Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

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Insider News

April 22, 2008

“I’ve got insider news”. “Someone I know works inside”. “This place is gonna en-bloced in 6 years time”.

These words were uttered smugly by a bespectacled man with a cigarette in his hand.

I had to walk away upon hearing these words as the resentment welling up within me was too intense to handle.

Maybe I’m just too obsessed with this estate.

As a real estate agent, I had to be professional about such remarks and not let my emotions get the better of me. (By the way, that guy is not my customer. He just bought a place in the HDB section of Tiong Bahru and is currently renovating his place and I happen to overhear his conversation with a buyer who just viewed a unit I was selling.)

Perhaps this frustration stemmed from the seemingly indifferent attitude I witness and felt amongst some Tiong Bahru residents.

Maybe no one really cares if this place would be en-bloced or conserved. What seems to matters most would be how much the en-bloced compensation would be and would the allocated flats be near a MRT station.

Seriously, you do not need HDB to en-bloced your home to get a windfall! There are many other ways to make money.

My family has never benefitted from whatsoever handouts HDB has given out.

When I purchased my 1st flat*, it was a total disaster for my wife and me.

We bought our flat impulsively at $495,000 and plonked in another $80,000 to renovate and furnished it.

HDB gave us a $40,000 CPF grant but that did more harm than help.

We later sold the flat off at $425,000.

Our losses come up to about $125,000 (inclusive of accrued CPF interest). To me, that was a financial disaster.

To add insult to injury, if I ever buy a direct flat from HDB, I would have to pay a levy of $107,000. And that amount does not include the interest incurred from the time I sold my SUBSIDIZED flat till the time I purchase my next one. (I wonder who was subsidizing who)

My wife and I never whine about that. We took it in our stride and recovered from it.

We stayed focused in our plans to become financially educated.

I also put in effort to improve my knowledge in real estate so that I can be a better investor and at the same time provide better advice to my clients.

We are still learning as learning is a journey with no destination.

We kept reading relevant books and tried to put what we have read into action.

I am also fortunate enough to meet many people along the way who could offer good advice and directions.

We have developed some kind of AWARENESS and this is a good start.

We have since made back what we lost from our 1st HDB flat through our real estate investment. (By the way, my wife is not in the real estate business but she took the time to understand how it works…..actually she does not have a choice, I have verbal diarrhoea and I demanded total attention when I am exploring my theories or analysis with her)

I strongly agree with Robert Kiyosaki that all of us should stop having this ENTITLEMENT mentality and instead steer our own future.

As the saying goes, give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life.

But BEWARE of the person who does neither but wants to sell you the fish. (They have a SELFISH reason for doing so and real estate agents** are classified by Robert as a fish seller in his book, “Why we want you to be RICH!”)

I was sold a fish when I bought my 1st HDB flat. I am now learning how to fish.

So for whatever reasons you might have about buying into Tiong Bahru and one of them happens to be about some en-bloc windfall, I urge you to explore other options which has a more certain outcome.

Betting on some insider news is akin to gambling.

One of my wise clients recently said this to me: “Wiseman PLANs, Poor man HOPEs”. There is much wisdom in that statement.

But if you already living here in the Tiong Bahru Estate and you cannot really tolerate living in these walk-ups anymore, give me a call and I will help you explore possibilities on how you can be happily moved to a place where there are ELEVATORS and extra toilets to serve you.

That way, we can still keep Tiong Bahru low density.

Being collectively INDIFFERENT to the fate of this estate would be the greatest tragedy.

So the song goes, Coz we are living in a material world and I’m a material……..,

If everyone is consumed by that song, the GREED will eventually come and Tiong Bahru’s low density existence will be threatened.

*Note: I was not yet a real estate agent when I purchased my 1st HDB property.

** When real estate agents cajole you into buying a property, do not become too emotional and overstretch your budget. Remember, you are the one who is going to service that mortgage loan over a long period of time and that agent would not be around to help you service that loan after the sale. You need to know your own financial numbers so that no one can pull wool over your eyes.

*** Stumbled upon this site and I would like you to check it out too: http://www.saveclementipark.com/. I am glad there are some people at Clementi Park who cared enough to speak out.

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Unwanted child of S’pore conservation?

April 20, 2008

I hope the relevant authorities would come up with a more long term plan for Tiong Bahru Estate as well. Everyone is left wondering what’s next. Will they let the lease run out and turn this place into some commercial place or they will keep tossing this project around until it lands on someone’s lap. Shudders……

The Straits Times
April 20, 2008
SUNDAY WITH

By Warren Fernandez


Will recent reports of fresh plans for the Capitol Theatre finally happen – after almost two decades? I’m not holding my breath…

For too long, the once-lovely Capitol Theatre has stood forlorn and forgotten, the unwanted child of Singapore conservation.

Newspaper reports once held out hope of it being transformed into a performing arts centre for musicals, plays and ballets.

That, alas, was in January 1996.

Even then, the report quoted government officials as saying that the plans were ‘still being studied’.

Never mind that the site had been earmarked for development in 1984, and acquired by the state in 1987, nearly a decade earlier.

More delays followed. In 1998, Capitol screened its last movie and the cinema was shut down amid much sadness and hopeful talk of plans to put it to better use.

The project was handed over to the Singapore Tourism Board to pursue in 2000. But in 2006, it decided not to proceed and handed it back to the Singapore Land Authority. Last year, it was finally declared a conservation area.

Sadly, over the years, nobody seemed either to own the project or to care all that much about it.

So, pardon me, but I could not help being more than a little sceptical when I read a report earlier this month which talked of fresh plans for the Capitol Theatre and the structures around it – Capitol Building, Capitol Centre and Stamford House.

The report raised as many questions as it answered: Just what do the authorities now envisage for the site, which they say will be sold as an ‘integrated one’ next year? So far, officials have said only that the area has not been ‘fully maximised to its development potential’ – indeed! – and the ‘timing and details’ of their plans ‘are being finalised’.

Why has it taken decades for any progress to be made on conserving this area? What is the cost of leaving Capitol idle all these years, allowing it to crumble away to a dusty death? And just who will ensure that the plans are realised this time?

These are legitimate questions, not least since the buildings concerned are very much part of Singapore’s architectural heritage.

Capitol Theatre turns 80 next year. The neo-classical style building was built in 1929 by M.A. Namazie, an early Singapore pioneer of Persian origin. The accompanying four-storey building, where the popular Magnolia Snack Bar once stood, was completed in 1933 and called the Namazie Mansions back then.

The cinema was Singapore’s very first, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks performed to promote their silent movies. In the 1960s, the Capitol hosted variety shows featuring performers like Sakura Teng and Rita Chao.

The adjacent Stamford House has an even longer history. It was designed for commercial use in 1904 by R.A.J. Bidwell, the man behind other outstanding buildings such as the Raffles Hotel and Goodwood Park Hotel.

Few seem to recall the furious debate that broke out in 1991 over whether Stamford House should be saved instead of Eu Court, built in the 1930s, across the street.

Then National Development minister S. Dhanabalan declared that Stamford House would be preserved as it had a ‘more outstanding architectural style’.

I was prepared then to give the minister the benefit of the doubt, and wait to see if the ramshackle Stamford House of those days would indeed be transformed into the conservation gem he envisioned.

So, when the Victorian facade of the building was unveiled three years and $13 million later, I had to concede that it did look splendid, as the minister had said.

But sadly, it never quite lived up to his promise of becoming ‘an active and successful commercial centre’, given its motley collection of furniture shops, galleries and eateries, several of which came and went.

The wider issue here is this: Just how does Singapore go about conserving its architectural heritage, saving grand old buildings and giving new life to them?

Of course, given the space constraints on this tiny island, I have never believed in keeping buildings as museum pieces, or standing in the way of development.

But, in these days of globalisation and rapid change, a sense of place and continuity is needed if Singaporeans are to remain rooted to this country.

Indeed, at the moment, Singapore is undergoing another spurt of redevelopment. Just as in the 1980s and 1990s, when familiar sites like the modest C.K. Tang store or the huge open field where Ngee Ann City now stands gave way to skyscrapers, the Ion Orchard and Orchard Central are rising rapidly from the ground in Orchard Road. These, and the redevelopment of the Asia Hotel site in Scotts Road, as well as the new St Regis Hotel in Tanglin Road are transforming the face of the downtown area as we know it.

So how to ensure continuity in the face of such change?

Well, to be fair, there have been quite a few success stories in conservation over the years, such as the Fullerton Hotel, Raffles Hotel, the National Museum, the old Parliament House, and the old St Joseph’s Institution building.

In these cases, the buildings’ structures were painstakingly conserved, even as their interiors were retrofitted to allow for new uses, commercial or otherwise. Sure, the purists moaned, but the conservation purpose was served.

There have been some bad misses too. Orchard cinema and the National Library were both razed to the ground despite fervent public protests.

Or ponder this: Just what is the difference between the ghastly named Orchard Cineleisure and the supposedly conserved Cathay building?

Precious little, actually. The former was built after tearing the old cinema down completely, while the latter was simply erected around a sliver of the facade of what was Singapore’s first skyscraper, as a sop to the conservationist lobby.

Clearly, there are lessons to be learnt from these hits and misses over the decades to help ensure that the re-development of the Capitol area turns out right.

To do so, the authorities need to:
Spell out their Capitol conservation plans in much greater detail.

While they are at it, they should consider redeveloping the SMRT HQ building across the street. Why a public transport operator needs such a large prime site, all walled up and uninviting, has always been a mystery to me.

There is much potential to liven up the entire area on both sides of Stamford Road, with an array of streetwalk dining, retail and entertainment options.

Engage the public, both to get ideas and foster a sense of ownership of this historic district.

Surely, Singaporeans should not wait until plans are announced to demolish an old building before taking an interest? Nor should they be left to bemoan conservation efforts gone awry after the fact.

Announce a timeline to make clear how and when the authorities will ensure that the area’s ‘development potential is fully maximised’, at long last.

It would be a pity if Singaporeans have to wait another decade to read the next report on new plans ‘being studied’ for Capitol.


warren@sph.com.sg

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Window Restoration in Progress

April 9, 2008

I was having a chat with this guy from China yesterday.

Even though I was having trouble understanding his heavily accent Mandarin, I understood he was complaining about why this owner would not just replace the windows.

He kept saying the windows are old and it is dangerous to keep them as they risk falling off. He kept mumbling that it would be better to just change all of them.

Maybe he was trying to frighten the owners into changing the windows so that he need not spend so much time “processing” the windows.

From what he described to me, it does indeed sounded very time consuming. But then again, restoration work is never a breeze right?

Chipping away all the old putty that held the window panes to the frame

At the same time, he cannot damage the green window panes as I think these are irreplaceable. His boss has been scouting around for the glass but he just cannot find them.
After he takes out all the glass, he has to sandpaper the entire frame before rust-proofing it. Some of the window hinges are already quite badly damaged. This guy has to weld the hinges back.
I’m glad this home owner took the pain to restore the windows and not take the easy way out by replacing them.
____________________________________________________
Here’re some tips on restoring and preserving old windows:
Preserving and restoring old windows
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Could this happen to Tiong Bahru?

April 8, 2008
Straits Times
April 8, 2008
An ambitious plan to convert one of the few remaining colonial buildings in skyscraper-dominated Hong Kong has rekindled a fierce debate about how the former colony deals with its heritage. — PHOTO: AFP
Spiky design sparks debate over Hong Kong’s heritage

HONG KONG – AN AMBITIOUS plan to convert one of the few remaining colonial buildings in skyscraper-dominated Hong Kong has rekindled a fierce debate about how the former colony deals with its heritage.

In the past year, fierce protests over the removal of the city’s Star Ferry terminal and the destruction of Queen’s Pier, where Britain’s royalty used to step onto the territory, has altered the city’s laissez-faire attitude to development, activists say.

Now, a HK$1.8 billion (S$318 million) plan to convert the old police station, jail and magistrates court into a gleaming commercial, arts and public space has become a testing ground for the city’s ability to reconcile historical and profit concerns.

The scheme, with a distinctive set of giant spikes in a prime residential and commercial area, has divided opinion.

‘The proposal of building a 50-storey glass tower inside the complex is unbelievable. And to me, it definitely will dominate the whole heritage site and actually won’t do any good to it,’ said Ms Katty Law, an activist.

Mr William Yiu, executive director of charities at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, whose gambling monolopoly has allowed it to become both the city’s biggest taxpayer and philanthropic giver, said their scheme is an attempt to do something new.

‘We want this to set an example of conservation,’ said Mr Yiu, who is running the scheme that sits on one of the few remains of the British colonial era to survive in the city’s Central district dominated by gleaming office blocks.

‘The idea is that we can do a new building at an historical site with facilities that we very much need in Hong Kong.’

The site was chosen by the British navy as the centre for law and order when it took over the island, then little more than an obscure rock, in 1841, and it flourished as the city expanded.

New design The new design – by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who are behind the Birds Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing and the conversion of the Tate Modern in London – will put galleries, boutiques and restaurants within the shells of the existing listed buildings.

It will then create a new structure behind the buildings that will include a theatre, a cinema and two elevated public gardens, bordered by the collection of spikes which will have plants growing around them.

The spikes, inspired by the distinctive pattern of the bamboo scaffolding seen across the city, have drawn ire from residents nearby and also concern that it will upset the city’s feng shui, or energy system, which is rumoured to have been a factor in several other major building designs in Hong Kong.

Mr Yiu said he is not expecting a repeat of the protests at Queen’s Pier last summer, when conservationists tied themselves to the structure to try and stop its removal, as the buildings will be left in place.

He said the Jockey Club has been involved in a lengthy public consultation, despite being given pre-approval by Chief Executive Donald Tsang in his annual policy speech last year and that parts of the design, including the spikes, were being reconsidered as a result.

Public pressure Campaigners say that public pressure in recent years has transformed the government’s attitude to conservation, where commercial considerations have steamrollered any concerns in the past.

‘I think the government is now realising that there are opportunities and that it is nice to have some diversity,’ said Mr Paul Zimmerman, founding member of pressure group Designing Hong Kong.

‘(They see) it is wrong to have just a monotony of podium-style buildings with no street level interface and just big towers on top. I think that they’re recognising that that is not necessarily good for building a community.’

Mr John Batten, whose campaigns have enjoyed success in stopping several developments – including on the site of the former residential quarters for married police officers where Mr Tsang grew up – said the change in attitude among authorities has been marked.

‘Government has changed dramatically. They are now pointing the finger at the property developers. Before they would not have looked for the faults,’ he said.

Mr Batten said the change has come about because of a series of strong targeted campaigns, ranging from the Queen’s Pier demonstration to efforts to stop the destruction of traditional wet markets.

‘I think these cases come down to a very grassroots approach. It is built on community support for the ideas,’ he said.

However Mr Batten is frustrated at the way the new Jockey Club scheme was presented as a fait accompli before consultation.

‘The way they have approached it is muddly and murky. They came up with a bright and breezy plan and they thought everyone would think it was great, but it is not very practical,’ he said. — AFP

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access

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New "Enhancement"

March 6, 2008

This rustic laid back image has been erased forever.

For the whole of last week, I was wondering why there were so much hacking and drilling activities and I thought a new neighbour was renovating their place.

It was only when I was walking to the Tiong Bahru Market that I spotted some workers along this pavement. I thought they were repairing the drains or just doing some resurfacing of the walkways as there were some cracks along the pavement.

Perhaps someone complained about those cracks as it made roller blading a little bit more challenging.

Anyway, I walked off thinking that it was just some routine maintenance undertaken by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council who responded to some of the resident’s frivolous request.

Saw this yesterday while on the way to Eng Watt Street. So not only did the town council made this pavement a better place to roller blade, they made it a nicer place to roller blade as well!

I hope this “enhancement” will quell all talks about this place being en-bloc in the near future.

By the way, I do not know how to roller blade and I am hoping to learn it someday. Yes, someday.
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TIONG BAHRU WALKING TOUR – SUN 24 FEB 2008

February 19, 2008

Here’s an opportunity not to be missed!

Heritage Guide, Geraldine, will be conducting a tour this weekend (24th Feb 2008) from 9:30am to approximately 12:30pm.

If you are keen, please give Geraldine a call at +(65)6737-5250 or +(65) 8155-1390.

Cost per person is SGD$30/=

The following is what you could be expecting from the tour :

Heritage Guide Geraldine will start the tour with a short talk of the history of the area and Cheong Hong Lim, the donor of the most amazing Geok Hong Tian Temple 1887.

The group would be able to witness devotees celebrating the birthday of the Jade Emperor & the Monkey God which happens around the ” Chap Go Mei” – first full moon after Chinese New Year.

The walk will bring the group past some interesting trees and also the grave of a well-known philanthropist, Mr Tan Tock Seng, founder of 4 hospitals in Singapore!

The group will stop to have refreshments near the famous Singing Bird corner that was once a Tiong Bahru Landmark. The bird corner is closed temporarily but we all hope it would be back in a jiffy!

Along the way, the group will also check out the best local cake shop and the new Tiong Bahru Market whilst walking through some of the 1930’s Art Deco block of flats.

The tour will end with a visit to Eng Hoon Street to observe the Monkey God’s birthday celebrations and to hear about the rituals & customs that are practiced there.

After which the group can have lunch at the numerous eating places nearby.

If you are interested to join this tour, pick up the phone and call or SMS Geraldine now. Don’t procrastinate.

______________________________________________________

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Kelvin Ang and Melvyn Wong for forwarding the email for this event to me.

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Obituary : Lau Teng Mng (1936 – 2008)

January 18, 2008

Let us take a few moments to mourn the loss of this rare authentic PRE-WAR windows.

These windows were installed during the 1930’s when the British built the Tiong Bahru Estate (Singapore’s 1st Housing Estate).

It not only survived the World War II bombings, it also witnessed the birth of our young nation.

Despite being a little rusted at some parts of the frame…… due to years of neglect, these windows were still faithfully serving the occupants of the flat……until the flat was sold to someone.

“Too old and outdated!” the new owners must have thought.

“Fifty Dollars, that’s all they are worth”, said the window installer to me as I was snapping this picture.

“Nonsense!” I protested. “These are priceless!”

Not wanting to give the window installer an opportunity to think that I’m a mental case, I walked off.

But my heart was a little heavy.

Isn’t these Tiong Bahru flats conserved in December 2003?

What was really being conserved?

Can we truly find a MINT CONDITION 1936 flat within this estate? I have not seen any so far.

90% of buyers who bought into the Tiong Bahru Estate recently did not buy it because of her historical value. Some do not even know why this place was conserved in the first place!

Some bought it to “FLIP” and make some quick bucks while some bought it to rent it out…….nevermind how many or who will eventually live in it as long as it makes economic sense.

Sigh!

I am beginning to wonder if Tiong Bahru Estate was conserved “wrongly”.

After December 2003, there was NO MORE follow up activities.

No one seems to be policing anything at all.

Due to a lack of guidelines, this area seems like a free for all situation and many home owners are constantly testing and pushing the limits.

Perhaps it is because this area is the baby of two statutory board that it became no one’s child.

By the time HDB and URA decide who will take total responsibility for this estate, I think not many of these types of PRE-WAR windows will be around by then.
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Make Tiong Bahru a preserved site

November 10, 2007
The Straits Times

Life Section (Mailbag)

Nov 10, 2007
I READ Tay Suan Chiang’s story (Pieces Of Singapore, Life!, Nov 3).

It brings to mind the SIT flats in Tiong Bahru which hold many fond memories of younger days for many Singaporeans.

I remember returning from my studies in Britain and feeling overwhelmed by the sight of these flats. I felt I had arrived home.

Their architecture is unique. Not long ago, two architectural students from Sweden begged me to let them in to view the interior of the flat.

The buildings are characterised by the round stairway balcony with a porthole at the side, and the sheltered five-foot-way.

The Tiong Bahru market blends in beautifully with the neighbouring blocks and the town council has done a wonderful landscaping job.

In Yunan, China, the government preserved the Old Town of Lijiang and it is recognised as a Unesco preserved site.

Can the same be done for Tiong Bahru?

Lee Hoi Yin

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access


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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”.

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‘What are they doing to my buildings?’

September 14, 2007
The Straits Times
Sep 14, 2007
PEOPLE & POLITICS

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.’

jeremyau@sph.com.sg