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In Pictures: Pearl Bank Apartments Before Its Impending Doom

We take a look at the residential landmark that is pretty much a piece of history in its own right

With the announcement of its sale to CapitaLand for $728 million earlier this year in March, the iconic Pearl Bank Apartments is one of the latest historic building to give way to en bloc sales or a government buy back to make way for redevelopment and upgrading. A couple of months ago, the iconic multi-coloured HDB buildings at Rochor Centre made way for the incoming North-South Expressway.

Photo: ST

Built in 1976 with a height of 113 metres, Pearl Bank Apartments was the tallest residential building in Singapore at that time. Sitting atop of Pearl Hill overlooking the Outram neighbourhood, the 38-storey building is a commanding three-quarter cylindrical tower that resembles the shape of a horseshoe.

Designed by local architect Tan Cheng Siong with an intended occupancy of 1500 people over an 8000 square metre plot land, the tower was one of the densest buildings when it was completed back then. The successes of Pearl Bank Apartments as a residential space shaped the modern architecture landscape in Singapore, with more high-density buildings dotting the Singapore skyline as the years passed.

Pearl Bank Apartments before it was painted in 2008

Photo: Archurban Architects Planners

While people in the past marvelled as this towering beauty with its commanding presence, the generation of today who enjoy exploring urban settings for the perfect Instagram shot have made trips down to capture the apartment as it nears its final months.

So what exactly makes this apartment complex so well loved by both the old and the young?

Before it was covered in this bright orange layer in 2008, the entire structure was left unpainted upon completion. The raw concrete was intentionally left visible as part of the Brutalism architectural style, popular in the early 20th century from 1951 to 1975.

Brutalist buildings, as they were called are often seen with duplicated exchangeable elements forming masses that depicts individual functioning zones. Concrete that was favoured over bricks gave an unpretentious appearance that showcases the basic nature of its construction.

While this may have been a flourishing style of the past, Pearl Bank apartments attract the young with its unique look especially when most buildings that we find in modern Singapore are your glass skyscrapers and steel reinforced structures.

It may appear uncanny at first, but with some exploring and walking around you may be able to find a few spots to grab some aesthetic shots of the place itself and the surroundings of Outram and Chinatown.

Photo: @chas_pope

From just looking up, you can get a sense of the sheer grandeur the building exudes. Back when Brutalism was a popular achitectural style in the 1970s, there was an emphasis to expose the concrete construction.

Photo: @darrensohphoto

If you are able to get onto the corridors along one of the mid-levels and look out, you can get quite a neat composition of the apartment units. With a little observation, you can see the brutalist style architecture with the repeated pattern of staircase and windows that come together to form each level.

Photo: @architecturetourist

Step into the heart of Pearl Bank Apartments at one the lowest floor of the residential property segment and look up. This easily could pass off as one of the iconic shots one can get at the historic building. Being ‘enclosed’ in this three-quarter cylindrical apartment complex serves as a great reminder of how small we are in this world, with many new places, landscapes and sights for us to still explore.

Photo: @khooguojie

On the rooftop of the neighbouring People’s Park Complex, you can look out to the South West to find Pearl Bank Apartments. This time from a height and afar, you can properly see where atop Pearl’s Hill is it situated. With some intent look, you can again very well see how organised Pearl Bank was built with its continuously repeated appearance. Just from the photo above, between each yellow line, you can see it is formed by two symmetrical blocks and that goes on for much of the residential apartments.

Photo: @Littleshoesphotography

We had the ‘look up’ shot so definitely it would provide a different perspective when you look down. The communal garden at the top of the shopping centre complemented the remaining quarter. From above, it does make one wonder how impressive this skyscraper was conceived in 1976, more so when most housing options were mere shophouses that were barely three storeys high.

Photo: Nick Yeo

Coming out from one of the stairwells, you will be greeted by this view overlooking Chinatown and the financial district.

Take a peek inside Pearl Bank Apartments, before it gets demolished
Photo: Hubab Hood

If you peer down the stairwell, it is very easy for anyone who has acrophobia to feel slightly unsettled. More so with the low parapets when you walk down each flight of stairs. It is often misunderstood that alternate level apartments can only be reached by a single staircase block. But a few trips along the corridors from one end to the other will assure you there are more than one way to get to each level.

Photo: @ck.chai

Despite voices from the public for the apartment complex to be conserved and remain as a Singapore landmark, the iconic residential building is likely to end up like Rochor Centre – demolished.

While heritage lovers and conservationists are on the constant lookout to prevent our older apartments from being victims to receiving the ‘en bloc’ status, there will always be the other side of the argument that a modern Singapore demands contemporary buildings for a ‘beautified’ cityscape.

Photo: Everything also Complain

With Beach Road’s Golden Mile Complex getting the green light from owners to launch an en bloc sale recently, it may be the next Brutalist apartment in line to be bought over by a developer, torn down and made into something new.

It is no doubt that there is lesser of a debate when it comes to conserving a site that possesses racial or religious significance. The same cannot be spoken of for a commercial or residential property. Developers who are willing to fork out colossal amounts of funds to buy over such plots of land can easily entice any owner with an unlikely option to cash out on a house or storefront that has gone past its prime.

It does put the question out there: as much as Singapore wishes to modernise on both software and hardware, is there any true meaning in preserving these architectural landmarks of the past?