That plain looking building that got us to stop …

24 03 2011

(at two that is!)

Passing by Dunearn Road the other day, I noticed a building that had I had forgotten about that once stood prominently close to the junction with Newton Circus. It was a building that stood out not so much as a great piece of architectural work, but one that was built on simple lines that reflected the frugality of the uncertain times during the era in which it was built. I was pleasantly surprised to find it still there, as many of its fellow buildings of the era had since made way for the wave of modernisation that has swept through Singapore.

The plain white building at the corner of Dunearn Road and Gilstead Road.

The building was when I was growing up, occupied by the Singapore Family Planning Board, serving as the board’s headquarters, right up until 1985, when the Board was closed and its work passed on to the Ministry of Health. The Board itself was formed in 1966, taking over the work of a voluntary organisation, the Singapore Family Planning Association (formed in 1949), which the building was originally built for, having been allocated the plot of land at the corner of Duneran and Gilstead Roads in 1963. The building was completed in 1968 by which time the Board had taken over from the Family Planning Association.

The building which now houses several health support groups including the Breast Cancer Foundation and the National Stroke Association, started its life as the headquarters of the Singapore Family Planning Board in 1968.

A side view of the building.

I suppose that most of my generation would remember the Board’s efforts in the 1970s more than the building, with its distinctive logo and its slew of posters and slogans which one really couldn’t miss, which sought to remind us with what was usually a picture of two girls, that, “Girl or Boy, Two is Enough”. This was everywhere, and with the powers of persuasion that most couldn’t really afford to ignore, the programme was one of the more successful ones, which many now feel contributed to the current low birth rate amongst Singaporeans. The campaign had been part of the Board’s second (of three) five year plans, launched in 1971, the first being aimed at selling the idea of family planning to 60 percent of married women aged between 15 and 44, and the third being to persuade the young to delay marriage and have children later. Based on available statistics, the success of the policies initiated by the Board can be seen in the total fertility rate falling from 3.07 in 1970 to 1.82 at the start of the 1980s. The total fertility rate in 2010 was 1.16.

Posters produced by the Family Planning Board over the years (source: National Archives of Singapore).

The National Family Planning Programme was launched with the formation of the Board in 1966 (source: http://www.healthcare50.sg).

The building which today houses several health support groups that includes the Breast Cancer Foundation, the Singapore National Stroke Association and the Epilepsy Care Group Singapore, has for a while, faded into its surroundings despite having once had a prominent position close to Newton Circus, being in the shadow of the flyovers over Newton Circus that now dominate the area. Chances are, it will soon fade altogether, being in a prime residential area … to be replaced by a luxury apartment block that the area seems to have welcomed, and with it, some of the memories we have of a programme that went too well …

A signboard belonging to the National Stroke Association in front of the building.

The porch at the entrance to the building.





They don’t build schools like they used to

18 06 2010

I just love old school buildings in Singapore. There are many built by the various missions which still survive in some form like the magnificent building that was my alma mater, now the Singapore Art Museum, and there are the many more that were built at various periods in  Singapore’s history, reflected in the architectural style (or absence of), each with a charm and character of its own. I particularly love the single storey schools, which I suppose were liked by both teachers and students: teachers as there would not be the need to trudge up and down the stairs with the heavy pile of books before and after each class, and students, as it allowed a quick dash to the expansive playing field that were usually found by the clusters of classrooms, or to the tuck shop. One such school was Anthony Road Girls’ School which my mother taught at in the 1960s. She did mention that this was her favourite school for the very reasons that I mention, and for the airy widely spaced classrooms housed in rows of single storey buildings spaced relatively widely apart, providing the classrooms with very generous ventilation.

Anthony Road Girls' School in the 1960s.

During her posting there, I had a few opportunities to accompany her, mostly on the Saturdays when classes were conducted (classes were conducted every other Saturday at one time in Singapore), when I would wait for her in the airy staff room while classes were going on. Walking around the school with her, I always caught the smell of exercise books that somehow always accompanied visits to the schools. What I remember the most was the wonderful field which ran along Clemenceau Avenue where sports days would be conducted.

The dressed up buildings that were once Anthony Road Girls' School.

It’s nice to see that the buildings are still there – although they have been disfigured somewhat for use by the Ascott Group, for what appears to be a training centre. It had previously housed the Chao Yang Special School for special needs pupils, and was before that, the temporary home for St. Margaret’s Primary School while the premises at Mount Sophia were being rebuilt soon after the Girls’ School closed its doors. It would however, really be nice to see it as it was, plain and unassuming, built as a functional and practical solution to solve a growing problem in post war Singapore.

The field and the cluster of single storey buildings gave the old school a certain charm.

The school was one of the first four “emergency” schools that were built in 1950, under the supplementary education scheme launched to provide schools to absorb the growing population of school going age children, who had had no schools to go to. Many had ended up working as juvenile hawkers which was creating a potential social problem and with the realisation of this, the then colonial government put forward the scheme which involved building “emergency” schools and also the training of more teachers to cope with the tens of thousands of school children that the schools were being built to house. The other of these first four schools were Monk’s Hill Boys’ School, and schools at Duchess Road and McNair Road. These days, schools are no longer what they used to be like, simple in form and in execution. It would be good to see some of the old schools such as this one at Anthony Road, kept as they were built to be, as a reminder of how it once was in Singapore.

Roof structures that have been added that overdress the old school buildings. It would be nice to see the buildings in their original form.