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Golden Mile Complex
Photograph: AlamyGolden Mile Complex

Where to see brutalist buildings in Singapore before they are gone

The utilitarian architecture may not be for everyone but these iconic landmarks remain part of the national identity

Cam Khalid
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Cam Khalid
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Call it unconventionally beautiful or downright ugly – Brutalist buildings played a major role in the rise of post-war modernism in Singapore. The madcap style of béton brut (‘raw concrete’ in French) made waves in the 1970s, giving rise to prominent landmarks such as the Golden Mile Complex and People’s Park Complex. While some praise these architectural masterpieces, others see them as concrete eyesores, especially among the glass and steel skyscrapers that dominate the city skyline.

Recently, the iconic Golden Mile Complex has been gazetted as a conserved building. That's a massive reason to celebrate, especially with the slew of demolitions of old-school architecture in Singapore over the past few years. Pearl Bank Apartments was demolished last year to make way for a 39-storey condominium. And sadly, more brutalist buildings will follow suit as they are on the verge of being sold to private developers. With only a handful of them still standing, here’s your chance to see them before they’re all gone.

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  • Shopping
  • Shopping centres
  • Raffles Place

Resembling a typewriter from a bird's eye view, the 16-storey terraced Brutalist building was once hailed an architectural and cultural marvel, especially in the 1970s when the architectural style made waves around the world. Over the years, and a lot of paint coats later, its future is still uncertain. Still, take the chance to check out this monolith, and then get a plate of pad thai from one of its many Thai eateries after.

  • Shopping
  • Chinatown

A trip to Chinatown isn’t complete without a visit to People's Park Complex. Hailed as a masterpiece of 1970s experimental architecture, the mustard yellow building we know now took cues from the brutalist architectural style popular at that time – and was actually finished in raw concrete before it went through several colourful rebirths. The bustling building is now a mixed-use building where you can find street snacks, jewellery stores, electronic goods, and other knick-knacks. The rooftop carpark is also the perfect place for that impromptu photoshoot.

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The State Courts
Photograph: Shutterstock

The State Courts

Nearby, The State Courts' geometrical architecture gives us a glimpse of Singaporean modernist works of the 60s and 70s. It has a monochromatic colour scheme. Its concrete is finished in black and white, further emphasising the clean lines and angular geometric forms. The State Courts is an example from the period of  Modern Brutalist architecture which can be seen in many government buildings at that time, seen in many government buildings at that time. 

  • Shopping
  • Orchard

What started as an entry in an architectural design competition, has become a striking piece of work near the main shopping belt of Orchard Road. Completed in 1977, the seven-storey building was first known as the PUB Building before it was renamed as Singapore Power Building in 1995. Prior to its metallic facelift and rebrand to 111 Somerset in 2008, the building was clad in square mosaic and rectangular ceramic tiles with distinctive rows of vertical fins attached to its facade, which are staggered to highlight the horizontal movement. Today, it’s home to offices, retailers, and F&B outlets.

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  • Art
  • Raffles Place

This 52-storey OCBC Bank headquarters was once the tallest building in Southeast Asia in the 1970s. The attention-grabbing structure features two semi-circular reinforced concrete cores and three lateral girders – all designed to symbolise strength and permanence. Due to its flat shape and windows which mirror button pads, OCBC Centre has also been nicknamed “the calculator”.

  • Cinemas
  • City Hall

Owned and managed by the big guns of local cinema, Shaw Organisation, the now-defunct high-rise commercial building in Beach Road once housed the largest cinema in Singapore: Prince Theatre. The cinema then became Shine Auditorium in 2012, but due to its en bloc, all tenants had to vacate the building in mid-2020. Construction for the new 35-storey Shaw Tower will take place later this year.

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Not forgotten: Pearl Bank Apartments
Photograph: Huntergol Hp/Shutterstock

Not forgotten: Pearl Bank Apartments

Once the tallest residential building in Singapore, the now-demolished Pearl Bank Apartments was immediately recognisable in the Outram skyline as it sat atop Pearl’s Hill. What made it so iconic was its peculiar horseshoe shape that was designed for efficiency where the cylindrical shape allowed for daylight, ventilation and panoramic views to all its units while the west-facing opening in the circular structure minimised direct entry of heat and light from the afternoon sun. 

In 2019, residents had to vacate on a bittersweet note. While they noticed the building going into disrepair over the years, they had an emotional attachment to the unique architecture, making it hard to say goodbye. Perhaps you can say it had a brutal(ist) ending.

Architecture galore

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