Love it or hate it, Brutalist architecture may not be for everyone but we’re preparing to see yet another iconic building in Singapore get demolished soon. Say your farewells to Pearl Bank Apartments.
If you bring up the names of Singapore’s Famous Five, a term given to buildings that pioneered the start of modern architecture here, it would invoke a flood of memories for many. 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 were all deemed iconic some decades ago. Today, out of this five only two remain: Golden Mile Complex and the soon-to-be demolished Pearl Bank Apartments.
The famous horseshoe
Built in 1976, at 113 metres tall, Pearl Bank Apartments is immediately recognisable in the skyline of Outram. Sitting atop of Pearl’s Hill, the Brutalist-style building was the tallest residential building in Singapore at the time. Originally unpainted, the concrete was bare and visible to all, true to the style of brutalist architecture of béton brut (literally, raw concrete).
For some, the utilitarian concrete structures of brutalist architecture are nothing more than outdated eyesores but Pearl Bank’s peculiar horseshoe shape is what makes it so iconic. Designed by architect Tan Cheng Siong, Pearl Bank served as a beacon of contemporary residential design and acted as precedent to the subsequent high-density urban development in Singapore and throughout Southeast Asia.
An aged beauty
These days, Pearl Bank is a shell of its former self. Recently sold off to developers CapitaLand for a cool $728 million in a collective sale, the building comes with a set of problems as well. While a current resident in the building says that he has yet to experience any plumbing issues, he raised that nothing in building has been changed or modernised since it was built in the 70s and at times it does feel like being stuck in the past.
Others might not be as lucky and have complained about the general maintenance of the building including lifts that break down often, weak water pressure, peeling paint, neglect, and even pests. Despite various calls for the building to be preserved, it looks like Pearl Bank is scheduled to be demolished in the near future.
It’s what’s inside that counts
If you’re lucky enough to have access to the building (like we were), do take a stroll in the winding corridors of this building before it’s too late. We began to understand why a building like this garnered many calls for preservation – there is a sense of serenity being located in between Singapore’s busiest districts but also detached from all the hustle and bustle at the same time.
Architecture is a direct and tangible representation of history and place. While it’s great for Singapore to be embracing the future and shaping it with new skyscrapers of glass and steel, preserving historical structures also means that we are able to share and understand the very spaces and environments in which the generations before us lived. And standing there looking at the breathtaking skyline of the CBD area, I wished I knew how it was like before my time.