There was good news over the weekend for architecture enthusiasts when it was officially announced that Golden Mile Complex will not be demolished to make way for a new construction. The building is designed according to Brutalist principles, which is known for its simplicity and sharp edges, using raw concrete as its primary feature.
While many original privately-owned Brutalist structures are still dotted around the island today, many are in danger of being demolished – because of their age – and some have already succumbed to the wrecking ball, like the iconic Pearl Bank Apartments in Chinatown. Once the tallest residential building in Singapore, its open cylindrical shape allowed for daylight, ventilation and panoramic views to all its units.
Built in the 70s and 80s, some in Singapore seen these buildings as markers of national identity because they were designed by local architects just after Singapore gained independence in 1965. If you appreciate local architecture, here are some Brutalist structures still standing in Singapore, although some may be slated for demolition.
Golden Mile Complex (1973)
Often described as a looking like a typewriter, the 16-storey terraced Golden Mile Complex is one of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture in Singapore. Designed as a self-contained “vertical city” it had all the amenities needed for urban living – the residential block sits above the commercial centre, with an upper story garden concourse as a shared outdoor space.
It was designed by Gan Eng Oon, William Lim and Tay Kheng Soon of Design Partnership (now DP Architects, which also designed People’s Park Complex). Formerly known as Woh Hup Complex, it was originally developed as part of Singapore’s central area in the 1960s. Over the years, evolved into a popular location for all things Thai, giving it the nickname ”Little Thailand.” The building has been called a “vertical slum” and some Singaporeans were of the opinion that the toilets in the building were among the dirtiest in the country, as its managing agent had difficulties maintaining its facilities.
People’s Park Complex (1973)
A trip to Chinatown isn’t complete without visiting the 31-storey People’s Park Complex. It was a landmark project in terms of architectural design – at the time, it was the largest shopping complex in Singapore and featured Singapore’s first atrium in a shopping centre, inspiring subsequent retail developments in Singapore and the region. It was also the first mixed-use building of its kind in Southeast Asia.
Designed by William Lim, Koh Seow Chuan, and Tay Kheng Soon of Design Partnership (now DP Architects Pte Ltd) it was finished in raw concrete before it went through several colourful rebirths, resulting in the current green/yellow incarnation we know today. Over the years, the living conditions in the complex have deteriorated, although the bustling commercial level is where you can find a mix of shops, from street snacks to electronics and other knick-knacks.
TripleOne Somerset (1977)
Before it was TripleOne Somerset, the building was first known as the Public Utilities Board Building (PUB Building) until 1995 when it became known as the Singapore Power Building until 2008. Built in 1977, the 17-storey building was designed by the now-defunct local firm, Group 2 Architects (1970–1978), formed by Ong Chin Bee and Tan Puay Huat.
The original H-shaped building had two wings separated by a landscaped courtyard, with a central service core and a naturally-ventilated lobby. The building is defined by its “inverted ziggurat” façade – it tapers from cantilevered upper floors to recessed lower floors, resulting in overhangs for shading the lower levels. The building was originally clad in mosaic ceramic tiles, and when renovated in 2006, it was given the metallic cladding you see today. Today, TripleOne Somerset houses two office towers and a retail podium.
State Courts of Singapore (1975)
The distinctive 8-sided geometric shape of State Courts in Havelock Square represents a milestone collaboration between Kumpulan Akitek and the Public Works Department. Completed in 1975, the building housed 28 courtrooms, a registry, library, solicitors’ bar room, judges’ chambers, witness rooms, canteen, and a prisoner lock-up.
The iconic tiered building was devoid of non-functional adornments, with a focus on the circulation requirements. In designing the building, much thought was put into the movement and circulation of the judicial officers, the court administrators, persons in custody and court users, with these groups taking separate paths to the same courtroom. While the building was open to the public, these circulation paths were inaccessible to them. Having achieved conservation status in 2013, now you can take a virtual tour of the building here.
OCBC Centre (1976)
OCBC Centre remains the stalwart of Singapore’s skyline – it was also the first building to be designed by an internationally-renowned architect: I.M. Pei (he also designed the glass pyramid of The Louvre and Singapore’s The Gateway). It was designed together with the now-defunct BEP Akitek. Once the tallest building in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, the 52-storey building still retains a commanding facade today.
The Brutalist structure features two semi-circular reinforced concrete sides, built using innovative construction technology which allowed it to be completed in less than 2 years – a feat back in 1972. Its flat shape and windows that look like button pads earned OCBC Centre the nickname, “the calculator.”
Ayer Rajah Telephone Exchange aka Singtel Tetris Building (1978)
The Ayer Rajah Telephone Exchange on Dover Rd follows one of the main principles of Brutalism: lack of windows. It was one of seven new telephone exchanges commissioned in 1975 by the then Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) which later became what we know today as SingTel. Little is publicly known about the nature of this building, except that was designed by SAA Architects.
It is often known as the “Tetris Building” thanks to its “wings” jutting out from 4 directions at irregular heights. The quirky building, once used as a telephone exchange, is now just a block of offices (without windows) and it’s a landmark for students at Singapore Polytechnic.
Other Brutalist icons
Other Brutalist icons in Singapore include Singapore Land Tower (1980) and DBS Tower One, the tallest building in Singapore when it was completed in 1975. While not on many architecture trails, The Concourse is also a Brutalist masterpiece – it’s coined as a “Tropical Skyscraper” for the use of solar shading, wide overhangs, communal gardens, and external balconies, sharing many similarities with Golden Mile Complex and TripleOne Somerset.
Once a disparaging word, Brutalism is now seeing some form of revival as modern homes and commercial buildings have adopted their design principles in terms of raw concrete surfaces and sharp edges.