here and we are surviving.” The firm behind People’s Park Complex was Design Partnership or DP Architects. The team comprised pioneer architects William Lim, Koh Seow Chuan and Tay Kheng Soon.
The complex is home to a podium of shops and offices, as well as a 25-storey residential block. Occupying one hectare, it was once the largest shopping complex in Singapore. It also featured the country’s first atrium shopping centre for residents and other users in the community to socialise, eat and shop.
This design was widely replicated in later local and regional retail developments.
Dr Yeo Kang Shua, an architectural historian and conservator, noted that People’s Park “conceptually contributed to the development of architecture, hence its place in history”.
The complex is also recognised as one of the first successful urban revitalisation projects in the nation and challenged the concept of single-use zoning.
DP Architects also designed Golden Mile Complex. The team comprised Gan Eng Soon, William Lim and Tay Kheng Soon.
Mr Alan Lim, who is in his 70s, owns an office space there. He said he is looking to sell his unit. “It is an en bloc market, everybody is trying to sell. The faster, the better. I am looking to retire so this will be timely.” The owner of Hong Giap Credit at Golden Mile Complex was of the same view. She declined to give her name but said she bought her provision shop unit in the complex’s early days for the price of $50,000.
A longtime owner at Golden Mile Tower, who wished to remain anonymous, purchased two units there for $300,000 in 1978. He hopes to sell them for at least $1 million and go into retirement.
Owners of ageing properties generally try to sell their units before leases are further shortened. Some said they fear having to pay for additional maintenance, renovation or restoration costs. These structures are usually beset with maintenance issues such as choked toilets, malfunctioning lifts and pest infestations.
Dr Yeo said many of these structures do not have enough time to evolve to a “heritage age” before they are torn down.
Experts have called for a re-look at how these post-independence structures can be conserved appropriately while incentivising developers with more favourable duties.
Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of property consultancy SLP International, said that given the large land parcels in question, the developer who buys it is likely to be a major one with “deep pockets”. It could also be a a consortium of large-and medium-sized developers. Mr Mak added: “The easiest way is to bulldoze the buildings and rebuild them.” Landscape and architectural photographer Darren Soh, said that these circumstances have created a “perfect storm” for historical modernist buildings completed in the 1960s and 1970s. “A combination of factors – an ageing property with a dropping value combined with maintenance issues and an increased appetite from developers, are driving many owners to seriously consider collective sales.”