The Financial District's Calculator

The Financial District’s Calculator

A stroll down the Padang’s Saint Andrew’s Road end evokes thoughtful juxtapositions of the old and new worlds. Low-rise Neoclassical and two-storey buildings from the colonial period are dwarfed by concrete and metal towers built in the nationhood years from the 1970s and onwards. In 1976, the completion of the 52-storey OCBC Centre beckoned new ambitions and paved the way for countless skyscrapers in the financial district.

Photograph showing the OCBC Centre under construction. Image Source: National Library Board (Kouo Shang-Wei Collection)

A photograph showing the OCBC Centre in a stage of construction. Image Source: National Library Board (Kouo Shang-Wei Collection)

An aerial view of Elgin Bridge with the OCBC Centre towering in the background. Image Source: National Library Board (Kouo Shang-Wei Collection)

An aerial view of Elgin Bridge with the OCBC Centre towering in the background. Image Source: National Library Board (Kouo Shang-Wei Collection)

The OCBC Centre earned its calculator moniker owing to its flattened shape and button-like windows. At almost 200 metres high, it was the tallest building in Southeast Asia when it opened in 1976. Suffice to say, it was a groundbreaking accomplishment.

OCBC Centre was the result of the second Sale of Sites of the Housing and Development Board’s Urban Renewal Department in 1968. Symbolising permanence and strength, the building was designed by I. M. Pei & Partners and BEP Akitek. It was the outcome of an innovative construction technology that allowed it to be completed in an impressive two years. Construction began in 1975 with three lateral girders built across two semi-circular reinforced concrete cores. Pre-fabricated steel trusses were built off-site and then reassembled into position at Chulia Street to speed up the construction.

Across the historic Padang is an interesting juxtaposition of architecture of the old and new worlds.

Across the historic Padang is an interesting juxtaposition of architecture of the old and new worlds.

Even a gigantic calculator may find it hard to compute the real age of the Arts House. The original component of the Arts House was built in as early as 1827.

Even with a gigantic calculator, one might find it hard to compute the true age of the Arts House. The original component of the Arts House was built in as early as 1827.

The OCBC Centre as seen from Telok Ayer Street, one of the earliest streets in Singapore and a first landing point for many migrants arriving by sea. This photograph shows the Thian Hock Keng, one of the oldest Hokkien temples that was built in 1842. The temple is a national monument and has won prestigious awards including the Culture Heritage Conservation Building in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2001 Awards.

The OCBC Centre as seen from Telok Ayer Street, one of the earliest streets in Singapore and a first landing point for many migrants arriving by sea. This photograph shows the Thian Hock Keng, one of the oldest Hokkien temples that was built in 1842. The temple is a national monument and has won prestigious awards including the Culture Heritage Conservation Building in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2001 Awards.

A majestic sight of landmarks of their time greets one at the Padang. Underneath a green canopy is the Arts House, a former government building built as a residential home for one of Raffles’ magistrates. An ivory white clock tower emerges above the canopy next to it. The clock tower was added in 1906 to Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, which first began its life as a town hall in 1862. The last Neoclassical building constructed in the colonial era of Singapore opened as the new National Gallery Singapore in end 2015. The former Singapore Supreme Court building was built in 1939.

This photograph shows the OCBC Centre as the tallest building in the financial district. In the foreground is the former Supreme Court Building, which is today’s National Gallery Singapore. Image Source: National Library Board (Kouo Shang-Wei Collection)

The OCBC Centre was once the tallest building in the financial district. In the foreground is the former Supreme Court Building, which is today’s National Gallery Singapore. Image Source: National Library Board (Kouo Shang-Wei Collection)

The OCBC Centre, as seen across the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery of the National Gallery Singapore. This large scale sculpture, titled Totem, is an artwork by Chun Kai Feng that seeks to create dialogue with skyscrapers in its surroundings.

The OCBC Centre, as seen across the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery of the National Gallery Singapore. This large scale sculpture, titled Totem, is an artwork by Chun Kai Feng that seeks to create dialogue with the skyscrapers in its surroundings.

Once the tallest building in Southeast Asia, the OCBC Centre has been eclipsed by many skyscrapers in the financial district.

Once the tallest building in Southeast Asia in 1976, the OCBC Centre is today eclipsed by other skyscrapers in the financial district.

As we sought to soar as a young nation in the 1970s, the OCBC Centre signalled those aspirations and defined the new Singapore’s financial district and skyline. Skyscrapers soon multiplied and divided our financial district into the old and new worlds. The result today is, arguably, a dynamic district of diversity with national monuments, restored heritage buildings and century-old religious institutions making their marks alongside modern skyscrapers.

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