Singapore / Historical Documents

Our research will focus on the master planning of Singapore’s pioneer public housing projects by the Singapore Improvement Trust (forerunner of the Housing and Development Board) and how this has affected/created the Singapore that exists today. Set up in 1927, the official prerogative of the SIT was to improve the living and hygiene standards of the residents of the city, which in reality made it responsible for a broad range of infrastructure projects and the unenviable task of slum clearance. The motives behind this organisation’s efforts, the relationship between its ideology and the eventual built form and the link between its projects and the later nationalist movement are ideas that will be explored.

The Straits Times, 13 October 1937, P 12 Source:

The text in bold sets out a key aim of the government at the time: to provide all people with an affordable house. This was to become a common refrain post-independence, with the future HDB flats becoming a key tool in providing an ownership stake in the country to its citizens. Here we see the origins of these ideas, similar to the American ideal of home ownership as a point of national pride. The word ‘modern’ specifically implies its promotion as a break from the past, and it is true that in both in design and concept, Tiong Bahru was a first. With its modernist design and rationalised forms, the estate was a sincere step forward in trying to provide decent housing for the ordinary Singaporean.

Tiong Bahru Estate Source:
Tiong Bahru Estate Source:

The image above depicts the Corbusian-style staircases found in Tiong Bahru, and its clean, white facades. The lack of decoration and modular components were both aesthetic and functional (they would cost less when mass produced, which in itself was a recent development).

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