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Oversea-Chinese Banking Centre

Terence Ong

I.M. Pei played an important role in the physical development of Singapore after its independence in 1965. The 638-feet-high Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) tower was his second commission (after Chung Khiaw Bank) but his first building executed in the new nation. It is situated on a narrow site overlooking the Singapore River at the head of the Golden Shoe center of commerce (Singapore’s Wall Street). Tan Chin Tuan, OCBC’s president and a Pei family friend, requested an imposing national monument to replace the bank’s existing 6-story headquarters: a symbol of Singapore’s growing economic importance and a physical expression of OCBC’s corporate motto, “Solid as a Rock.”

To build the tower in a still developing country where the tallest building was 8 stories, Pei designed a simple expression of structure, and broke the 52-story tower into three easier-to-construct 15-story buildings, one on top of the other, above a monumental ground floor banking hall. At either end, the tower has a semi-circular structural core of slipform concrete (poured continuously into a tube-like mold that slowly inched upward, leaving a growing mass of hardened concrete below). The freestanding cores are connected by three tremendous steel trusses which distribute the tower’s great loads more manageably into the three stacked buildings. The trusses were fabricated by Singapore’s well-established shipping industry, trucked to the site, and lifted by crane into place. Once installed, the trusses, which effectively serve as the first floor of each building, permitted the top, middle and bottom of the tower to be constructed simultaneously. The office floors between the two cores measure 115 feet long and 95 feet wide. They cantilever out 15 feet from the structure in aluminum cages where the windows are set back for protection from the sun.

Typical floor plan / Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

OCBC presents its slim curved ends to the converging narrow streets and its broad main facade to an open plaza at a major intersection. To occupy the space, Pei challenged Henry Moore to enlarge a 13-inch maquette (made in 1938) into a 25-foot-long bronze reclining figure. The sculpture was one of Moore’s last works, and by far the largest.

Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Kellogg Wong, Architect in charge
I.M. Pei & Partners