Repurposing Golden Mile for younger generation

Golden Mile Complex’s existing mixed-use infrastructure could easily complement potential development plans, says Ms Chan Hui Min, a director of DP Architects, which has been appointed consultant by the building’s collective-sale committee.ST FILE PHOTO

Consultant architect suggests new uses for building even as it goes up for collective sale

A hotel or co-working space could be some of the possible new uses of Golden Mile Complex, which is being studied for conservation, even as it waits for a buyer.

In an interview with The Straits Times, DP Architects director Chan Hui Min said the building could have multiple new uses. “The building itself has a lot of potential. For instance, it could be a dream co-working space and part of it could be a very successful hotel,” she said.

DP Architects, which designed the complex in the 1960s, was appointed by the collective-sale committee as consultant architect in August to understand the development potential of the project.

Ms Chan said its existing mixed-use infrastructure could easily complement potential development plans, citing a recently restored government building turned hotel in Hong Kong – The Murray – as an example of successful adaptive reuse of a 1960s structure.

The US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) renovation of the 25-storey modernist tower resulted in the conversion of office spaces into hotel rooms, while its classic facade was retained. The developer invited the original architect, 90-year-old Ron Phillips, to be a consultant.

Ms Chan said Golden Mile Complex may appeal to the younger generation because of its “iconic form”. “Consumers today demand more unique experiences out of the places they inhabit. Leveraging a place with a strong authentic story is a powerful way to stand out among the noise of invented narratives.”

Even though the existing building’s footprint occupies a significant portion of the site, there is still room for expansion and sensitive intervention, she said.

But until last month, the word “conservation” had not crossed the minds of some owners of the apartments and business units.

ET&Co senior director of investment advisory Swee Shou Fern said that after they achieved the 80 per cent requisite to “go en bloc”, they approached Urban Redevelopment Authority to consult it on the planning parameters for an Outline Application as a redevelopment site.

Ms Swee said: “That was when the URA brought up the subject of conservation and suggested that the collective-sale committee appoint an architect to advise on the planning application for the conservation of Golden Mile Complex.”

Ms Irene Loi, who is the chairman of the collective-sale committee, said: “The importance of the building was impressed upon us. We had no inkling of conservation prior to the meeting with URA.”

She said the owners had the initial mindset that the site would be redeveloped completely.

She added that the wish of the sales committee now is for a buyer “who can embrace Golden Mile Complex and revitalise the development via an adaptive reuse and bring it worldwide fame”.

Despite the positive sentiments expressed, gaining conservation status would present several challenges.

Apart from upgrading the complex to meet today’s technical standards, the developer will have to manage the financial impact of the longer development period that conservation projects entail, Ms Chan said.

The tender exercise, with a reserve price of $800 million, will close on Jan 30.

The industry is keenly watching the case of Golden Mile Complex, which is tackling the issue of conservation amid a bid to sell it en bloc.

Calling it a litmus test, Ms Chan noted that the fates of many post-independence buildings are coming to a reckoning now. “How we deal with this will chart what we do in the future.”

A Singapore Heritage Society position paper on the subject advocated planning incentives for developers and building owners, such as offering greater bonus gross floor area and more flexible re-zoning options.

The heritage community hopes the challenges will not put off stakeholders. Architectural photographer Darren Soh recalled conservation efforts in the 1980s and 1990s, when the authorities engaged “hundreds of individual stakeholders and owners when they conserved whole districts of shophouses in Chinatown and Little India”.

“It must have been a tedious exercise but the Government was convinced that the shophouses needed saving. Fast-forward 30 years and we are in danger of losing iconic buildings, like Golden Mile Complex, built after Singapore’s independence.”

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