NESTLED within Toa Payoh Central lies a Housing Board block unlike any other in Singapore.
Its unique feature: Antique-looking spiral staircases snaking around its exterior.
The staircases are not there for aesthetic purposes, however.
The block's original internal stairwell was gutted to make way for a small lift shaft when it underwent the lift upgrading programme (LUP) in February.
As a result, new staircases had to be built. Since there was no room within the blocks, the stairs had to be added to the building's exterior.
The HDB said the conventional lift-upgrading solution - building an external lift shaft - would not have worked for the four-storey block.
It has no common corridor joining the apartments, so more lifts had to be installed.
The units are also on so-called 'half-landings', which means that even if an external shaft was built, residents would have had to walk up half a flight of stairs from the lift lobby to reach their apartments.
The block, 186, is the first of six to get similar staircases under the LUP.
Work on the others - blocks 177, 178, 183, 184 and 185 - is expected to be completed in the third quarter of next year.
By the time the project is done, a total of 67 lifts and spiral staircases would have been added to the blocks.
An HDB spokesman said the current solution saves space, reduces the amount of new foundation works required for a new lift, and is also cost-effective.
It declined to give the full cost of the project, although it said owners of three-room units will pay $1,580, four-room residents will pay $2,370, and five-roomers will have to fork out $3,000.
Generally, the Government pays between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of the total cost of the LUP, which aims to build lifts which stop on every floor for HDB blocks constructed before 1990. Town councils will co-pay the remaining cost with flat owners.
The move to add lifts for the four-storey blocks drew praise.
The past-president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, Mr John Ting, lauded HDB for finding a solution to equip 'awkward blocks' with lifts.
'They are finally doing it, even though the block is only four storeys. It gives the older residents a chance to get out, get a bit of fresh air, and have a better quality of life.'
But he felt more thought could have gone into the staircases. He said they were neither pretty nor practical.
'They're made of metal and exposed on the side, so they will definitely get wet even when it drizzles,' said Mr Ting.
Housewife Diana Low, 45, agreed, saying the stairs were slippery when wet.
But the HDB said the chequered surface of the staircase would provide traction. In addition, a finish will be added to the stairs for greater slip resistance.
Many residents, however, looked past the stairs and were more than happy that they would be getting lifts.
Ms Huang Xiao Hong, 22, who works at a fast-food restaurant, said she was looking forward to a quick and easy climb, especially when lugging heavy bags of groceries.
Another resident, factory worker Madam Rosni Ahmad, 48, said she would be getting the best of both worlds - the convenience of a lift, as well as a snazzy look for the block, thanks to the spiral staircases.
She said: 'The new design is fashionable and colourful. I already took pictures of the blocks under construction to show my relatives.'
Source: Straits Times, 6 June 2009