Singapore / Historical Documents: Plan of SIT’s Tiong Bahru

As the first project undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), the Tiong Bahru Estate is one of the oldest public housing estates in Singapore. About 2000 units of three-to five-story apartment buildings were built between 1936 and 1954 by architects Lincoln Page, Robert F. N. Kan and A. G. Church, who took influence from British New Towns in the design. Thirty blocks containing 931 units were built by the Trust in 1936 and fifty blocks of apartments comprising 1040 units were built in 1948. The one-to-five-room dwelling units and mix-used units were laid out on a grid provided with generous green public open space. Clean and rational architectural façades featuring rounded balconies, thin horizontal slabs, and ventilation holes gave the place its unique modernist character. The public can walk along footpaths through the spacious backyards owned and maintained by the residents on the ground floor. The atmosphere within the housing complex is intimate and warm, which encourages residents to mingle outside their houses. This also reflects the British New Towns influence: the emphasis on creating small neighbourhoods and maximum privacy between individual homes, the need to promote health and to improve security thanks to open views and public surveillance.

Plan of Tiong Bahru
Plan of Tiong Bahru Estate of Singapore © 1920s, Singapore Improvement Trust. Source:




2 Comments on “Singapore / Historical Documents: Plan of SIT’s Tiong Bahru

  1. The bibliography and the historical documents so far suggest that the design of these housing estates and precincts have a lot to do with the social agendas of that period – building a new nation and producing a particular kind of urban inhabitants and citizens. Continue to strengthen this argument by reading closely how these plans came about, how they transformed, and if there were historical references to other plans prior to those new designs. The SIT and HDB were different governing bodies, and probably had very different influences and agendas. In fact, one could trace the development of a particular housing estate to reveal distinctly different sensibilities. For example, planned by the SIT and executed by HDB later, Toa Payoh New Town retained much of the winding roads reminiscent of Garden Cities ideas, but the block designs were completely reoriented. Once a particular plan or new town is identified, proceed to study its plans in relation to how the design and social agendas of that town were articulated or written about, and you may identify (or speculate about) the corresponding effects between sociopolitical ideology and urban form.

  2. The project has a strong idea on social interaction. The layout and description also suggested that over-crowding is avoided. I noticed that there are blocks that are more closely packed and pocket-included, while others are more discrete from other. Is it because they are designed by different architect? If yes, is it a common practice in Singapore? Apart from the above, I would like to also know about how the housing estate affect the housing design in Singapore after wards. Did the estate become the role model? 🙂

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