Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Crossing Water Obstacle (C.W.O.) - by Peter Chan

Sounds like a military jargon from National Service (NS) days? Every able-bodied male who has completed NS would have undergone some form of training or at least be familiar with the C.W.O. terminology. However I am not referring to it but to a daily routine of a different kind, between City Hall and Raffles Place MRT stations.

Early 1985 I worked in a regional office on the 12th floor of the Standard Chartered Bank Building on Battery Road. Whenever I get jet-lagged I would look outside my window. The view was simply refreshing. You could see the Westin Stamford and Westin Plaza under construction plus the wide expanse of water in the Marina Bay area.

Photo 1: View of lunchtime dining by the Singapore River from Empress Place (c 1980). The buildings from left to right were Maybank, Bank of China, a row of shops and Chartered Bank.

When I looked below the Standard Chartered Bank building, something else caught my eyes and with the help of a pair of binoculars I found something interesting. I refer to the MRT tunnel that was constructed under the Singapore River, a very massive civil engineering project. The tunnel was 93 meter long and 20 meters under the river-bed. It was an interesting introduction to underwater tunneling.

Construction activity first began on the Empress Place bank side of the Singapore River where a cofferdam was in place - concrete between walls of rusty steel piles. But this time something different was taking place. There was a crane mounted on a barge lifting steel piles out of the water. Vibration was applied before the steel piles were pulled out of the water. Mini excavators removed earth from the coffer dam and dumped into an anchored barge. After the cofferdam was demolished, the waters of the Singapore River flowed through.

Photo 2: Empress Place (c 1983). The former marine police building stood at the spot of the pile-driver. The Asian Civilization Building was the former Immigration Department offices.

Now on the other side of the Singapore River, another building activity was taking place. Fresh steel piles (with painted white lines and numbers) were driven into the Singapore River to form another cofferdam. The markings indicated the length of a steel pile. The steel piles had to stand at least a meter above the river-tide to prevent water gushing into the excavated site. I could feel the Standard Chartered Bank building shook each time the steel piles were pounded; the only time when there was silence was when the steel piles had to be welded together by acetylene torches. The welding continued until the engineers were certain that the solid soil bottom was reached. Water trapped by the cofferdam was pumped out. An anchored barge with a crane and bucket was furiously scooping earth behind the cofferdam and dumping it into another nearby barge.

Lunch-time diners at Movepick in the basement of Standard Chartered Bank had more fears of the ceiling coming down. Nearby snug at the basement of Straits Trading Building, the Stamford Arms Pub’s chandeliers swayed to the beat of the pile-drivers. For me I always wondered whether I had spiders dropped from the ceiling into my drinks.

Photo 3: The final stage of tunneling begins on the other side of the Singapore River (c 1985).

As the project progressed, workers were busily welding steel struts to keep the walls apart. The next step was for the concrete tunnel to be built after which earth was put back over the tunnel and the river reinstated. If you stood at the Paya Lebar Station and had been observing the construction of the Circle Line, you could visualize a similar construct of this sort under the Singapore River.

Around this time, the popular “kopi-tiam by the Singapore River” – a narrow lane behind the Bank of China and Malayan bank buildings – was torn down because it restricted easy access to the work site. Over the next few years, there would be road diversions in the Raffles Place area, a higher level of dust particles, as well as many bulky cement mixers on the roads. These were inconveniences that had to be put up by office workers all for a good cause – to move large number of people in and out of central business district.
Can I still see another mammoth civil engineering project again? Yes but this has to be done from a distance and at ground-level; the construction of the Marina Coastal Expressway, in front of the Marina Barrage and at East Lagoon Link.

Photo 4: Marina Coastal Expressway project. The construction of the cofferdam at Marina East is in progress (c 2009). The piped piles are driven at least 60 meters below the seabed.

Photo 5: Marina South view of office blocks in Prince Edward Road and Shenton Way areas. East Lagoon Link which was a PSA container-yard is now cleared of containers. The former basin will be drained of seawater and a viaduct will connect to a surface road (c 2009).

There’s one question for you.

Have you noticed that the Standard Chartered Bank building (now named Six Battery Road) is quite unusual unlike other office blocks in the Raffles Place area. It has a wide podium with a slim tower on top of it. What is the reason for this architectural design?


Victor said...

The only CWO I know is this one. Do not be mistaken, I have not been sentenced to do one before. That's the only meaning for the abbreviation for me.

Icemoon said...

Peter, the current Stan Chart building was built just before you moved in, so your first photo is kind of confusing. No 12th floor leh.

The reason for the architectural design could be due to construction of the MRT subway which goes under the building (can refer to onemap). Amazingly that is like the only pre 90s building in Shenton Way cut by MRT line. MRT proposal was approved in May 1982. Not sure when they started rebuilding Stan Chart but blueprints might be modified after 1982. Just making educated guess lah.

peter said...

I clear the air on Photo 1.

The photo was meant to illustrate the "dining by the Singapore River". It was still there after the new Standard Chartered Bank Bdlg (now 6 Battery Road) replaced the old Chartered Bank bdlg. But it did not stretch that long to the new Standard Chartered Bank Bdlg. In fact it began at Malayan Banking Bdlg and ended at the Bank of China bdlg. I am not sure when it was totally demolished.

The row of shophouses you see in Photo 1 became a part of the new Standard Bank Bdlg.

peter said...

Thew new Standard Chartered Bank Bdlg was built around late 1983 and we were the first few tenants in that bdlg. It was so empty at that time because the property market and stock market crashed in 1984/85 I recall. The renat was very cheap, think it was just S$5 per sg. ft and our company took some 5,000 sg ft (work area + computer room) and we were the only tenants on the 12 floor.

Icemoon said...

So they took like only 1 year to rebuild Stan Chart building. In that case, it is possible the architects had to design the building to accommodate the metro.

abbeyalisa said...

i happy to share with me this beautiful article. but what I know about crossing water obstacles (CWO).
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