These days, Industrial Parks and Estates are very much a feature of Singapore’s landscape beyond the city, as much as the HDB public housing estates are. I guess many would not bat an eyelid at the many unremarkable high rise industrial buildings that house light industries these days which sit alongside the low rise ones. The high rise factories, referred to as flatted factories can, I suppose, be considered to be an import to Singapore during the rapid industrialisation programme that also gave us the heavy industrial estate at Jurong Industrial Estate in the early part of the 1960s. Back then, many light industries such as metal working, shoe making, textiles and paper products, were accommodated in low rise units, in a mix of pre-war shop houses or, in wooden and zinc factories many of which were squatting on state land, and there was a pressing need to development factory space to accommodate the growing numbers and mix of light industries. The idea of the flatted factory had actually originated from Hong Kong, which had great success in providing factory units for its small manufacturers, which was its mainstay in the 1960s, relatively inexpensively in flatted factory buildings sited close to the urban areas which had access to labour and transportation.
Following a pilot programme initiated by the EDB, which gave us the first five (primitive) flatted factory buildings in Singapore, each five stories high and without lifts (ramps were installed for moving goods and materials up and down!), which by the time 1964 came along, there were five of housing a total of 870 enterprises. There was also much private investment in putting up flatted factories, and there were already 40 of these by the time the first five government ones had been erected, some a tall as eleven stories high, with lifts installed when the height of these exceeded six storeys.
Besides the many that we see all around close to or within the housing estates such as in and around Queenstown and Toa Payoh which were the early housing estates, there are also larger clusters of them in light industrial parks such as the Kolam Ayer Industrial Park where a mix of private and government flatted factory buildings can be found, set amongst roads with names that maybe sheds some light on the history of the area such as “Tannery Lane” and “Kallang Pudding Road”. The name Kallang Pudding itself does perhaps is a suggestion as to what the area was previously (there is suggestion however of the name’s origin lying in the “pokok puding” – the Malay name for the croton – a shrub with variegated leaves commonly found in Singapore), a huge swamp – the same one that lent Toa Payoh (Big Swamp in Hokkien/Malay) its name, that occupied much of the area right down to Kallang Basin (the name “Kolam Ayer” itself means a basin, pond or pool of water). Sited at the confluence of the Kallang and Whampoa Rivers, the area had once hosted a congregation of sawmills which could be fed with logs floated down the rivers. The area had also hosted site of what had once been the Municipal Dump, where much of Singapore’s rubbish would be dumped at up until 1959, when a decision was made to carry out the huge inland reclamation project in the area. Reclamation work had started at the end of 1961 with earth recovered from the major public housing project that was taking shape in Toa Payoh, with the intention to transform the entire Kallang Basin which covered an area of some 405 hectares into Singapore’s second industrial estate after Jurong. In all, by the time the first phase of the reclamation had been completed in 1969, some 3.8 million cubic metres of earth was used to fill an initial 154 hectares of the 182 hectares of area which would have been underwater during high tide.
Most of the buildings we see today in the area would have been developed from the mid 1970s onwards, with the bulk, including those erected by the JTC being built in the early 1980s when the industrial park proper was developed. It is probably one of the more interesting industrial areas to wander around, given the mix of factory buildings new and old, some on seemingly small plots of land, which gives a different feel to some of the more uniform estates that were built at one go. In and around the industrial park, there is also more than just the cluster of boring buildings to be found, and its not just in the name of Kallang Pudding Road, but there is also some interesting culinary finds … if one looks hard enough.