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THE ABRIDGED POCKETBOOK OF BRUTALIST ARCHITECTURE IN SINGAPORE


All rights reserved National Library Board, Singapore (NLB) 2013 Text & Design by: studioKALEIDO Published by: National Library Board, Singapore 100 Victoria Street #14-01 National Library Building Singapore 188064 Republic of Singapore Tel: +65 6332 3255 Email: ref@library.nlb.gov.sg www.nlb.gov.sg The opinions express in this publication are solely those of the author. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. The text, layout and designs presented in this book, as well as the book in its entirety, are protected by the copyright and intellectual property laws of the Republic of Singapore and similar laws in other countries. Commercial production of works based in whole or in part upon the text, designs, drawings and photographs contained in this book is strictly forbidden without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. ISBN: 978-981-07-7045-7 This work was exclusively created for the Singapore Memory Project www.SingaporeMemory.sg


What is it about Brutalist architecture that makes it so “unloved”? Beyond its mass and geometry is a ready association with Brutalism and the worst of top-down massplanning propensities in Western cities in the 60s. Yet was it not once truly born of a utopian socialist bent? There is more than meets the eye, from Brutalism’s abstract geometries to its frank exposure of function, from Le Corbusier’s Secretariat Building in Chandigarh, India, to Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in London (said to have been the inspiration for J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel High Rise). Singapore has its fair share of Brutalist monuments. BRUTARCH provides an introductory survey and a DIY papercraft kit of ten Brutalist/Brutalism influenced buildings in Singapore, as a miniature skyline against which one may (re-) consider the generalised ill-will towards Brutalism, and to learn to read the socio-historical architectural patrimony of our city.

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INTRODUCTION TO BRUTALISM Spawned via post-war modernism, Brutalist architecture was characterised by bold geometries, the exposure of structural materials, and functional spatial design. It was considered an expression of social progressivism and became a favoured style for public architecture from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. Despite its apparently appropriate name— critics of Brutalism often level charges of it being “cold”, “hulking” and “inhuman”, projecting an atmosphere of totalitarianism—Brutalism is in fact derived from the French term béton brut, which translates to “rough concrete”, rather than from “brutal” as an adjective.     As an architectural style, Brutalism was initially applied largely to government buildings, low-rent housing and shopping centres to create functional structures at a low cost— especially in the post-war, mid-20th century which saw many economically depressed communities—but eventually, designers adopted the look for other uses such as college buildings, even when they had budgets that would have covered far more than the utilitarian.     Brutalism goes beyond merely being an architectural style. As an architectural philosophy, it was often associated with a socialist utopian ideology. Insofar as architecture can be political, designers that practised Brutalist architecture near the height of the style were often vocal about the ideals and merits of Brutalism—its ‘honesty’, sculptural qualities, and the uncompromising, anti-bourgeois nature of its style.     In theory, Brutalism was championed as a positive—if not altogether revolutionary— option for forward-moving, modern urban housing. This was in part due to the utopian ideals—or delusions—of Le Corbusier, now considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture, and the architect responsible for the most notable early works of Brutalist architecture: Unité d’Habitation (1952) and the Secretariat Building (1953) in Chandigarh, India. Expounding on his ideas for a “vertical garden city” and the house as a “machine for living”, Le Corbusier pushed his vision of “streets in the sky”—social housing characterised by broad aerial walkways in long concrete blocks—towards what would, in part, become Brutalism.     In practice, however, many of the buildings built in this style lacked many of the community-serving features of Corbusier’s vision, and instead, developed into claustrophobic, crime-ridden tenements. Often fortress-like and blockish, many critics leveled charges at the abstract nature of Brutalism being unfriendly and uncommunicative, instead of being integrating and protective, as its proponents intended.


SINGAPORE & BRUTALISM

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The buildings highlighted here are not an exhaustive list of Brutalist/Brutalist-influenced architecture in Singapore, but instead allow for a broad sweep across use and architects/ studios, as a varied socio-historical survey.     Singapore came to the Brutalist party as its popularity in the West was beginning to decline (as a result of positive communities failing to form in some Brutalist Structures). With the vision of early post-independence Singapore being very much that of a modern socialist state, it is not difficult to see how Brutalism’s ethos and aesthetics were, for the moment (late 60s) – (early 70s), highly appealing to architects practising then, before a move towards global capitalism and corporatism from the early 80s onwards saw the style gradually falling out of favour.     “Unloved” is a word that is commonly seen in the international press when it comes to Brutalist buildings. Yet the physical assertions of early Singaporean architectural identity via Brutalism have mostly stood the test of aesthetic rigour against time. These buildings have, by and large, not been tainted by the same sort of urban decay, claustrophobia and forebodingness as other Brutalist monuments in other parts of the world. Singapore’s Brutalist masterpieces have been praised by critics as varied as Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate Fumihiko Maki, and architectural historian Reyner Banham. It is the commercial wrecking ball that threatens Brutalist masterpieces in Singapore, rather than the degradation of the buildings proper, a permeating disuse or sense of stylistic passé. Before younger generations of Singaporeans have even acknowledged the debt of the pioneering architects and come to appreciate the hulking intricacies and conceptual play of Brutalist architecture, some of their ilk have already been erased from her landscape.     Ann Beha, known for her sensitive conservation and conversion projects, said that “the adaptive re-use of Brutalist buildings is difficult because of the nature of those structures”, and that “the most difficult part of preservation is the recent past”. The heightened danger here is that Singapore is a young nation whose entire history can perhaps be said to be “the recent past”. There is a mindful and urgent need for a greater awareness of the architectural markers of this recent past, so that current and future generations of Singaporeans can locate monumental talismans of physical heritage to tether themselves in relation to the city-state and the social history of her built environment. If these bricks are pulled from under our feet even as we attempt to step on them, how will we ever move forward in understanding ourselves, and where we came from?


PEOPLE’S PARK COMPLEX Height: 103 metres Floor count: 31 Completed: 1973 Use: Mixed (commercial and residential) Architect: DP Architects Location: Chinatown, Outram Coordinates: 1° 17’ 02.6” N 103° 50’ 31.8” E

Originally cast in béton brut (raw concrete) in keeping with the Brutalist aesthetic, People’s Park Complex was later painted over in sea green and burnt orange. The design of the tower, podium and circular potholes topping the residential block reflect the Brutalist aesthetic. Completed in 1973, People’s Park Complex draws closely on Le Corbusier’s principles of Unité d’Habitation, most famously presented in his Radiant City, a mixed-use apartment block with residential housing, shops and communal facilities, in Marseille, France. People’s Park Complex was the first shopping complex of its kind in Southeast Asia, and was designed by William Lim, Tay Kheng Soon and Koh Seow Chuan of DP Architects to vivify Chinatown—one of the most overpopulated areas of Singapore following independence. The socialist slant in the naming of People’s Park Complex and its common area facilities were in line with Le Corbusier’s deep belief in architecture as a socialist means of revolution, as well as his penchant for “vertical streets”.

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PEOPLE’S PARK COMPLEX ✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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PEARL BANK APARTMENTS Height: 113 metres Floor count: 38 Completed: 1976 Use: Residential Architect: Archurban Architects Planners Location: Chinatown, Outram Coordinates: 1° 16’ 59.4” N 103° 50’ 22.4” E

Imprinted in the public consciousness for its resemblance to a horseshoe, Pearl Bank Apartments is a 38-storey hollow three-quarter cylindrical tower. With a total occupancy of 1,500 persons, the building had the largest number of apartments contained in a single block in 1976, and had the highest density of any private modern residential building at 1,853 persons per hectare. Pearl Bank Apartments was the tallest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in June 1976. It was the first purely residential project undertaken by the Urban Renewal Department as part of the Housing and Development Board’s Sale of Sites programme. There is a shopping area with seven units on the first storey, while the 28th storey, known as the Sky Park, is devoted to communal use. The amount of thought Tan Cheng Siong of Archurban Architects Planners gave to the effect of the split-level architectural approach in the spatial planning is apparent in a number of ways: each apartment unit is zoned into “public” and “private” areas to offer maximum exclusivity and views to the occupants. The utilities and service areas are located at the rear of the apartments, overlooking the building’s central courtyard, to avoid any obstruction of the view. Additionally, the opening in the circular structure faces west and minimises direct penetration of heat and light from the afternoon sun into the building. The slits in the circula slab also allow for effective ventilation into the internal courtyard. Pearl Bank Apartments was also originally cast in in raw, unpainted concrete, the traditional Brutalist aesthetic finishing. The building was painted over in cream with orange details in 2008.

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PEARL BANK APARTMENTS ✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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GOLDEN MILE COMPLEX Height: 89 metres Floor count: 16 Completed: 1973 Use: Mixed (commercial and residential) Architect: DP Architects Location: Beach Road, Kallang Coordinates: 1° 18’ 9.8” N 103° 51’ 53.9” E

In 2006, Golden Mile Complex was described as a “vertical slum”, “terrible eyesore” and “national disgrace” by Nominated Member of Parliament Ivan Png. On the other hand, Fumihiko Maki, a Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate, has termed Golden Mile Complex a “collective form”, while Reyner Banham, an architectural historian, has praised it as a rare feat of a “megastructure”, of which few have been realised in the world. Formally, Golden Mile Complex is as much Metabolist as it is Brutalist; Metabolism being a post-war Japanese architectural movement, which fused ideas about architectural megastructures with those of organic biological growth. Golden Mile Complex successfully combines the high-density usage and diversity lauded by Metabolism. Designed as a “vertical city”—as influenced by Le Corbusier—Golden Mile Complex stands in contrast to homogenised cities where functional zoning can often subdue vitality. With its extruded section stretching along the East Coast and facing the sea (before the land was reclaimed), Golden Mile Complex was designed to catalyse urban development along Beach Road. It houses 411 shops, 226 offices and 68 residential units, and is known to be a Thai enclave, with numerous Thai eateries, clubs and a supermarket. Golden Mile’s terraced profile reduces the impact of noise from traffic, and also affords upper-floor residents a panoramic view of the sea and sky, with all apartments featuring balconies. The narrowness of this sloping slab form enhances natural ventilation and shades a lofty communal concourse above the podium along Beach Road. Golden Mile was an architectural innovation of its time, preceding by several years, avant-garde terraced buildings in Europe and the United Kingdom. 10


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GOLDEN MILE COMPLEX

✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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SINGAPORE POWER BUILDING (TRIPLEONE SOMERSET) Height: 100 metres Floor count: 17 Completed: 1977 Use: Commercial Architect: Group 2 Architects Location: Somerset Road, Orchard Coordinates: 1° 18’ 01.5” N 103° 50’ 14.0” E

With its signature inverted ziggurat motif and fins, the Singapore Power Building has been compared by critics to Gerhad Kallmann’s Boston City Hall (1962) and Le Corbusier’s La Tourette monastery (1957-60). It houses the corporate headquarters of Singapore Power and was earlier known as Singapore Power Building until 2008 when acquired by YTL Corporation Pacific Star. Originally known as the Public Utilities Board, an open-call contest for the design of the PUB’s corporate headquarters was launched in 1971. Group 2 Architects (now-defunct), won the pitch with a proposal that, in the words of the jury, allowed “natural form and function to achieve character and dignity” for the building. This was in comparison to the proposals of the other three finalists, whose proposals had the intention of projecting a corporate presence with imposing towers. Bucking the trend of using tall towers to signal a corporate ethos, Group 2 Architects instead emphasised the horizontal to great effect. The building’s horizontal emphasis is achieved with staggered rows of vertical fins, that also serve the practical purpose of drastically reducing sun exposure. The inverted ziggurat continues to highlight the horizontal aspect of the building. This horizontal emphasis also imbued PUB’s headquarters with approachability, as befitting of its role as a public supplier of gas and electricity. The building was completed in 1977 and then underwent an adaptive restoration in 2006, with the towers updated from a two-tone mosaic to sleek metal panels, and the monumental base broken up to allow greater street-level permeability. The transformation into the TripleOne Somerset is looked upon by international architects and conservators as a relatively successful restoration that updated the environmental performance of the building even as it retained most of its original architectural character, in a time and age where many Brutalist monuments are in danger of being unappreciated and destroyed. 12


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SINGAPORE POWER BUILDING ✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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PENINSULA PLAZA Height: 116m Floor count: 30 Completed: 1980 Use: Commercial Architect: Alfred Wong Partnership Private Limited Location: North Bridge Road, Downtown Core Coordinates: 1° 17’ 32.305” N 103° 51’ 1.591” E

Peninsula Plaza’s architect, Alfred Wong, is considered one of the leading pioneers of architecture in Singapore. Wong was born in Hong Kong in 1930 and studied in Melbourne, after which he set up Alfred Wong Partnership in Singapore in 1957. His architectural vision played a big role in the development of modernism in Singapore. Modernism in Singapore was closely tied to her nationalist spirit, having gained self-governance in 1959: beyond a matter of aesthetics, it was consciously applied as a means of departing from the colonial legacy which often consisted of “tropical-colonial” frames of references. With his numerous commissions in public architecture, Wong shaped in equal parts the aesthetic of modernism in Singapore— at a time where there was yet to be an understanding of the word “modern”—as well as the physical landscape. When the Singapore Institute of Architects presented Wong the first SIA Gold Medal Award in 1998, the committee specified the necessity of understanding the context of seeing Wong’s work “against the backdrop of decaying shop houses and urban fabric” in which he began practising architecture. Amongst his built designs are the famed National Theatre (1964, torn down in 1986), Singapore Polytechnic (1979), and the Marco Polo Hotel (1968, torn down in 1999). Peninsula Plaza, completed in 1980, is one of his existing buildings, and a familiar sight imprinted upon Singapore’s architectural memory of the area. With 30 storeys of office space nestled on a two-tiered podium and strong and elegant linear motifs, Peninsula Plaza’s delineations nodded towards the Brutalist mixed-use ideal as well as in its geometric aesthetics. Peninsula Plaza has come to be known as somewhat of a Burmese enclave, with Burmese provision stores and eateries, as well as a fair smattering of electronics stores on the upper floors and fashion ones in the basement.

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PENINSULA PLAZA

✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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SHAW TOWERS Height: 134 metres Floor count: 35 Completed: 1974 Use: Commercial Architect: Van Sitteren & Partners Location: Beach Road, Bugis/Rochor Coordinates: 1° 17’ 47.386” N 103° 51’ 23.65” E

One of the visual themes of a Brutalist structure is the exterior exposure of the building’s functions. Shaw Tower’s cantilevered sections of office space sitting atop a mid-level open-air carpark and a podium with a now-defunct cinema, and two sprawling floors of retail, offer a clear exterior demarcation, and are also testament to Fumihiko Maki’s notion of the “collective form”, where people could (live,) work, shop and play—all in a single development, which expresses the philosophical side of Brutalism as a socialist utopian ideology. Shaw Towers was designed by Iversen Van Sitteren and Partners, a Dutch architectural practice founded in Malaya in 1948, for Shaw Organisation, a film distributor and movie-theatre chain operator. Before the completion of OCBC Centre in 1976, Shaw Towers was one of the tallest buildings in Singapore in the 70s. Its orderly, repeated sections have cemented it in the public memory of the Bugis area. Shaw Organisation managed single-screen cinemas until the late 1980s, when it decided to build cineplexes, which would offer consumers more flexible and varied choices. Their first cineplexes, named Prince and Jade, were constructed in Shaw Towers, opened in February 1988, and closed in 2009 after 21 years. Shaw Towers continues to operate today as a mixed-use development, albeit without the functioning cineplex.

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SHAW TOWERS

✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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ENVIRONMENT BUILDING Height: 103.52m Floor count: 25 Completed: 1986 Use: Commercial Architect: Public Works Department Location: Scotts Road (Orchard) Coordinates: 1° 18’ 38.059” N 103° 50’ 10.568” E

As the headquarters of the National Water Agency, the building comprises two soaring, tiled towers flanking a contrasting and gleaming midsection of orderly, tinted fenestration, with a sprawling, interconnecting podium with lower cylindrical structures—the interior use being exposed by its exterior expression. The architect for the Environment Building is listed as the Public Works Department. The Public Works Department has a history that stretches all the way back to 1883 (then known as The Public Works and Convicts), when the first Superintendent of Public Works was appointed to build infrastructure and public buildings for the newly developing Singapore. The Public Works Department was corporatised in 1999, and has operated as the CPG Corporation since 2002. With Singapore’s self-governance in 1959 and independence in 1965, the modernist spirit of early local architecture was a means by which for a fledgling country could assert its identity. As then-State Minister for National Development, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan said in a speech: “Building in the modern style was also a statement that we were breaking away from the old colonial society, which was riddled with inequality and vast disparities of wealth and living conditions. Architecture, often seen as a manifestation of a society’s values, thus mirrored that break from old values and the warm embrace of the new values and ideals of an independent and egalitarian Singapore.” The vision of modern Singapore in her early years of independence (1965–early 70s) was that of a modern socialist state, and the philosophical underpinnings of Brutalist architecture had always been closely tied to utopian socialism. There was an international wave of publicly commissioned Brutalist structures in Europe and America from the 50s through to the 70s, and whilst architects in Singapore embraced Brutalism belatedly, the brief window of time still engendered notable Brutalist gems, such as the publicly commissioned Environment Building. 18


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ENVIRONMENT BUILDING ✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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OCBC CENTRE Height: 197.7 metres Floor count: 52 Completed: 1976 Use: Commercial Architect: I.M. Pei & Partners, with BEP Akitek Location: Chulia Street, Downtown Core Coordinates: 1° 17’ 7.664” N 103° 50’ 57.215” E

Designed by the renowned I.M. Pei (now Pei Cobb Freed & Partners), the OCBC Centre was the tallest building in South East Asia in 1976, at 197.7 metres and 52 storeys in height. A familiar sight of the Singapore skyline, the OCBC Centre —serving as the headquarters for OCBC Bank—has earned the affectionate nickname “The Calculator”, for its flat shape and windows on each cantilevered section, which look like button pads. The OCBC Centre is made up of two semi-circular reinforced concrete cores and three lateral girders which sped up construction—the building took only two years to be completed due to a three-tier system, which featured three huge intermediate transverse girders supported by a heavy structural frame, an innovation in architectural technical know-how at that time. With a design symbolic of strength and permanence, each section is cantilevered six metres away from the building. As a visual whole, the linear effect of the OCBC Centre is in line with the blockish Brutalist aesthetic. The Modernist architectural language of the times, aside from the monolithic façade, can be seen in the building’s finishings of concrete tiles, steel and glass. Cementing its place in the annals of Singaporean architectural history, the Brutalist OCBC Centre was marked as a historic site by the National Heritage Board in 2001. It has also been extended with the additions of OCBC Centre East and South, without destroying the integrity of the existing building.

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OCBC CENTRE

✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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FUTURA APARTMENTS (DEMOLISHED)

Height: 77.14m Floor count: 25 Completed: 1976 Use: Residential Architect: Timothy Seow Studio Location: Leonie Hill, Orchard Coordinates: 1° 17’ 53.29” N 103° 50’ 2.875” E

Futura Apartments, designed by Timothy Seow, was the second condominium to be completed in Singapore. At the time, it heralded a new era of luxury living in the city-state. Futura was commonly known amongst the architecture community in Singapore as one of the “Big Five” of architectural structures in Singapore that helped pioneer modern Singapore architecture, and that were aesthetically and architecturally important. Of the “Big Five”—which comprises Pearl Bank Apartments in Outram Road, Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road, Futura in Leonie Hill Road, Beverly Mai in Tomlinson Road and The Habitat in Ardmore Park, only Golden Mile Complex and Pearl Bank Apartments remains, no thanks to the en-bloc frenzy. Futura’s living spaces were boldly designed, and clearly inspired by space age explorations. It featured three radial wings with a central staircase, with every apartment adding to the character of the building as it was expressed as a cantilevered “space-pod” on its façade, a strikingly repetitive angular geometry commonly used as an architectural strategy in Brutalist buildings. Along with Beverly Mai (also designed by Timothy Seow), Futura was among the first to introduce the condominium principle of high-rise living and shared facilities to Singaporeans. It was a starting point for Singaporean aspirational materialism in the “5Cs”, as the first development in Singapore with private lifts opening directly into the apartment, with a generous lobby transitioning between the outside to the living spaces, not to mention its breathtaking roof views. There was special attention paid to the transitions and the views from one room to another. Out of the 69 units, three were duplex penthouses with roof terraces and private pools. When we think of our architectural heritage, perhaps what first comes to mind are grand colonial buildings and conserved shophouses. But it seems necessary to begin thinking about mixed-use and residential structures that have indelibly left their marks on the Singaporean consciousness and that held with them an aesthetic and architectural importance. With three of the “Big Five” already gone, it is time newer buildings are earmarked as well, to safeguard our architectural heritage in the future. 22


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FUTURA APARTMENTS

✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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THE COLONNADE Height: 74m Floor count: 28 Completed: 1986 Use: Residential Architect: Paul Rudolph Location: Grange Road, Orchard Coordinates: 1° 17’ 57.291” N 103° 49’ 38.693” E

The Colonnade was designed by Paul Rudolph, a highly notable architect of the latemodern period, and legendary dean at the Yale School of Architecture. The plans for The Colonnade were in fact drawn from the developments of the previously designed but unbuilt Graphic Arts Center of Manhattan. Rudolph said in an interview with the Chicago Architects Oral History Project that the completion of The Colonnade was the fruition of a building he had been thinking about for 30 years, that could not be built in the United States because of the labour involved: “The forming of the concrete is, let’s face it, very elaborate. There’s a great deal going on in this building, for better or for worse. There are many different apartment types and structurally and mechanically it becomes tremendously involved. I was just saying that this was not at all off the top of my head. It’s a marvelous example of a building that I’d really been thinking about in principle for a long, long time.” The plan for this structure was envisioned as a set of prefabricated units hoisted onto a structural frame. Rudolph called each replicable unit the “twentieth-century brick”, but during construction, it was found that the prefabricated units were technically and financially untenable. Pour-in-place concrete was thus the method used, which, thankfully, was able to still convey the appearance of Rudolph’s design goals. The “twentieth-century bricks” of The Colonnade also formed the network of angular geometries as expressed in Brutalism, while its layout also allowed for a partial exposure of the building’s functions.

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THE COLONNADE

✂------- Print, cut along the outlines, fold along the dotted lines and glue the tabs together.

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Brutarch  

This handy pocketbook of brutalist architecture in Singapore by studioKALEIDO explores iconic landmarks such as People's Park Complex, Golde...