From afar, the colossal cylindrical shaped Pearl Bank Apartments stand as an imposing presence overlooking the shophouses of Chinatown. Resembling something like that of a hive, the various interlocking split-level spaces present a complex but altogether astounding piece of urban architecture that holds even more surprises once you take a ride up its 38-storeys (the last floor being only that for penthouses).
The ride up the rickety lift that seemed to pause at random levels was itself an adventure. Yet upon reaching the 37th storey, one would find the parapets considerably lower and railings only in small amounts, creating a sense of Vertigo even for the most seasoned of high-rise living dwellers.
Confusion is perhaps the first thing that hits a new visitor to the area, and it takes sometime to realise that the alternate level apartments are only accessible by a lone stairwell without much protection on its sides.
As one journey’s down, it seems only fair to try numerous access points around the apartments to see what else is in store. One path greets you with a view overlooking Chinatown that stretches out to Sentosa, while another takes you along a mazy route through corridors, stairwells and accidental apartments.
It seems only fair to have a lookup and take some time to marvel at this encapsulating building once you have reached the ground floor. Interestingly the ¾ cylindrical shaped building with a west-facing interior was built to minimise the afternoon sun, while the layout of its stairwells and interiors helped maximise light, ventilation and of course the view of the city.
History & Conservation
Built in 1976 by Tan Cheng Siong or Archurban Architects Planners, the geometrically modernist Pearl Bank Apartment once stood as the tallest residential building in Singapore, and was created as part of the Government’s attempt to push for condominiums to cater to the middle and upper-middle classes.
More recently in May 2014, plans have be enacted to get the Pearl Bank Apartments a conservation order (the first for a multi-strata apartment), that on top of preserving the apartment’s architectural importance to the nation, will also see a new 27-storey sky garden terrace built in place of the current multi-storey carpark, giving the owners sufficient money to upgrade the rather dilapidated building and extend its current 99-year lease.
But perhaps more importantly, the potential passing of the conservation order would pave the way for more high-rise residential buildings of historical and architectural importance such as Golden Mile and People’s Park Complex to be preserved for future generation, something currently mostly allocated only to shophouses, religious buildings and bungalows.