Hidden treasures amidst slabs of concrete
Although a majority of Singaporeans reside in flats, we often fail to take notice of the uniquely-designed HDBs in the midst of our neighbourhoods. Instead of looking up, we’re busy looking down at our phones, eyes fixated, fingers constantly typing or scrolling — on public transport and while walking home.
Missing these gorgeous everyday hidden gems. Instead, we chase down shiny, newfangled (and mainstream) architecture – from Marina Bay Sands to the Art Science Museum, wanting to capture that perfect shot for our Instagram feeds.
Fret not, we’ve got all you hipsters covered. Here are some our favourite quirky HDB block designs that you should totally check out
Blk 63-66 Yung Kuang Road
The group of four diamond-shaped blocks of HDB flats along Yung Kuang Road in Taman Jurong offers a glimpse into the lives of the city state’s poor. The pride and joy of Jurong in the 70s, this diamond-shaped cluster of blocks once towered over neighbouring flats at 21 storeys high.
To think this beauty was nearly demolished – we thank our lucky stars that it never happened. Or else we would never have come across photos on Instagram reflecting its clean, sharp lines.
Once a pinnacle of urban architecture in Western Singapore, the diamond-shaped block of flats pales in comparison to its newer and cleaner neighbours. It is now occupied by foreigners and low-income Singaporean families under the HDB’s Interim Rental Housing Scheme.
Blk 78 Tiong Bahru
Tiong Bahru is well known as the go-to place for weekend brunches. Yet, few have gone beyond the trendy cafes to uncover the hidden gems in Tiong Bahru. Stepping onto Yong Siak Street (just a stone’s throw away from Tiong Bahru MRT Station) will transport you to an entirely different era. You’ll realise the buildings and residences look markedly different from those found elsewhere in Singapore.
The horseshoe block stands as the only public housing building with an air raid shelter built-in. This air raid shelter is also the last remaining pre-war civilian shelter that still exists today. In case you’re wondering – yes, it was used in WWII during the Japanese air raids.
Selegie House is a building complex that consists of one block of 20-storey flats and two blocks of 10-storey flats. These blocks used to be linked by four rows of 2-storey blocks which had since been demolished and replaced with linkways.
At the time of its completion in 1963, the 60m tall 20-storey block was the tallest mixed development building in Singapore comprising both residential units and commercial shops. The complex’s completion represented HDB’s first foray into the construction of high-rise housing to accommodate a large number of residents in modern housing conditions during the post-war period.
Blk 34 Whampoa West
Older HDB flats usually have longer corridors than the new generation flats, but none can beat Block 34 in Whampoa West. At about 320 metres long, this block boasts the longest corridor in Singapore.
To put things into perspective, that’s the length of 160 doors linked together horizontally. If we were kids living in this block, we’d already be riding our scooters from one end to the other!
Also, a long block would mean more room for shops on the ground floor. The residents here have a wide range of food options, as tucked under the block is a slew of eateries, from cafes to zichar, and of course, the famous chicken rice restaurant, Boon Tong Kee.
Blk 259 Ang Mo Kio
Block 259 is Singapore’s only unique block of circular flats and is a distinctive landmark in Ang Mo Kio. Overlooking Bishan Park and Pierce Reservoir, the block was designed by HDB and is located along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 2.
It was completed in 1981, intended to build seven distinctive blocks to foster a sense of identity in each town and to establish a unique form of architecture. The point block consists of 96 five-room flats, with four units per floor.
The design is unique in a sense that it is constructed using solid instead of the usual hollow bricks, and the bedrooms face either North or South, while the living rooms and kitchens face east or west. The was meant to ensure the flat stays cool throughout the day.
Cool huh? Today, these flats are still highly sought after by prospective buyers due to its unique design.
Blk 53 Toa Payoh
In the 57 years, over a million flats were built by Singapore’s Housing & Development Board – just imagine how drastically Singapore’s landscape has changed. But of all the beautiful homes in Singapore, this particular block (Toa Payoh’s Block 53) was graced by a Queen — we kid you not.
Its unmistakable shape won it the nickname “Y-Shaped Block” amongst residents. Perched on the roof of one of Singapore’s first HDB flats, is a viewing gallery. The gallery was originally created with the intention of giving foreign dignitaries a sweeping view of Singapore’s public housing programme.
Blk 661 – 663 Buffalo Road
As part of HDB’s lift upgrading programme, the cluster of blocks near Tekka Food Centre was selected for pilot testing the installation of bubble lifts in public housing. Bubble lifts were once only found in shopping malls and hotels, and now that’s no longer the case.
When the lift ascends, you gaze out the window to a flurry of human activity down below. That can be quite therapeutic for residents returning home from a long day’s work. And certainly a blessing for those who are claustrophobic – especially if the lift breaks down.
Blk 441A and 441B Clementi
When hunger pangs hit at midnight, they just grab some cup noodles from the supermarket downstairs. When they oversleep, making it to work on time is still possible with the convenience of the MRT station at their doorstep. And then the air is burning hell during the haze season, they save on electric bills by cooling off in the air-conditioned mall downstairs, instead of turning on the ones at home throughout the day.
That’s the kind of convenience that the residents here live with, being the first HDB homeowners to enjoy the luxury of having the MRT just a stone’s throw away, and The Clementi Mall right at their doorstep. We sure hope there are plans for more of such flats to be constructed – and you definitely gotta call dibs on a unit if that ever happens.
Kampong Silat Estate
Nestled along Silat Avenue sits the five remaining four-storey blocks of the former Kampong Silat Estate. Vacated since 2012 as part of the SRS project, its inconspicuous appearance hides an interesting architectural and social history. Built between 1948-1952, these flats are the second oldest public housing estate after the more illustrious area that is Kampong Bahru (1936-1954).
The name Kampong Silat essentially refers to a village (Kampong) by the sea (silat) as prior to land reclamation, you could look out at the sea from the road. The name Kampong came about as the estate was built to house many families who moved from the Kampongs of the same name.
Consisting of 15 flats originally, these simple yet elegant buildings were well considered in their proportions and visual balance gave the undulating terrain. As of 6 June 2014, the five remaining flats of blocks 18-23 have been gazetted under the URA Masterplan.
HDB Terrace Flats
Double storeys, front porches and a sloped roof; all features of a typical terrace home, except that these actually have HDB block numbers on them! Developed by SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust, a predecessor of HDB), these landed-looking spaces were constructed around the Queenstown, Whampoa and Jalan Bahagia areas in the 1960s.
Perhaps realising that it wouldn’t be feasible with Singapore’s limited land constraints, HDB hasn’t been building anymore of these since. So, snagging one is pretty much hitting the jackpot – besides a limited supply, a HDB terrace is significantly cheaper than similar landed properties of the same size. Think anywhere between $600,000 to slightly less than a million.
Pretty much a steal eh? We think so too!
Now that you’ve been let in on these unique HDBs, it’s time to take a mini road trip around Singapore and uncover these hidden gems for yourselves!