Soul-searching as symbol of 70s Singapore faces demolition

Pearl Bank and other buildings from the 1970s are held dear by some Singaporeans as they are a reminder of the country's blistering development after independence

The looming demolition of a horseshoe-shaped tower block that symbolised Singapore's growth from a port town to an affluent city-state has sparked soul-searching about whether enough is being done to protect the country's recent history.

Pearl Bank Apartments, on the edge of the business district, was groundbreaking when it was completed in 1976 -- at the time it was the tallest residential building in Singapore, and became a model for high-rise living in the country and across cities in Southeast Asia.

It was a turning point for the city-state's Chinatown, as it was the first skyscraper in an area dotted with low-rise buildings.

But the 37-storey, 280-apartment block has seen better days, with residents now complaining of leaking pipes and ageing lifts. Earlier this month it was sold for Sg$728 million ($550 million) to a developer, who plans to construct a modern, high-rise residential building on the site.

The block was constructed in a 1970s style that has now fallen out of fashion, and lacks the colonial-era charm of buildings from British rule, many of which enjoy official protection.

But Pearl Bank and other buildings from the era are held dear by some Singaporeans as they are a reminder of the country's blistering development after independence in 1965.

"The buildings that were built just after independence were a reflection of the aspirations and hopes of a new nation," said photographer Darren Soh, who has been documenting Pearl Bank and other buildings from the same period.

"If we tear all these down, there will be nothing to remind us of the era."

Some publicly-owned buildings from that era, including a town hall and a conference hall, have been listed as national monuments, which should protect them from the wrecking ball.

But Ho Weng Hin, from architectural conservation consultancy Studio Lapis, said there were no cases of privately-owned residential blocks from that period being conserved and there was a "real threat" to such buildings.

However residents of Pearl Bank who backed the sale said that conservation was not practical due to the high cost.

"A lot of the people calling for conservation are outsiders looking in but if you lived here yourself, you'll understand the difficulties," resident Marie Lim, a 68-year-old retiree, told AFP.