Singapore / HDB: Construction of Toa Payoh New Town
Construction of Toa Payoh (1966-1970)
While the plans for the new town in Toa Payoh by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was approved in 1958, it was never realised. Singapore faced a serious housing shorting in the early 1950s, and the population living in the ‘urban kampong’ fringe, including Toa Payoh, doubled by the mid-1950s. In 1961, the Housing and Development Board (HDB), which had succeeded the SIT, announced its new plans for the new town in Toa Payoh, a revised and more ambitious expansion of the previous public housing plan laid out by the SIT. 35,000 housing units were to rise over 600 acres in Toa Payoh, intended to house up to 250,000 people.  This was almost twice of what the estimated population of SIT’s plan was. After extensive negotiation with the villagers, earthworks for the new town started in early 1964 and was constructed during the HDB’s second five-year programme (1966–1970). Toa Payoh became the second satellite town to be built after Queenstown (the new town initiated by SIT, but a major part of the project had been completed under the HDB’s first five-year building programme) but it is the first to be conceived and built solely by the HDB.
Organisation of Toa Payoh – Social Construction
The master plan of Toa Payoh in 1980 shows HDB’s execution. While they kept some of the winding roads as proposed in the 1958 master plan, the roads and block orientation of the Toa Payoh Town Centre is rendered much clearer and simpler – a main continuous road enclosing the neighbourhood with two branches running through. This gives a sense of collectiveness within a neighbourhood which perhaps allows social interaction and community bonding. Blocks are also arranged in parallel or perpendicular to each other closely – this allows flexibility in the provision of open spaces and evokes a sense of security though not physically fenced, while also ensuring facilities to be available to a number of inhabitants so as to encourage social interaction. Some quadrangles block formation, however, were retained from the 1958 plan, which does seem to promote community-oriented living.
Visual Identity of Toa Payoh
Furthermore, the 2 main types of blocks – point and slab-blocks – in Toa Payoh have an interesting spatial organisation. Five tall point blocks were “strategically placed” as “outstanding landmarks” to terminate “interesting vistas” framed by two rows of four-storey shops and flats flanking a pedestrian mall to create a dramatic contrast of scale and height.  It was the architects’ attempt to “create visual identity” by varying the skyline of the town centre. The point blocks were intended as a progressive symbol of the HDB’s successful social housing programme. This was then showcased before an international audience when the Toa Payoh Town Centre served as the Athlete’s Village for the 7th SEAP (Southeast Asian Peninsular) Games, held in Singapore for the first time in 1974.
Today, Toa Payoh continues to be developed. In 1995, Toa Payoh underwent an extensive renewal programme that saw many of its original flats being replaced by newer ones. The town centre was also rejuvenated with better facilities so that it was comparable with the town centres of newer housing estates. In 2013, the town has more than 36,000 dwelling units , higher than the original projected number of 35,000 units. However, it houses an estimated population of only 109,300 residents , far short of the original projected population of 250,000 residents. This is due to the newer flats being larger than the original units. Nonetheless, Toa Payoh still houses a significant proportion of the 82% of Singaporeans living in HDB flats as of now.
1. Newspaper: The Straits Times, 27 Nov 1964, p. 4.
2. Housing Development Board, First Decades in Public Housing: Housing Development Board Singapore 1960-69, Singapore: Ministry for National Development and Law, 1970, p35.
3. Housing and Development Board. (2012/2013). HDB annual report 2012/2013: Key statistics. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 6. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from HDB InfoWEB: http://www10.hdb.gov.sg/eBook/AR2013/keystatistics.html
4. Housing and Development Board. (2012/2013). HDB annual report 2012/2013: Key statistics. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 7. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from HDB InfoWEB: http://www10.hdb.gov.sg/eBook/AR2013/keystatistics.html