Photographer who grew up in Pearl Bank Apartments speaks in video about coming to terms with building's impending demolition

There comes a point where nostalgia eventually gives way to closure.

Matthias Ang | August 25, 2018, 12:49 PM

Earlier this year, the fourth collective sale attempt of Pearl Bank Apartments saw it successfully sold for S$728 million to developer CapitaLand in February 2018.

Which means that all discussions and talk of conserving the iconic building have been shelved.

Architectural icon

This is despite the fact that the building is widely considered an icon of Brutalist architecture, much like Golden Mile Complex, People's Park Complex and Shaw Tower, where it eschewed superfluous embellishments to focus on function and mixed-usage (i.e. having both residential and shopping facilities in one building).

Pearl Banks Apartments also contains the largest number of apartments within a single block: 280 apartments in total, along with eight commercial units.

Residential sentiment veers strongly to redevelopment

In the months leading up to the successful en-bloc sale of Pearl Bank Apartments, many of the remaining residents had begun to swing towards the redevelopment of the building, citing its dilapidated state and insufficient maintenance.

This resulted in some clashes with former residents who had moved out of the building but still held highly nostalgic memories, along with a strong sense of attachment to the place.

One such former resident is photographer Sit Weng San, who grew up in Pearl Bank Apartments for the first 30 years of her life before moving out. Sit subsequently focused her first photo project, Under One Roof, on the lives of the residents in the building, once it became known to her that there were attempts to put up the building for en bloc.

Coming to terms with the current state of affairs

In a 20-minute documentary posted on Youtube,"Before It All Goes: Architecture from Singapore's Early Independence Years" by landscape and architectural photographer Darren Soh, Sit speaks at length, around the 8 minutes 10 seconds mark, about how she eventually came to terms with the building's impending demolition and understanding the viewpoint of the current residents.

She begins by stating why the building holds so much significance for her: many of her childhood memories are deeply intertwined with the building itself, from where she used to play, to the corners she would hide in from her mother if she was angry with her.

Source: Screenshot from ObjectifsFilmsSG

On her choice of doing her first photo project, Under One Roof, on Pearl Bank Apartments, Sit states:

"...I think what it means to me is much more than the architecture. It's about the memories of community that was here, just being such a diverse and interesting place where it's almost like a sample size of Singapore."

Sit further tells Soh that she was "terrified" when the first round of en-bloc happened and ended up in a disagreement with some of the current residents who told her, "You are not living here so you have no say at all."

Eventually however, she came to understand the viewpoint of the current residents. As Sit adds, complete with panning shot of the camera over a damp and crumbling parapet along a window:

"Structurally, there's a lot of problems with the building. There are termite infestations, there is a lot of water leakage in the building. Towards the later part, I see why a lot of people voted for en bloc. I see where a lot of residents are coming from."

Source: Screenshot from ObjectifsFilmsSG

What's more, the longer the attempts to place the building on en-bloc, the lesser the value and the greater the disruption to people's home planning. To top it off, placing a building up for an en bloc sale is a tedious process.


Sit concludes that the "idea of en bloc" itself provides "slight resolution" in a way to these issues.

Previous attempt to gazette Pearl Bank Apartment had failed

It should be noted that in 2015, an attempt was made to gazette Pearl Bank Apartment for its historical and architectural significance. This attempt failed however as the liaison committee failed to get the required 100 percent approval from home owners.

Only 90 percent agreed to the apartment's conservation.

It is therefore likely that Sim's project Under One Roof will accordingly end up as a memento to the lives of Pearl Bank Apartment's residents once the building is demolished for good.

Top images via Jnzl’s Photos Flickr and Youtube.