Commonwealth Drive Blks 74-80

Text by Eugene Tan

In his book on Singapore landmarks, S. Ramachandra writes that "Tanglin is noted not only for its hills and gardens but also for its "skyscrapers". The Housing and Development Board built their Commonwealth and Tanglin Halt Estates, of multi-storey flats." This is the legacy of a historic district soon to be entirely transformed.

Commonwealth Drive Blks 74-80 in 2013 (Photo credit: Eugene Tan)

By deduction, one could assume that Tanglin Halt got its name from the train station which serviced the industrial estate at Tanglin Halt Road and Tanglin Halt Close. Journeying from Tanjong Pagar Station, one would see, just to the right, one last housing estate before this train stop: Commonwealth Drive Blocks 74-80, completed in 1964.

1970 aerial view of Commonwealth Drive Blks 74-80

Historic photo of Tanglin Halt Estate flats

Fast-forward 49 years to 2013 and residents are preparing to move across the road to their new estate, Commonwealth 10, with blocks up to 40 storeys. In August 2008, blocks 74-80 were identified for Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), bringing to an end the life of 669 flats and 26 commercial units.

Rear facades facing one another at Commonwealth Drive Blks 74-80

To an outsider, it seems these 7 blocks of flats will be remembered for their close relationship with nature, as well as a historical identification with industry. The staircases at both ends of each block make the estate identifiable as a unit and are examples of simple strategies to give developments a sense of individuality. The large trees which shade some lower-floor units and the vast carpark at street level also recall an older time, their maturity symmetrical with the built estate; let us hope some will be retained.

Distinctively visible staircases of Commonwealth Drive Blks 74-80

Part of greater Queenstown, our country’s first Satellite Town, it is awakening to realise the bell has tolled for a historic development. Somehow timed together with SERS in several other pioneering estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Redhill and Bukit Ho Swee, it is clear that Singapore is graduating into a new era of public housing.

Commonwealth Drive Blks 74-80 after SERS announcement in 2008