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House of Maxwell

Urban renewal of Singapore’s historic old city began in the 1960s. This involved tearing down age-old, crumbling, one to three-storey buildings - some with heritage value exceeding a hundred years - and replacing them with larger, taller buildings which allowed for more intensive land use. Entire neighbourhoods were razed; a new city rose above the rubble of the old. This is detailed in my book Jalan Singapura.

The thing about urban renewal in Singapore is that it never truly ends. Because of 99-year-leases and the open market, buildings which were erected in the 1960s and 1970s as urban renewal projects are gradually being put on sale, to be sold and torn down for newer, even taller buildings, before their leases run out. Again, my book gives some examples; a prominent urban renewal landmark which was recently demolished to much sadness was Rochor Centre.

Rochor Centre undergoing demolition in 2018. Credit: Bob Tan, CC BY-SA 4.0.

One example to be added to the soon-to-go list - Maxwell House, at 20 Maxwell Road, the junction of Maxwell Road and Tras Street.

Maxwell House. Credit: Cushman & Wakefield.

Owners of the 13-storey building at 20 Maxwell Road have set a reserve price of $295 million, sales consultant Cushman & Wakefield said yesterday.

The block comprises mainly offices and sits on a trapezoidal island site of about 41,801 square feet (sq ft), with views from all four sides of the building.

The site has a plot ratio of 4.3 under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Master Plan 2019.

But Cushman & Wakefield noted that the URA said in January last year that it would support a mixed-use commercial and residential development with a 30 per cent higher plot ratio of 5.6, and a gross floor area (GFA) of 234,086 sq ft.

This is subject to a rezoning. Another caveat is that the commercial part of the new project must not exceed 20 per cent of the total GFA.

The allowable building height has also been increased to 21 storeys...

Maxwell House sits at the fringe of the Central Business District but is also near the conservation shophouse enclaves of Tanjong Pagar and Chinatown and within a few minutes’ walk of Maxwell Food Centre and the Tanjong Pagar and Chinatown MRT stations.

The upcoming underground Maxwell MRT station on the Thomson-East Coast Line is expected to be completed in 2022...

The public tender closes at 3pm on Nov 12.

Originally, Tras Street ran from Maxwell Road in the north to Enggor Street in the south, and was lined by shophouses.

The Tanjong Pagar area in 1966. Tras Street is shaded blue.

This changed at the end of the 1960s when urban renewal arrived. A cluster of shophouses at the Maxwell Road end was torn down for an urban renewal project, Maxwell House, named after Maxwell Road. The length of Tras Street in front of the shophouses was also expunged for a pedestrian walkway, cutting the road back to the Cook Street junction.

The Tanjong Pagar area in 1975. Tras Street is shaded blue; Maxwell House is shaded yellow.

Maxwell House opened in 1971. The following is a Straits Times advertisement dated May 1971, advertising the impending completion of the project:

Some of Tras Street’s shophouses next to Maxwell House were eventually conserved, and they stand to this day.

Maxwell House and Tras Street, looking south. Base picture credit: Google Maps.

Even though Maxwell House is a non-residential office block, its architecture is reminiscent of multi-use residential complexes constructed around the time, such as Rochor Centre and People’s Park Complex - a podium block of three to four storeys, then at least one tower block rising above the podium block. It is this class of post-independence, urban renewal projects that is ironically threatened by urban renewal today. When will Maxwell House go? We’ll find out in November.

Maxwell House, seen from Cook Street. Credit: Google Maps.


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