ERA Daily Research - 19 April

Thomson Road building to be demolished: Owners of residential units stunned 

The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2021, Sat 

By Kok Yufeng  

SINGAPORE - News that a building in Thomson Road will be demolished to allow nearby excavation works to be carried out safely came as a shock to the owners of the 12 residential units there. 

For months, they and their tenants had engaged with the authorities about the need to vacate the building temporarily as its foundation had to be strengthened to withstand the impact from the construction of an underground tunnel for the upcoming North-South Corridor. 

All had moved out by February, but the expectation was that in two years, they would be able to return to their units or lease them out again. 

With the improved connectivity brought about by the transport corridor, which will have dedicated bus lanes, cycling trunk routes and pedestrian paths connecting towns in the north to the city, there were hopes of a collective sale in future. 

But any chance of a windfall was dashed by the sudden announcement on Friday (April 16) morning that the building at 68 to 74 Thomson Road and its 776 sq m site were being acquired for demolition. 

"I'm still in shock," said Mr Roger Ting, 63, who owns a unit in the building. "To us, this is a sudden U-turn by the Land Transport Authority and Singapore Land Authority. I told them a lot of owners are not very happy. In fact, we are all very concerned about the compensation that we are going to receive. We do not want to sell at this point in time." 

"Taking the building away is like taking away my retirement fund," he said. With his daughter only in her first year of university, Mr Ting added that he is worried he now has to work harder to put her through school and to retire comfortably. 

Another unit owner, who declined to be named, said he bought his unit for over $1 million about six years ago as an investment. 

Although he will be compensated based on the market value of his unit at the time of the acquisition, he said he is not sure if he will break even. He said the authorities have given unit owners a list of approved valuers to conduct the appraisal, but he did not trust that they will give him a fair shake. 

He and Mr Ting also rue a loss of potential income as they would have been able to sell their units at a higher price in a collective sale. 

The owners had tried to sell en bloc two years ago and Mr Ting, who chaired the sales committee then, said each owner expected to get at least $3 million if the collective sale went through. 

"If (the Government) acquires my property, I think the figure will not be anywhere near," he said. 

Mr Ting said he believes the building can survive the strengthening and excavation works. 

"I have asked LTA to give me an opportunity to look at their engineers' report because I have been in this line for more than 30 years. I understand structural engineering issues fairly well," he added. 

Even if the building needs to be knocked down, he said, he does not understand why the authorities are also acquiring the land. "The concern is the safety of the building. The land is not in the equation here," Mr Ting added. 

Calling the acquisition heavy-handed, he said the unit owners plan to meet today to discuss their options. "It is not fair to us," he said. "They did not give us a chance to voice out our concerns." 

Mr David Ng, a council member at the Institution of Engineers Singapore, said acquiring and demolishing the building, and rebuilding the site again after the excavation works are done make sense. 

Given the building's foundation, the proximity to the planned excavation work and the ground conditions, the construction of a tunnel nearby could cause some of the ground to move downward and, in turn, cause damage to the building. 

The work to strengthen the building's foundation involves adding piles beneath it. The disturbance due to the micropiling works carried out within the building could lead to excessive distortion of the building's structure, making it unsafe for workers doing the work. "The risk becomes very high," Mr Ng said. 

Workers will need to core and break through the floor to install the additional piles. "This creates a lot of vibration, which is not good to the building if the concrete strength of the building is already lower than what is required." 

Mr Ng said there is a risk of fatalities if structural elements come loose and fall on workers. While building collapse is an extreme scenario, it is possible if disturbance is significant, he added. 

Building to be demolished for safety reasons 

• The four-storey mixed-use building at 68 to 74 Thomson Road slated for demolition was built in 1964 on shallow foundation. Part of the foundation was altered in 1994 as a section of the building had to be propped up by piles after an adjacent building was demolished. 

• In 2013, it was assessed that the impact of the upcoming North-South Corridor (NSC) project on the building would be manageable. 

• A civil contract was awarded in 2018 to build an underground tunnel for the NSC 6m away from the building. A 2020 assessment found that the building’s foundation, which is not uniform and is built on soft ground, needed to be strengthened to withstand excavation works for the tunnel. 

• In September last year, building occupants were asked to vacate the premises temporarily. All moved out by February this year. 

• In January, it was found that the building’s concrete was too weak to allow for foundation strengthening works. The Building and Construction Authority’s own assessment in February concurred with the finding. 

• The Government acquired the building on April 16 as it was impractical and risky to strengthen it. The building’s 16 units must be returned to the state by end-July and the building will be demolished by end-2021. 


URA to study how to give Singapore's ageing modernist buildings a new lease of life 

The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2021, Fri 

By Ng Keng Gene 

SINGAPORE - Built during Singapore's post-independence years in the 1970s and 1980s, they are an important and often striking feature of its cityscape. 

Yet time has taken its toll on many large modernist buildings, which are in need of major retrofitting and upgrading. 

Now, these simple structures will be the subject of a study called by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to guide its policies on how to maintain and rehabilitate them. 

It will examine buildings constructed in the modern architectural style that are about 30 to 50 years old, and have a gross floor area of at least 8,000 sq m or are at least eight storeys tall. 

"The findings could also facilitate the conservation efforts of some large modern buildings which represent our initial phases of urban renewal," a URA spokesman told The Straits Times on Friday (April 16). 

He added that instead of redevelopment, URA would like to encourage building owners to explore rehabilitation. 

This involves keeping a good portion of the building's existing features while upgrading the building's structure if necessary or keeping essential services up to date. 

"This extends the buildings' lifespan and allows them to be adapted for new uses," said the spokesman, adding that it could allow them to retain elements of heritage, identity and a sense of community. 

Modernist buildings across the world are typically known for their simplicity and are constructed with reinforced concrete, in combination with glass and steel components. 

Function, speed and ease of construction are central to their designs, which often include repetitive modular grids. 

"Such designs... represent an important era of design reflective of construction methods of the time," said the URA spokesman. 

He added that the Government has also taken the lead to rehabilitate a number of prominent state-owned modern buildings. 

While the URA did not give examples, architectural conservator Yeo Kang Shua said that such buildings may include Jurong Town Hall. It was completed in 1974 to house Jurong Town Corporation, which was formed in 1968 to spearhead the nation's industrial growth. 

Associate Professor Yeo, of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said he welcomed the study, adding that buildings that may fit the bill include those built in the 1970s and 1980s such as People's Park Complex, Beauty World Centre and Queensway Shopping Centre. 

Another modernist building, Golden Mile Complex, was completed in 1973 and is under consideration to be conserved. 

Prof Yeo said rehabilitating large modern buildings was not only a technical challenge but also a financial one. 

"It typically is less profitable for owners under current real estate market conditions to rehabilitate buildings than tear down and rebuild them, and hence it would be useful if there are also policy studies on how to make rehabilitation more financially viable," he said. 

"This will correct the current financial imbalance between conservation and redevelopment of older buildings, and may incentivise more to consider conservation." 

Prof Yeo also said that a push for conservation makes sense in the context of the Government's initiatives to cut carbon emissions under the Singapore Green Plan 2030. 

"Rehabilitating buildings will serve Singapore not just on the heritage front, but also in terms of sustainability, especially with the high carbon footprint of demolishing buildings," he said. 

Heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo, from the National University of Singapore's Department of Architecture, lamented the loss of modernist buildings such as the National Theatre, National Stadium and Pearl Bank Apartments. 

But he added that many modern large buildings that are historically, architecturally and socially significant still stand today, including the hexagonal hawker centre in Tanglin Halt. 

"Conserving and adaptively reusing our extensive stock of modern large buildings is environmentally responsible, economically sensible, and scientifically reasonable," he said. 

Prof Widodo added that the study was "timely and urgently needed", given that the Covid-19 pandemic had "provided us with the opportunity to rethink the possibilities to retain, recycle, reuse, and rehabilitating our modern heritage". 

URA hopes the study's findings will be useful for future engagement with building owners, developers and architects to encourage rehabilitation works on a broad spectrum of buildings. 


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