Text by Eugene Tan

Some feel that Marina Bay lacks the type of citizen housing which endears and enables it to be thought of as a national tableau. Our selection of five public housing projects show that this was not the case for older 'downtowns', though. Their aggregation hopefully sheds light on the expanse of what we might consider a 'national' or 'collective' space where citizens live, work, and play.

Bras Basah Complex

In 1976, then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew said: "We do not intend to let the population drift away from the city centre because of the high price of land. It would be wasteful to have such a city. We must retain that unique feature of the Singapore that we have known for so long, a city bustling with life from the crack of drawn to past midnight, one which throbs with life and vitality."

Prefiguring developments like Chinatown Complex and Rochor Centre, Mr Lee added that the government would "have more areas like Tanjong Pagar Plaza, with a swimming pool (Yan Kit) nearby, a garden and green space (like Duxton Plain Park) and a community centre (Tanjong Pagar)."

This vision of housing within the city centre took the form of high-rise, modern mixed-use developments by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Not only meant as new homes and rehousing for people who lived in 'slums' or 'unsafe' properties, they would also accommodate street hawkers and market stalls from the various bazaars and city alleys, popular at that time. This was enacted using the Land Acquisition Act, passed by parliament some time after indepedence in October 1966. This led to a peak of more than 18,000 resettled households between 1980 and 1981, up from under 400 cases in 1960.

Residents affected by the land acquisition received cash grants, which following a revised act in 1973, fixed the compensation amount for acquired land at the market value. On top of that, affected families received priority in flat allocation priority under the HDB's Home Ownership Scheme.

These steps in making city living accessible, first and foremost to the area's original residents, is a stark contrast to the exorbitant prices of recent Marina Bay projects. While developments such as Chinatown Complex and Tanjong Pagar Plaza act to keep the city active at all times of the day, Marina Bay's residential properties, in contrast again, face low occupancy which leaves its streets empty after working hours.

In and around these HDB projects built between the late 1960s and early 1980s, perhaps we still see spaces which are representative of Singapore, its development, and the aspirations of its people. It is important, therefore, that the the concept of a national or collective space not be limited to the glamorous architecture found around the reclaimed land of Marina Bay, and Mr Lee's idea of a Singapore city be kept in mind.


Rochor Centre

Together with other second generation HDB projects such as Tanjong Pagar Plaza and Hong Lim Complex, Rochor Centre is one of several mixed-use developments in the city.


Bras Basah Complex

Encapsulating the vibrancy and trades of the old Bras Basah Road, Bras Basah Complex is a specialist centre for everything arts, crafts, and books. Another exponent of the typical podium-tower configuration of public housing in the city centre, its mixed functions intermingle to create a unique, convivial atmosphere.


Precinct North 1

A longstanding hallmark for the success of local public housing, this early development possesses a unique layout which integrates high and low blocks in alternating directions, creating incidental pockets of spatial delight.


Chinatown Complex

The heart of the local community, Chinatown Complex forms a small enclave within the bustling streets where locals live, work, and play. Explore the market, shops and food centre, and observe the many senior citizens enjoying the company of their peers around the area.


Tanjong Pagar Plaza

The third podium-tower edifice of our tour, note the subtle similarities and differences between all three mixed-use developments, and their respective ways of integrating their functions with the environment. Its linear courtyard is a distinguishing feature.