Singapore Power Building

Text by Kelly Koh

Standing out from its competitors with its horizontality and complex volumetry, the winning design for the Singapore Power Building is an exemplar of the ability of composed forms to impose a perceptual solidity.

Singapore Power Building (Photo credit: Group 2 Architects)

The Singapore Power Building (now known as TripleOne Somerset) was the subject of an architectural competition in 1971, with a jury headed by then PUB chairman Lim Kim San. Four finalists were selected, but the design by Group 2 Architects triumphed, rising above the others with its low stature and horizontality.

Singapore Power Building elevation facade

Designed to be the headquarters of the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the building’s function played an integral role in its conception. The inverted ziggurat volumes which lend the facade an imposing depth are a reaction to the functional distinctions of departmental subdivision, revealing the working hierarchies of the public service. It is interesting to note here the stylistic similarities to Boston City Hall by Kallmann, McKinnell, & Knowles, a distant resonance echoing the same structures.

Singapore Power Building architectural rendering

Being a public building, it desires to display a great civic character. With its heft the edifice inspires dependability, while the open public concourse embraces the public themselves. The open courtyards, closed in only on three sides with the H form plan, further opens up the interior. These gestures serve a second purpose of ventilation, letting air into the otherwise massive volume of the building. At the human scale, the floor tiles of the public concourse formed linear patterns across the lobby, directing pedestrian movement into the building.

Singapore Power Building architectural section

In 2006, the building was refinished in metal cladding, obscuring the original ceramic tile finish that diminished the scale of the building. Lost in the refurbishment was also the secondary emphasis of horizontality that the different coloured bands of tiles provided, leaving the striated form to be expressed only by the bands of vertical fins and the continuous horizontal parapets.

Singapore Power Building auditorium

Today the building stands, consisting of a 550 seat auditorium, a rooftop swimming pool, roof garden, sports facilities, and a glass-encased penthouse, in addition to the offices which take up 60% of its area. Wee Beng Chong’s aluminium relief sculpture remains in prime position, perhaps the source of inspiration for the building’s moulting.

In January 2007, PUB moved to the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources Building on Scotts Road. This made way for YTL Pacific Star to acquire the building in February 2008, whereupon it was renamed TripleOne Somerset. It's new owner spent $50 million on renovation works, converting offices into retail spaces. In August 2015, it was announced that the building would be further 'enhanced', with planning permission given for the increase of retail area, and the conversion of up to 32,000 sqft of space into medical suites.