Singapore / SIT: Inception of Toa Payoh New Town

SIT's Master Plan in 1958 - Toa Payoh
SIT’s Master Plan in 1958 – Toa Payoh. Source:

In 1951, the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) started preparing for a master plan that would guide land use and development in Singapore. A new satellite town in Toa Payoh was included as one of the town developments, with the SIT predicting it to have an estimate population of 136,700 by 1972, which would be the double of that in the 1950s. [1] From the 1958 SIT master plan of Toa Payoh, it could be speculated that the SIT planners/architects took inspiration from British models like the Garden City as reflected by its winding roads and roundabouts, forming radial patterns. This is similar to how SIT planned its first project Tiong Bahru, which was also influenced by British New Towns, but in terms of flats design and spatial organisation.


Preliminary organisation of Toa Payoh 

SIT's Preliminary Plan of Toa Payoh New Town, 1958
SIT’s Preliminary Plan of Toa Payoh New Town, 1958. Source:

While the planned residential areas in Toa Payoh is indicated by the beige areas on the SIT master plan, mixed with industrial areas along the major artery as indicated by purple – also reminiscent of the Garden Cities idea – the preliminary plan of Toa Payoh shows a better idea of how SIT envisaged the New Town to be in terms of block design and their orientation. The organisation almost looks like an abstract piece of artwork with the these regularly shaped slab-block configurations interweaving sinuous curvilinear streets. These SIT favoured slab-blocks are known to allow for a high degree of standardisation, structural efficiency, and rapid construction. This useful attribute later facilitated the newly elected PAP government to deliver their massive promise of 50,000 resettlement flats in SIT’s successor – the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) first Five-Year Plan, well-timed with the electoral term. [2]


Kim Keat / Temple Estate in Toa Payoh

The white SIT three-storey flats stood side-by-side with the brown attap houses of the kampong – 1954


Nine-storey SIT flats – 1958


Between the preparation (1951) and approval (1958) of the proposed SIT Master Plan, SIT had actually built the first mass housing estate in Toa Payoh – Kim Keat, also known as Temple Estate – in 1954 as part of the process of clearing out slums and overcrowding. The three-storey flats were a success which prompted SIT to build more flats, taller at nine-storey four years later in 1958. After Kim Keat, HDB took over from SIT in 1960 and the 1958 master plan of Toa Payoh was not executed but revised.



1. Colony of Singapore. (1958) Master Plan – Written Statement. Singapore: Tien Wah Press

2. 50,000 Units Up, Homes for the People (1965) – A Review of Public Housing by the Singapore Housing & Development Board


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