If the walls of Singapore’s Capitol Building could talk you might not want to listen to everything they have to say. Heritage-rich aspects of the buildings, such as their tiled pitched rooftops, large turrets, decorative plaster mouldings and timber louvered windows are expected to be retained.
The neo-classical retail and office block on the corner of Stamford and North Bridge Road was captured by the Japanese military during its occupation of the Lion City between 1942 and 1945. The “Sook Ching,” or “purging through purification,” of supposed anti-Japanese dissidents among the resident Chinese by the Kempeitai – Japan’s military secret police — is understood to have claimed up to 50,000 lives.
It is little wonder then that Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) neglects to mention the inhabitants from Nippon in its tender for redevelopment document posted in February. The URA is looking for submissions from development teams, complete with sufficient equity and heritage-preserving architectural forces, to redevelop the building alongside the adjacent 1,600-seat Capitol Theatre and a further mixed-use office and retail building called Stamford House. Last month, it was considering proposals for the 1.45 hectare site from bidders that included Hong Kong’s Gaw Capital.
According to reports, Gaw teamed up with designer Herzog & de Meuron – best known for Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic stadium — to submit a plan to transform the site into a state-of-the-art entertainment and hotel complex. Its plan for the buildings, which coincidently also formerly provided accommodation for PERE publisher PEI Media, includes a five-star hotel, a London’s Covent Garden-style restaurant and nightlife section, and a designer-brand shopping mall.
Heritage-rich aspects of the buildings, such as their tiled pitched rooftops, large turrets, decorative plaster mouldings and timber louvered windows are expected to be retained as set out by the URA’s redevelopment framework. “The Land Parcel includes three historically and architecturally significant buildings offering a unique opportunity to create a distinctive development that features a mix of conservation and new buildings,” the URA tender document reads.
Heritage-rich aspects of the buildings, such as their tiled pitched rooftops, large turrets, decorative plaster mouldings and timber louvered windows are expected to be retained.
A Checkered Past
The Capitol Building and the Capitol Theatre, however, offer more from their past than chilling wartime tales. They were built between 1929 and 1933 with designs from architectural firm Keys & Dowdeswell via a commission from the then-prominent Persian Namazie family. The Capitol Building was developed for office and retail space with the Capitol Theatre behind it developed with a view to providing live entertainment, specifically cinema – although Cabaret would also figure prominently over the years. Cinema could well return to the site, as the URA is adamant it should have as much of its original architecture preserved as possible
By the mid-1930s, the Capitol Theatre was the largest of 10 cinemas dotted around Singapore to show English films. The Japanese occupation saw an enforced switch to Japanese-only entertainment but, following a bombing by anti-Japanese resistance fighters, it fell into a spell of inactivity. When the Japanese withdrew, English-celluloid returned via the $3 million acquisition of the buildings by the Shaw Organisation, a film distribution company founded in Singapore.
Shaw operated the theatre until 1984 when it and the Capitol Building were returned to the URA, which kept its use intact until 29 December 1998. It was handed over in 2000 to the Singapore Tourism Board, which evaluated alternative uses for the theatre but none of which came to fruition. Meanwhile, under the management of the URA, the Capitol Building’s mixed office and retail function kept going until the end of this summer.
Cinema could well return to the site, as the URA is adamant it should have as much of its original architecture preserved as possible. A new owner , with the focus of capturing the footfall and spend of “a ready catchment of office workers and students as well as tourists,” would be able to develop up to a gross total of 542,000 square feet of mixed entertainment and commercial space, 25 percent of which must be used for a hotel. Approximately 182,000 square feet of that must be retained in its original design as it falls under “conservation” status – ideal for the entertainment component.
With its central location and tourist attractiveness a certainty, few developers are likely to be concerned about such restrictions. They will be less concerned still about the supposedly dark events that once took place there. Indeed, a successful revamp should provide the walls of Capitol Theatre and the Capitol Building with something more cheery to talk about.
Cinema could well return to the site, as the URA is adamant it should have as much of its original architecture preserved as possible