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The best and worst buildings in Singapore
Good architecture is not hard to find in Singapore, but along with the stunners are a handful of eyesores we'd rather do without
From the skyscrapers of Raffles Place and sinuous bridges that gently undulate through thick tropical forests, to garishly colored public housing and meticulously restored ethnic terrace houses, Singapore’s dalliance with architectural experimentation continues apace.
Cast an eye around the island’s built environment and it quickly becomes clear that this is a country that’s unafraid to speculate and tinker. Quite often, the results are spectacular, as in the case of WoHa’s soaring Church of St Mary of the Angels, but equally, there have been certified duds.
Part of the problem comes from an unfortunate tendency to ape Western viewpoints. In the late 1990s, for instance, it was difficult to turn a corner without encountering a steel and glass residence that might have photographed well, but which was entirely inappropriate for this climate.
Thankfully, there has been a noticeable shift and local architects grow in confidence, unfettered by the past.
“The clientele, suppliers and general populace are still ignorant," says architect Karen Lim when it comes to the topic of good design. But she points with approval to buildings such as the School of Arts.
“Singapore needs talent,” saysm Lim. “The local pool is limited so we need to ramp up demand. Couple talented artists with adequate funding, and it may just be the thing that Singapore needs.”
1. Marina Bay Sands: Moshe Safdie’s triptych is a set-piece straight out of a sci-fi movie. The crowning glory, literally, of the casino resort is the ship-shaped Skypark that boasts a dizzying infinity pool and the newly opened Ku De Ta nightclub and restaurant.
2. People's Park Complex: One of DP Architects’ first projects, the People’s Park Complex’s defiantly brutalist façade is an architectural landmark. The first mixed-use development in Asia, its combination of social, retail, office and housing spaces is the ultimate distillation of Corbusier’s ideal of high-rise living.
3. Concourse: American architect Paul Rudolph’s honeycombed structure rises like a futuristic monolith. Its ascending pile of octagonal layers pierced by a complex grid of windows is seen best in the evenings.
4. Gateway: This is easily one of IM Pei’s most distinctive, yet oddly unheralded, buildings anywhere in the world. From certain angles, the sharply cut angles render the two towers into a startling two-dimensional plane.
5. Old Parliament House: Along with the Fullerton Building, the Old Parliament building was one of the last gasps of colonial Singapore’s love affair with the Palladian style. Happily, the building is set for a fresh lease of life as a national museum.
Turn to page 2 for five other amazing buildings 6. Church of St Mary of the Angels: Singapore-based WoHa’s graceful aerie is a soaring triumph of Russian white oak, marble and stone. With great finesse, the vast hall of the main prayer room is counterpointed by the peaceful intimacy of the columbarium and onyx-lined chapel.
7. Baba House: Meticulously renovated, this fin de siècle townhouse was, for most of its life, owned by the same Chinese Peranakan family; this explains why so much of the original mouldings and decoration has remained wonderfully intact.
8. Stadium MRT: The second of WoHa’s MRT stations (the other being Bras Basah), Stadium distinguishes itself from its brethren with an elegiac form. Its calligraphic-like slash in the earth pulls open below ground into a vast canyon space.
9. OCBC Centre: IM Pei’s homage to brutalism is a deceptively simple concrete block inset with two divisions of office floors. Meant to resemble a calculator, it stands out from Pei’s later and lighter works for its rawness and uncompromising solidity.
10. Koon Seng Road townhouses: For a convenient snapshot of Katong’s heyday, when Singapore’s well-heeled descended in stylish droves for the sea-breezes, wander along this stretch of colorful facades and immaculately restored mouldings.
Turn to page 3 for some eyesores we would rather do without.
1. Resorts World Sentosa: It’s difficult to believe that a Frank Gehry design was bypassed for this odd cluster of unattractive buildings. Perhaps this explains the screams coming from the roller-coasters as they thunder by.
2. Cathay cinema building: Only the front piece now remains of the original art deco facade, and even this has been plastered over and tarted up with brutal indifference. A classic example of conservation without context.
3. SMU Campus: It’s mind boggling that so much money and effort was put into creating something so extraordinarily out of step with the developing Singaporean aesthetic. Unquestionably, the ugly sister to the School of Arts up the road.
4. Tanjong Rhu apartments: With each apartment costing in excess of S$1.2 million each, it’s unclear why more effort wasn’t spent on a more aesthetically pleasing design. This is what might have been achieved if Lego built condominiums.
5. Multi-coloured HDB flats: We’re all for functionalism, but as the Scandinavians prove time and again, there can be great beauty in functional design. Why and how the dull primary colors for the facades of many HDB flats are chosen is completely bewildering.