Archive for September, 2007


September 28, 2007


Will the lease ever gets topped up?

September 24, 2007

The Tiong Bahru Pre-War section was sold to the existing tenants around 1967 and the properties here were transacted like “PRIVATE” properties.

In 2003, it was awarded “CONSERVATION” status as these buildings have historical significance in Singapore’s history.

At the moment, the lease remaining is about 59 years and many buyers, particularly the younger ones, are affected by the CPF withdrawal limits. These rules were implemented by the Government to ensure that her citizens are able to live in the property till they are 80 years old.

The intention of our Government is primarily GOOD but these 2 events may have created a unintended barrier that prevents the place from achieving its true value.

While I am pro-conservation, I also recognized that the “Conservation Status” has effectively cut off the resident’s hope of obtaining a windfall through a collective sale exercise. There is no way they can get a developer to “reset” the lease to 99 years through a redevelopment proposal as the “conservation status” prevents that option.

So while other aging leasehold properties could negate the dwindling remaining lease through redevelopment, this place offers no such hope at the moment.

Maybe this could be the reason why many buildings that were built in the 70s are fast disappearing. The obvious and easiest way out to protect the owner’s assets is to tear it down and give it a new lease of life….not to mention a handsome profit as well. Not many will be so noble to let the lease run down and see their hard earn savings go down the drain.

Let’s explore the various possible scenarios that this place may have for the flat owners

Scenario One: No TOP UP lease
Nothing happens. Life goes on as normal. The Government is not obliged to top up the lease for these flat owners. All investment carries risk and all owners knew about the rules and regulation prior to purchasing these flats. They can still live in the flat for another 50 over years before the Government takes it back.

Scenario Two: The lease gets topped up
The lease gets topped up to 99 years again but residents are required to pay “market” rate to top up the lease. For those who are not gainfully employed or retired, the Government may allow them pay when they sell the property. They will be charged “interest” on that original “top up lease” amount.

With the lease topped up, the entire place will certainly experience a surge in prices as the buyer’s market widen and many more yuppies could afford to buy into this area.

However, this scenario has its problem as well. If the entire Singapore property market heads south after the “top up” exercise, “Negative equity” owners may have problem coming up with the “top up” money plus interest. But I am confident that our Government will be able a produce a good solution for everyone here.

Another factor to consider is that our Government CANNOT and WILL NOT be reckless in allowing the place to be topped up to 99 years without doing a thorough audit on the buildings. They must be very sure that these buildings can stand for another 100 years before allowing the topped up exercise.

The challenge here is to get all owners to co-operate and put up with the inconvenience of the building audit. After the audit, the rectification and repair exercise will definitely follow right after that. This is the part which will ruffle many feathers here as those with unauthorized renovations within their flat will probably be the most uncooperative ones.

But I guess this will be the bitter pill the residents here have to swallow before they get to enjoy the FRUIT.

Whatever the outcome may be, my sincere hope is for this place to prosper continuously and Tiong Bahru Estate can become yet another showcase to prove that “conservation” status does not always means being “shortchanged”.


The late 80’s Tiong Bahru Market

September 20, 2007

Allow me walk you down memory lane today.

This was how the Tiong Bahru Market used to look like the the late 1980s.

It was crowded, messy and stuffy but it was GREAT!


September 20, 2007


September 20, 2007


Seah Eu Chin (1805 – 1883)

September 15, 2007
The street within the Tiong Bahru Estate is in memory of Seah Eu Chin (1805 – 1883), who left his native Chenghai, Zhaozhou, for Singapore in 1823.

He worked his way here as a clerk on board a Chinese junk.

Five years later he worked as a treasurer with one Kim Swee Company.

At 25, enterprising Eu Chin was established as a commission agent in Circular Road, dealing in native produce.

At the same time, he supplied the junks plying the ports of the Malay Peninsula with all they wanted and received from them all the produce they had collected for sale on commission.

A man known for his integrity, Seah later acquired large pieces of land from Irwell Bank Road to Bukit Timah and Thomson roads, on which he planted gambier and pepper.

He was also a trader in cotton goods and tea.

It was he who led the Chinese in welcoming Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India, in 1850 on his visit to Singapore during the time of Governor Butterworth.

Seah later became a member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

When the Tan Tock Seng Hospital was founded, Seah became its general affairs officer.

During the riots between Fujian and Guangdong secret society members in 1854, he and Tan Kim Seng settled their disputes as mediators.

In 1851, Seah was appointed as a special juror and later a senior juror in 1864. Seah was made a Justice of Peace and an honorary magistrate in 1872.

Seah Eu Chin also wrote the first account of the Chinese community in Singapore.

He is the father of Seah Peck Seah, another well-known member of the Chinese community in the nineteenth century.

He died in Singapore at the ripe age of 78.

‘What are they doing to my buildings?’

September 14, 2007
The Straits Times
Sep 14, 2007

In the redevelopment wave that is sweeping the country, one group has been looking on in horror as its work and a part of Singapore’s identity is slowly being demolished.
JEREMY AU YONG talks to three veteran architects, who speak out against what they consider to be the dirtiest of words: ‘en bloc’

CAIRNHILL LANDMARK: Mr Victor Chew designed the 17-storey Hilltops Apartments in Cairnhill such that no unit looked into another. — ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

IT USED to be that Mr Victor Chew could not drive past Cairnhill Circle, Holland Road or Orchard Road without getting hot under the collar.
‘I’d start uttering four-letter words,’ says the 80-year-old architect.
But he was not swearing at traffic. Rather, it was buildings – or what’s left of them – that made him fume.
Mr Chew, who belongs to Singapore’s first generation of architects, believes he did some of his best work in those areas.
In Cairnhill, he designed Hilltops Apartments which, when completed in the 1960s, was a 17-storey residential building at a time when most apartments stopped at four floors.
In Holland Road, he designed the Holland Road Apartments, a block of walk-ups that stood on pillars called pilotis. Built before independence, these were, as Mr Chew describes, ‘the first void decks in Singapore’.
At the top end of Orchard Road, he designed Ming Court Hotel, which in the 1970s was one of the city’s most recognisable hotels.
Today, to Mr Chew’s four-lettered dismay, barely a trace of his work is left.
Ming Court Hotel, later renamed Orchard Parade Hotel, was refurbished in 1998, resulting in a new facade and a new terracotta colour scheme.
The other two – Hilltops Apartments and Holland Road Apartments – had their date with the wrecking ball, thanks to that now all-too-familiar mechanism: the collective sale.
‘When it hurts the most, it’s not because of the beauty of the building. That part is just vanity.

‘It hurts when the building was significant, when it led the way to other buildings in Singapore,’ says Mr Chew.
Yet, by no means is he the only one to have seen his work crumbling into dust in the current property market boom.

In the long-running debate over Singapore’s strategy of redeveloping sites through collective sales, one voice tends to be unheard – that of the architects.
More specifically, the generation of veteran architects who shaped the country’s skyline in the early days, but are now resigned to watch helplessly as their work is wiped out en bloc by en bloc.
While accepting that renewal is inevitable in land-scarce Singapore, they make a call for a rethink of how buildings are redeveloped and the pace of such changes.
The concern is that what is being swept aside is not just a few architects’ legacies, but more significantly, a country’s memories, identity and history.

SINGAPORE’S FIRST CONDO: Among Dr Timothy Seow’s favourite works was Beverly Mai condominium, the first to have shared facilities. — ST FILE PHOTO

It is a part of history that architect Timothy Seow calls a ‘Singapore built by Singaporeans’.

He says: ‘Before independence, you had colonial buildings designed and built by the British architects. The formative post-colonial years of the 1960s ushered in an era where a majority of projects were designed by home-bred architects.

‘Following which…there was an influx of foreign architects into the local scene, with the local architects playing the secondary roles.’

It is a view shared by the younger generation of architects.

Says architectural designer Eugene Lim, 28: ‘Of late, you definitely see more foreign architects at the concept stage, with the local ones doing the implementation.

‘I’d like to see local guys given more credit than they are getting.’

Says Dr Seow: ‘It was a short period (when local architects’ work dominated) and it would be a pity if the projects from the 1960s were wiped out. But in a few years, it will be all gone.’

Dr Seow, managing director of CPG-Timothy Seow Studio, is possibly one of the hardest hit, since much of his early work was in condominiums.

Horizon View, Futura, Beverly Mai, Westwood, Maxima, Belle Vue and Oxley Rise are all his projects, and all are either sold or in talks for sale.

Until the sale fell through on a technicality recently, Horizon Towers in Leonie Hill was also on that list.

Of the lot, Beverly Mai ranks among Dr Seow’s favourites. For one, it is widely credited as being the first condominium in Singapore.

It was the first to have shared facilities, first with maisonettes, and the first to have units with no party walls (walls shared by two units).

Ironically, it was also one of the first to be sold.

STILL UP: Mr William Lim’s jewel in the crown, Golden Mile Complex, is still standing, though some owners have lobbied for a collective sale. — ST FILE PHOTO

Architect William Lim, 75, says he has lost count of the number of buildings he designed that have been destroyed.

Unlike the other two men though, his jewel in the crown, Golden Mile Complex in Bras Basah, is still standing.

For now, that is.

Some owners of the mixed development have lobbied for a collective sale, though it is far from a done deal.

The long- time opponent of Singapore’s urban renewal strategy feels Singapore is now at a critical juncture if it is to rescue any of the country’s architectural heritage or, for that matter, its memories.

‘With the aggressive collective sales, Singapore will soon lose most of its post-war buildings. This is our last chance to do anything about it,’ he says.

The Government also appears concerned with the en bloc wave, though perhaps not for the same reasons that upset the architects to whom Insight spoke.

Last month, a raft of changes were introduced in Parliament to legislation that governs collective sales.

They would give home owners more say and make the entire process more transparent.

Real estate analysts also expect the rule changes – when they kick in – to slow down the boom.

As it is, the collective sales market has been pushing on full tilt. According to figures compiled by Credo Real Estate, there were a total of 62 collective sales worth about $11.86 billion in the first seven months of this year.

That works out to an average of nine buildings slated for demolition a month, or more than one a week.

An architect like Mr Chew would, in his lifetime, work on around 30 buildings, most of which are private houses.

‘Take away about a dozen or so houses and in the end I think only four or five have any real significance,’ he says.

At its peak, the en bloc wave could theoretically wipe out the life’s work of two Victor Chews a month.

‘The way things are going now is pure madness,’ he says.

‘I don’t think people understand what they are doing. They see the big money and they sell but they don’t know what they are losing.

‘In Hilltops, no unit looked into another. Now they are going to build twice the number of units.

Are people going to get the same thing even if they bought a unit back there?’

Whether the legislation changes will be enough remains to be seen.

Mr William Lim says that the system currently is weighed unfairly in favour of those who want to redevelop a site and home owners who want to sell.

And what has to make way is collective memories.

‘The Red House Bakery in Katong, the National Theatre – these may not be fantastic examples of architecture but they said something to the people,’ he says.

‘But there is no respect for the memories of the invisible public. We even destroy cemeteries. If you ask me, a cemetery is more important than Golden Mile.’

The recent proposed changes to en bloc legislation may make it harder for deals to go through, but the veteran architects are calling for a more formalised structure for conservation.

Says Mr Chew: ‘Right now we seem to be interested in only gazetting buildings built before independence. But that’s not us.

‘It’s like Australia preserving only buildings by the Aborigines.’

What he would like to see is each building being examined to determine its value.

‘And I cannot accept something like Chijmes as a conservation project. You must understand what the building meant to the people before. It’s like turning the old Supreme Court into a food court.’

Mr William Lim would like to see the Preservation of Monuments Board and Singapore Heritage Society play larger roles.

‘I know they have lists of buildings worth preserving. They could make these lists public and maybe the Government can pass a law to say that these buildings should be exempt from collective sale,’ he says.

Dr Seow, in turn, would like the opportunity to upgrade his buildings.

‘Honestly, a lot of my buildings are now 30 to 40 years old. These buildings have set a trend for the present-day condominiums in Singapore…These are well-designed buildings which, if given a chance to be upgraded, would still be able to take on a new look that is relevant to the times.’

Yet for all their impassioned pleas to save buildings, there seems in each one of the three architects a palpable sense of resignation.

‘When someone dear dies, one invariably feels sad but one still has to get on with life. Living in this current climate, one has no choice,’Dr Seow says.

Mr Chew adds: ‘Time marches on and something must give way. What can you do?

‘For creative people, you want to create something timeless. Authors want to be Shakespeare.

But can you be Shakespeare in Singapore?

‘I’m retired now and my legacy is in rubble.’

Losing sites of our past

September 14, 2007

Friday • September 14, 2007
Liang Dingzi

THE recent news report on the honourable mention that the old St Andrew’s School received at this year’s United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards set my heart fluttering with sentimentality.

Unesco praised its conservation project for maintaining the character of the missionary school.

Friends who know I am not an old boy of St Andrew’s will wonder why I was so affected. The breakneck pace at which many buildings in Singapore — some of them exceedingly younger — are razed to the ground is reason enough.

Ten years ago, when my daughter started school at CHIJ Katong Primary, I was impressed by its reasonably new facilities and the continuous upgrading in ensuing years.

Generally, I am impressed by how schools in Singapore are so generously equipped. Their architectural grandeur makes many schools, even the eminent ones we see in the developed West, pale in comparison.

Every year after Primary 6, my daughter would visit the school to chat with the teachers. Even at her age, I believe there was a feeling of endearment rooted in the fond memories of the nurturing years she spent there.

Last year, she was asked if she would buy a brick of the old school, which was heading for a complete facelift. This year, when we rode by the heap of rubble, my daughter did not want to look at it.

Singapore is a country that changes its landscape fast and furious, almost without second thought.

Modernity may be a sign of progress, but complete eradication of the past comes at an emotional price.

It destroys our roots.

I do not think a symbolic piece of brick can sufficiently evoke the sentiment of our link with the past the same way familiarity of the place stirs our hearts and minds.

The old school ground may be retained for a new school building. But even if it comes complete with pictures and perhaps some relics of the past, the sentiment is not likely to be the same.

Standing in a completely new location of my alma mater, which had moved from Bras Basah Road to Malcolm Road, I found it difficult to reconnect with a past I remember fondly, especially since the teachers and others I used to know were gone.

I missed the school chapel, the courtyard and the foyer where I had followed the gaze of our patron saint as he pointed the way ahead.

Fortunately, the old St Joseph’s Institution building (picture) has been retained as a heritage site and it is there, more than its new home, that I continue to feel my roots.

What and how much to preserve is not an easy decision in land scarce Singapore. Schools make poor cases from a functional point of view, when they become constrained by the lack of modern equipment and facilities and when the population outgrows the size.

Or, when there are other priorities in the national development plan to make better commercial use of the land where they stand.

It is the same with most other buildings. What is astonishing is their replacement rate, as their lifespan increasingly becomes shorter.

To many, it would appear to be a waste of resources, but that’s a moot point in a country whose economy is a picture of robust health.

Economists will vouch that it is this constant renewal that underpins the continuous generation of wealth.

Quite coincidentally, an octogenarian, with whom I had coffee last week, marvelled at how quickly new buildings shot up in Singapore. In the same breath, he lamented how quickly they came down.

I wonder if it’s only when we become old that we begin to feel the loss of a treasured past.

For many of us, we are more overwhelmed by spanking new architectural marvels than feeling sorry to see a piece of the past slip into oblivion.

I suppose that’s life.

It may be said that there is no place for sentimental old fools in a changing world, but do not be too hasty to dismiss such sentiments.

In them are rooted the pride of belonging to a community or society.

The writer is a management consultant.


Birthday of the Monkey God – 26th Sep 2007

September 12, 2007

If you’ve got time on 26th September 2007, pop by the Monkey God Temple at the junction of Eng Hoon Street and Tiong Poh Road to catch the sights and sounds of this event.

This event honours the beloved Monkey God and is celebrated in several Chinese temples in Singapore.

Priests enter trances to channel the spirit of the Monkey God, making them behave like monkeys.

To signify the Monkey Gods bravery, they skewer themselves through the cheek and tongue, or slash their arms and legs.

A grand procession through the streets leads to the Monkey God Temple.

An empty sedan chair is carried by devotees and the entranced, pierced priests file behind with spears and skewers.

Chinese opera and puppet plays are often performed in the temple courtyard while the Lion and Dragon Dance are performed in the evening just outside the temple. (Drivers, please exercise patience as the road will be unofficially closed during the performance)

Shutterbugs, bring your cameras!

To get acquainted with this event, read about what happened during last year’s event here : Festival of the Monkey God


The Tiong Bahru bird-singing corner

September 7, 2007
From Yawning Breading ‘s titled : Rock, jazz and songbirds silenced

John Malathronas’ new book Singapore Swing has a rather disconcerting tale about the loss of the bird-singing corner of Tiong Bahru. He had found the place on his first visit and thought it very charming.

Page 97:
I knew that bird singing contests were common in South East Asia, but nothing had prepared me for the scale of the spectacle in the Bird Arena Café: a roof of railings with hooks on which dozens of identical 20-inch round bamboo cages were hanging, one bird per cage; competitors, almost exclusively male, sitting in a row of chairs parallel to the line of cages above, sipping a mug of coffee; waiters bringing drinks, collecting dishes and taking orders; judges walking around making notes; and spectators sitting at tables…

Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Corner during it’s heydays


But my overwhelming memory is of the aural tapestry by the birds themselves — seemingly shamas on my Sunday — caressing my eardrums and imprinting their love songs into my unconscious.

On his second visit slightly over a year later, page 159:

Yes, one of the first things I did is return to the Bird Arena early on my first Sunday morning, before the nightlife devoured me, as is its wont. This time, I knew something about the suburb itself: it was the first public housing project in Singapore, the brainchild of the Singapore Improvement Trust which operated until 1960 when the Housing and Development Board, the HDB, took over. Despite the lack of maintenance, there is something earthy and liveable in those three- and four-storey houses that still stand — most noticeably in Seng Poh Road and Eng Hoon Street — compared with the later Gotham City tower blocks of the HDB. The pavements may be cracking and the smell of mold spores might permeate the air, but the curves, the lines and the dimensions are more agreeable and convivial.


I stop and look at my map. Was it here? Yes, it was, but —

The old cafe is no more. A high fence informs us of ‘Danger/Keep out/Bahaya Jangan dekat’ and in a few more alphabets I can’t interpret. The block of flats next to it has been covered with green netting as if ready-wrapped for a take-away. I know where to look: up, where a wiry old signboard is only just discernible: ‘Tiong Bahru Bird Arena – Mata Puteh’. I shake my head. It cant’ be! Tourist leaflets are still advertising the song contests! They just can’t demolish it!

Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Corner after it was slated for demolition

They most certainly did. And so another bit of Singapore is thrown away. The blocks nearby have been converted to a new hotel.

Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Corner after the LINK HOTEL took over

It’s possible that the bird corner has merely been relocated — perhaps some readers might know the answer? — but it’s doubtful if one can recover the ambiance of old in a brand new location.

Living in a city that is always on the go has its price. Everything competes for space; sentiment has to fight relentlessly with utility.

We are doing a reasonable job of marking out and preserving some old buildings, but our choices tend to be influenced by our politics. We choose to preserve our grand buildings, especially those of governmental significance; governments generally have a high opinion of themselves.

Particularly in Singapore’s case, with our foundational narrative lauding the British colonisers, grand colonial buildings get first-class treatment. The other politically-influenced aspect comes from our tendency to see race and religion as building blocks of society. Thus temples and buildings of communal significance are also valued. It’s funny how some of these are quite obscure, yet are elevated into national monuments.

We seem not to be able to grasp the significance of places that are of popular significance: places that ordinary people have grown accustomed to having around, and which connect them to a sense of home.

The old National Library was torn down to make way for a pointless little road tunnel. The National Stadium was recently terminated with extreme prejudice. Years earlier, the National Theatre was also razed — in its place today stands an empty field. You’d notice they were all called “National” this and that. Didn’t save them at all. What chance did the un-national Bird Arena have?

Read more of it at : Yawning Bread
Saw this posting at Skyscraper City. Thank you Route16 for posting it there.