July 9, 2007
Pearlbank - more than an icon
PEARLBANK goes beyond being an iconic building. It is testimony to many theoretical urban issues.

It challenges the established West's dislike for urban centre high-rise living. It illustrates that suburbia is anti-social and uneconomic. It proves that a self-contained town is unnecessary as a mass transit system needs high-rise high-density housing to complete the urban form.

Pearlbank demonstrated the possibility of a great urban centre just a few years after Singapore's independence. Thirty-five years ago we created a vision that is now more relevant. It is more relevant because:

>>We are still land-scarce;

>>We have installed a quality transport network;

>>We can link dense settlement with a mass transit system and highways;

>>We can focus on quality, community and economy;

>>We are experienced in urban planning, urban design and urban living;

>>And Singaporeans can travel the World, the regions, the cities and to resorts to enjoy a lifestyle of great freedom and mobility and live in super high-rises.

Singapore is beginning only now to realise the importance of super high-rise, high-density living, hence Duxton Plain. URA has to plan for another 2,000,000 citizens as we grow to 6,500,000 population. Our existing infrastructure can take it. We need only to intensify its use.

There is no need to annex more land or to build more new towns. To provide new homes for every million, we need only to propose 500 towers of 50 storeys high, each having 600 units. We can then arrange these 'Pearlbanks' in twos or threes next to the numerous MRT stations. The remaining million can be absorbed into the large fabric of existing new towns, and other built-up areas of Singapore in the normal fashion.

Pearlbank has contributed in many ways. It is an architecture that addressed and solved many complex issues. It is iconic not in the 'look' sense but, more importantly, in areas of design, construction, technology, high-rise high-density living, urban design, urban planning and city development.

Thirty-seven years ago, although Pearlbank pointed out an urban form that could solve the urban plight, the urban sprawl, Singapore development authorities opted for new towns and condominiums, believing they can better meet the communal, community and social needs of the population. Today, after having provided all the transportation, cultural, education and social infrastructure, the third option called 'super high-rise housing' should be re-visited. Pearlbank, being the first of its kind, should not be erased!

HDB has done upgrading successfully, so can Pearlbank. Perhaps URA can do a lot to save Pearlbank as it has done for other buildings in Singapore. Indeed, there are ways to increase value, make profit gain and demolition should be the last option for these cases.

URA, the guardian of our urban history, memory and heritage, should seriously consider including selected modern buildings for conservation, then offer incentive terms for upgrading and refurbishing. Developers can still buy them for profit if MCs do not wish to undertake the upgrading work. In this way, they can help Singapore keep an icon, make gain directly and still be the proud owner of Pearlbank - think about it!

Past culture took decades to complete their projects through additions and alterations. We can do the same to prevent wanton destruction of past achievement, memory and history. Iconic architecture is more than just 'look' and profitability.

Gabrielle Lee Fong Leng (Ms)