Pearl Bank Apartments

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Pearl Bank Apartments
Pearl Bank Apartments 2, Dec 05.jpg
General information
Architectural styleBrutalist architecture
LocationChinatown, Outram, Singapore
Address1 Pearl Bank, 169016
Coordinates1°16′59.4″N 103°50′22.4″E / 1.283167°N 103.839556°E / 1.283167; 103.839556Coordinates: 1°16′59.4″N 103°50′22.4″E / 1.283167°N 103.839556°E / 1.283167; 103.839556
OwnerHock Seng Enterprises
ManagementHock Seng Enterprises
Technical details
Floor count38
Floor area55,636 sqm
Design and construction
ArchitectArchurban Architects Planners
Structural engineerHoukehua Consulting Engineers
Quantity surveyorLangdon, Every & Seah
Main contractorSin Hup Huat Pte Ltd
Other information
Number of rooms280 Units

Pearl Bank Apartments (Chinese: 珍珠苑; pinyin: Zhēnzhū yuàn) is a high-rise private residential building on Pearl's Hill in Outram, near the Chinatown of Singapore.

As the tallest and densest residential building in Singapore when completed in 1976, Pearl Bank Apartments was one of Singapore's pioneers of high-rise, high-density living, and influenced urban development in Singapore and other cities in southeast Asia.[1]


Aerial panorama of Pearl Bank Towers relative to its Outram location. Shot October 2018.


The Pearl Bank Apartments was the first all-housing project to be undertaken in the Urban Renewal Department of the Housing and Development Board's Sale of Sites programme. The residential project was the subject of the programme's third sale in 1969. The Urban Renewal Department's goal was to rejuvenate the Central Area while allowing for more residential options for the middle and upper-middle classes to raise their families.[2] Pearl Bank Apartments was one of the responses and initiatives introduced to intensify land use for residential purposes, alongside People's Park Complex and Golden Mile Complex.

With a height of 113 m (371 ft),[3][4] the Pearl Bank Apartments was the tallest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in June 1976.

Aerial perspective of the Pearl Bank Apartments. Shot October 2018.

Planned Redevelopment of Site[edit]

On 4 August 2007, the Pearl Bank Apartments which is located on a 8,000 m2 (86,000 sq ft), 99-year leasehold site was put up for an en bloc sale.[5][6][7] The tender closed on 18 September 2007, but fetched no bids. Another tender closed on 19 February 2008, failing again, and the collective sale agreement lapsed on 1 August 2008.[8]

Sale of Site[edit]

On 13 February 2018, Pearl Bank Apartments was sold enbloc to CapitaLand for $728 million in a collective sale.[9] Residents have received their payouts and a notice to move out of Pearl Bank Apartments by April 2019.[10] CapitaLand had said it plans to redevelop the site into a high-rise project of around 800 units.


The architecture of the building is observed to be Brutalism[11], a popular architectural style in the 1970s. It was designed by Singaporean architect Tan Cheng Siong of Archurban Architects Planners who took inspiration in the resemblance of the site to an airplane tail. It would eventually lead to the idea of a high-rise tower that rivals the peak of Bukit Timah Hill to take advantage of the panoramic view of Singapore.[12]

The Pearl Bank Apartments is a 38-storey hollow ¾ cylindrical tower, resembling a horseshoe, designed for a total occupancy of 1,500 persons. When completed in 1976, the building had the largest number of apartments contained in a single block, and had the highest density of any private modern residential building at 1,853 persons per hectare.

The horseshoe shape of the tower was designed for efficiency as it was economical in terms of material used, offering the smallest wall-to-floor ratio. Its cylindrical shape allows for daylight, ventilation and maximum panoramic views to all its units as well as connect residents to their neighbours whereas the opening in the circular structure faces west and minimises direct penetration of heat and light from the afternoon sun into the building. The slits in the circular slab also allow for effective ventilation into the internal courtyard.The tower envelopes an inner void spanning 30m facing the building's internal central courtyard.

The 272-unit apartment block comprises three types of split-level units – 48 two-bedroom (130 m2 (1,400 sq ft)), 184 three-bedroom (176.5 m2 (1,900 sq ft)) and 40 four-bedroom (213.7 m2 (2,300 sq ft)) dwellings, with eight units to each floor – and an additional eight penthouses. There is a shopping area with seven units on the first storey, and the building has a four-storey carpark. The 28th storey is devoted for community use, known as the "Sky Park".

The effect of the split-level architectural approach in the spatial planning is expressed as an important facet of the building. Each apartment unit is further zoned into "public" and "private" areas to offer maximum exclusivity and views to the occupants. The dry areas such as the bedrooms and living rooms are located on the outer rim whereas the utilities and service areas are located at the rear of the apartments, overlooking the building's central courtyard, to avoid any obstruction of the view.

The building's structure comprises ten radiating shear walls, which also serve as party walls between the units. These elements, along with the additional structural columns and lift cores, follow the radial form of the building and enhances the façade. Shanghai plaster is used on the outer rim of the building and painted plastered walls on the inner rim.

Originally unpainted, with the raw concrete visible, the building was painted cream with orange details in 2008.

Construction Difficulties[edit]

"Pearl Bank was completed in 1976 because it took a bit of time, with difficulties in construction and financing; building such a building in those days was rather taxing, especially when many new technologies needed to be employed. Because there was no precedent to the construction of such a high building locally, financing the project involved great risks. As architects, we had to struggle to work with the developer to reduce the costs, making sure things worked economically, and convince the bankers of our methods."

-Tan Cheng Siong, architect of Pearl Bank Apartments.[13]

In a bid to complete the construction of the apartments in the shortest time possible in the 1970s and without any local precedents found for such high-rise buildings, new technologies were employed. Particularly, the slip-form construction were employed on a residential development in Singapore for the first time. With the specified construction method, the building speed of two days per storey, which was quite fast for the time, was achievable. Although so, the speed of construction of the vertical members were erected in such short time, the horizontal members experienced a hard time catching up.[12] Furthermore, the wooden slip platform caught fire as well, further delaying the construction for a few months.

After piling started in the mid-1970s in midst of a property boom, the construction was further delayed as well due to material and labour shortages.

Conservation Efforts[edit]

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had previously agreed that there were merits to conserving the apartments as it had been one of the pioneering high rise residential project as well as the precedent of future high-rise residential developments.

Conservation efforts were spearheaded by architects, the owners, heritage lovers as well as students to preserve Pearl Bank Apartments for its high architectural and historical significance and value. American architect Ed Poole, who moved into a penthouse unit in the apartments in 2000 started rallying against the multiple en-bloc attempts by opening the website,, which is now defunct.[14] Poole was determined to transform the image of Pearl Bank Apartments which had become known as a dorm for foreign workers into the residential heritage icon it was claimed to be. Various media publications were published as well exploring the narrative and the significance of the apartments for the country's historical and architectural advancement as well as the residents' emotional attachments to the architecture.

Many of the residents' stances that lead towards enbloc is mostly due to the looming expiry of the 99-year lease as well as the deterioration of the building. Residents cited many of the buildings infrastructure has been failing, such as water and pipe leakage, unfriendly environment for elderly, lifts breaking down and rat infestations. While many were reluctant to move and would choose to stay if they could, the uncertainty of the building ever getting better was looming. The value of the property decreases as more time goes by as well.

In 2012, the principal architect Tan Cheng Siong and the owners proposed a voluntary conservation project. As concerns were that the apartments did not meet the conditions of 'land use intensification or urban rejuvenation' as well as the deteriorating conditions of the building, Tan had proposed to increase the gross floor area of Pearl Bank Apartments. The proposal was to build on top of the five-storey carpark and build a new block of 150 apartments and include additional communal spaces such as an infinite pool and refurbish the current tower. The sale from the apartments would pay for both the refurbishments and the topping up of the apartment's 99-year lease and hence would not require any money from the tenants.

Although about 91% of the tenants signed for the project, it fell short of the 100% approval needed by URA to proceed with the conservation. This created a dissatisfaction among the pro-conservation group as a en-bloc only requires 80% of the consensus to proceed; a whole 20% lower than was needed for conservation. As such the voluntary conservation project was not able to proceed.[15]

After enbloc, Pearl Bank Management Corporation Strate Title (MCST) chairman Ceciila Seet noted that there is no conservation mentioned in the collective sale agreement. Thus it is unlikely for the apartments to be conserved. Instead CapitaLand had promised to incorporate and blending 'heritage elements with modern aesthetics' to reflect the culture of Chinatown.[14]


  1. ^ "When completed at 38-storeys in 1976 it was the tallest residential building in Singapore. Mr. Tan described how Pearl Bank influenced the subsequent high-rise/high-density urban development in Singapore and other cities in Southeast Asia" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 March 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Urban Redevelopment Authority | Infopedia". Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  3. ^ "Pearl Bank Apartments". SkyscraperPage. Retrieved 9 August 2007.
  4. ^ "Pearl Bank Apartments". Emporis Buildings. Retrieved 9 August 2007.
  5. ^ Jennifer Chen (29 May 2007). "A chapter of Singapore's architectural history is at risk". International Herald Tribune.
  6. ^ Tay Suan Chiang (5 August 2007). "Goodbye Famous 5?: Welcome to my horse shoe". The Sunday Times.
  7. ^ Joyce Teo (7 August 2007). "Mitre Hotel site, iconic building up for sale". The Straits Times.
  8. ^ pearlbankapartments :: No Enblock !
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Singaporean photographer Darren Soh wins Apple's global Shot On iPhone Challenge". CNA Lifestyle. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Zhuang, Justin. "Saving Pearl Bank Apartments". BiblioAsia. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  13. ^ "Pearl Bank Apartments : State of Buildings". Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  14. ^ a b hermesauto (13 February 2018). "Pearl Bank Apartments sold: What makes the development iconic?". The Straits Times. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  15. ^ "Inside Pearlbank's Never-ending En Bloc Struggle". RICE. 1 November 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2019.


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