August 17, 2008 Sunday

Too garish?

Some residents find the proposed colour schemes for estate's art deco flats too garish or cartoonish

By Hong Xinyi

Pink, purple and blue are colours that have made some people see red instead.

A proposed paint job for Tiong Bahru estate's iconic art deco flats has upset some residents, some of whom feel the area will look too loud or cartoonish.

On Aug 8, the Tanjong Pagar Town Council had sent out survey forms to residents of the 57 pre-war and post-war apartment blocks. It sought their vote for an upcoming repainting job.

Among the options: brighter colours like pink, purple and blue in place of the current cream and beige shades of the past decade.

Residents have to send in their votes by tomorrow and the council expects work to begin next month.

Mr Andrew Loh of LG Architects & Associates was hired by the council to come up with several colour schemes. Members of the residents committee then narrowed these down to eight schemes: four for the pre-war and four for the post-war buildings.

All was well, until the survey forms were sent out.

One resident, advertising executive Eugene Yip, 37, who moved there four years ago, said the proposed colours will make the area look 'very cartoonish and kiddy, like a Disneyland'.

'It's good to give the buildings fresh paint, but these colours won't enhance the ambience of Tiong Bahru,' he said. 'I prefer softer colours.'

He and other residents have written to the town council asking for better options. Several spoke of the buildings' legacy.

Accountant Edwin Leow, 38, who moved into the neighbourhood last year, said: 'A place that evokes memories of the past doesn't need such loud colours.'

Fellow resident Terence Yeung, 36, an installation artist, agreed. 'The colours proposed show a poor understanding of conservation. We will lose the authenticity of this area's charm and art deco architectural heritage.'

Built by the then Singapore Improvement Trust in the 1930s, the pre-war buildings formed the first public housing estate in Singapore.

The area, bounded by Seng Poh Road, Outram Road and Tiong Poh Road, was given conservation status in 2003.

An Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spokesman told The Sunday Times that owners of conserved buildings do not need to consult the URA when repainting is carried out as part of regular maintenance work.

'The exceptions are certain landmarks and categories of buildings where a specific colour scheme is part of the conservation building's architectural value.'

Examples include black and white bungalows and buildings of stone, brick tile and Shanghai Plaster finish, which are all required to keep their original appearance.

Said the spokesman: 'URA has generally given the owners of conservation buildings greater flexibility in the choice of colour because it does not affect the building structure and is easily reversible. However, we do encourage owners to use colours that would enhance the architectural qualities of their heritage buildings.'

Over the past five years, these conserved Tiong Bahru flats have attracted growing numbers of young professionals, including many from the creative industries.

Property agent Alvin Yeo, 37, who lives in one of these flats, estimates that these buyers make up about 20 per cent of the thousand or so households in his neighbourhood.

He felt going ahead with the colour schemes will affect property prices there.

A 1,000 sq ft apartment here currently costs about $550,000 to $600,000, said Mr Yeo, who estimated that garishly coloured facades may dent these prices by around 10 per cent.

'The kinds of people interested in living in these buildings in recent years resist HDB blocks because they find them boring and they want something different,' he said.

'The potential buyers from this niche group will probably just shift their interest to areas like Balestier or Joo Chiat, which still retain their character.'

But not all residents objected to the proposed colours.

Housewife Patricia Yong, 36, who has been living in the estate for 10 years, liked the pale purple option. 'It's more feminine, and it's good to give the place a bit more colour.'

Retiree Michael Tan, 57, who has been living there since 1951, also liked the suggested colours. 'It will make the place look brighter.'

Mr Loy Sai Sai, 56, the senior property manager for Tanjong Pagar Town Council, has been in charge of this estate since 1991.

He said that Mr Loh was briefed on the architectural significance of the estate.

'Colours are very subjective. We just wanted to let the residents have a chance to participate in this process of giving the whole estate a better living environment.

'We are open to suggestions. We will look at the feedback, and if a majority of residents are not in favour of the proposed colours, we will make changes.'

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