American architect Ed Poole was so set against a proposal to put Pearl Bank Apartments up for a collective sale in 2007 that he hired a lawyer and rallied his neighbours.
The attempt failed.
“Pearl Bank is irreplaceable,” said Mr Poole, 54, who lives in a penthouse unit in the landmark building along Outram Road. “There is no way you can find another apartment like Pearl Bank in Singapore.”
Indeed, for residents such as Mr Poole, architectural devotees and ordinary Singaporeans alike, the horseshoe-shaped building atop Pearl’s Hill, overlooking Chinatown and as far as Sentosa, is unique and should be preserved carefully.
Most of the apartment owners living there are now seeking a conservation order for the 38-storey Pearl Bank, the tallest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in 1976.
This is part of a plan thought up by the building’s architect, 77-year-old Tan Cheng Siong.
The management committee plans to apply to the authorities to extend its 99-year lease and increase its gross floor area to build a 27-storey residential block above the existing carpark.
If the plan goes through, the new area can be sold and the money collected can pay for upgrading works and a lease extension, without residents having to pay extra.
While some residents of the 272 apartments and eight penthouses had wanted to cash in through a collective sale, most had feared that selling out to developers would lead to the destruction of the beacon-like building.
The conservation order will ensure that the building is kept, while helping to finance the sprucing up it badly needs, say supporters of the plan.
Residents have had to put up with peeling paint, water leaks and even rats sometimes.
“Last year, we caught about three rats in our home. We have no idea how the rats climbed up 37 floors. Maybe through the pipes,” said a penthouse resident in her 40s, who gave her name only as Ms Ling.
Others complained of chipped steps in the stairwells and lifts that break down frequently.
Madam Too Poh Eng, 70, tries to take the newer of the eight lifts there. “Some lifts are so old that I recite a chant each time I take them. You never know when it will stall,” said the resident on the 14th floor.