The Overseas Friend Trail

Text by Eugene Tan

'I'm going to Singapore and expecting you to show me a good time!' That's what your friend says as your mind flashes to the strobe lights of Clarke Quay. Save that for later. Spend your day at these buildings that were abandoned for periods and have met different fates. Show this person a side of Singapore that even you, perhaps, didn't know about.

Artist's Impression

Buildings in Singapore rarely, if not never, show their age. Land is far too valuable, and leases often far too short for that to happen. The rarity alone, makes these (once) abandoned buildings worth a visit. Furthermore, all of these buildings exist in precarious states, facing uncertain futures which also make this trail about 6 Buildings To Visit Before They Are Gone.

This trail will be your chance to share deeper ruminations on Singapore and its Minor histories with your overseas friend. When he/she asks what we can learn from these places (some in greater states of ruination than others), you can reference Georg Simmel, for whom ruins were not only the cessation of a space's potential, but an inevitably which stems from the cosmic order wherein all things return to nature. You may also recall Walter Benjamin who saw the ruin as a process, a means of demystifying and stripping away symbolism – a way of approaching historical truth through reduction, at the expense of romantic aesthetics.

Philosophers aside, what is certain is that these spaces in their becoming-ruin reveal the impossibility of a singular utopian vision. Failure to overcome nature, or the undercurrent of tragedy are surely irreconcilable with modern Singapore's image which fuels overseas investment and tourism. This will also be your chance to explain how Singapore is incredibly land scarce, and together, speculate how these buildings, through their precarious lives, escaped the conventional paradigm of upgrading and redevelopment.

Start Northwest among farms and military facilities at the LIM CHU KANG RURAL CENTRE, a former housing estate which now acts as a training space for the Singapore Armed Forces. While it serves a utilitarian purpose, its detachment from the rest of society suggests there is little else keeping this little village around. Next, head south and bypass the site of the former TAO CHING ROAD BLOCKS 103-105. Recently redeveloped as an Executive Condominium, the old flats were vacant for nearly 4 years, in which time it was speculated that the blocks would be refurbished and leased to foreign workers.

Head towards Bukit Timah Road, where a good food stop might be Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre. The next stop, THE GRANDSTAND, is the rebranded former Bukit Turf Club. Although never properly abandoned, it was left in a state of deterioration for more than decade after the Singapore Turf Club moved to Kranji. While the bleachers offer great views of Eng Neo and MacRitchie, the idiosyncratic spaces made the structure less amenable to commercial reuse. It was only in 2011, when a new landlord took over the property that the decade of degradation began to be erased. This shopping mall, however, is an entirely interim arrangement, pending long-term development of the land.

The following two stops, ISTANA WOODNEUK and TANGLIN HILL BRUNEIAN HOSTEL share one thing in common: the land they sit on doesn't belong to Singapore. Owned by the royal family of Johor and the Bruneian government respectively, these buildings have been abandoned for decades, and taken on new lives as photography hot spots.

Finally, travel Northeast to the historic, yet notorious OLD CHANGI HOSPITAL. Abandoned for nearly two decades and the interest of paranormal investigators for just as long, numerous attempts at having the compound revived and join part of a lifestyle enclave were unsuccessful until 2014 when it finally found investors to transform it into a boutique hotel. And maybe some Changi food to finish?

Be happy, you've just made a smile across Singapore!


Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre

After an en bloc in 2002, the estate has since served as an urban warfare training facility for the Singapore Armed Forces. Vacant for most parts of the day, the soldiers have given a second life to this resettlement village from yesteryear.


Tao Ching Road Blks 103-105

Demolished in 2012, these flats were part of the intensive development carried out by JTC, accommodating the many individuals who put up with overcrowded conditions in order to be near Jurong's factories. The expedient construction may have contributed to inferior building quality, leading to its SERS selection in 2004.


The Grandstand (Old Turf Club)

When it was opened in 1933, the Grandstand at Bukit Timah was declared ‘a truly impressive sight’. Although it has been extensively upgraded over the past fifty years, the basic structure remains unaltered.


Istana Woodneuk

This derelict hilltop mansion is a symbol of both Singapore's colonial roots and her long history with Malaysia. On grounds still belonging to the royal family of Johor, it also operates as allegory for the irrepressible forces of time and nature, the effects of which are rarely seen on Singapore soil.


Tanglin Hill Bruneian Hostel

Abandoned since 1983, the state of limbo in which the former hostel exists is due to the Bruneian land ownership, and conceivably also attributed to the area's strict zoning regulations which make it difficult for the property to be flipped for public or commercial gain.


Old Changi Hospital

While the veracity of Old Changi Hospital's reputation as a haunted site is debatable, the hardships and ills endured by British troops within its walls were factually documented. With this baggage, the colonial building has struggled to reinvent itself, remaining unoccupied for 17 years, only recently reincarnated as a boutique hotel.