Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit to Old Changi Hospital

25 08 2017

Update
26 August 2017 8.20 am

A 2nd tour has been added at 1pm on 9 September 2017.

Details on registration will be posted at 1 pm today.


Update
25 August 2017 9.07 am

Registration for the event has been closed as of 0835 hours, 25 August 2017. All slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to Old Admiralty House being scheduled for 16 September 2017 at 9 am to 11 am (rescheduled due to Presidential election on 23 September). More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


The fourth in the series of State Property visits that is being supported by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) will present participants with a rare opportunity to visit the former Changi Hospital.

For this visit, participants will have to be 18 years old and above.

Registration is closed as all slots have been taken up. An email will be sent to registered participants with admin instructions a week prior to the visit.


Old Changi Hospital

The hospital traces its origins to the Royal Air Force(RAF) Hospital Changi. That was set up in 1947 to serve the then newly established RAF Station, Singapore’s third. The hospital operated out of two Barrack Hill buildings, one of which was actually designated for use as a medical centre in the context of the military camps of today. The buildings were built as part of the Changi garrison’s 1930s vintage Kitchener Barracks, which housed the Royal Engineers. Separated by a flight of 91 steps, it took quite an effort to move from one wing to the other.

Despite its less than ideal layout, the hospital gained a reputation of being one of the best medical facilities in the Far East. It was well liked by those who were warded there with its proximity to the sea. The hospital also played an important role during the Korean War. A ward was set up for use as a stopover for the “Flying Ambulance” service the RAF mounted. The service allowed wounded UN Command troops to be repatriated to their home countries via Singapore and London.

The hospital was also an important maternity hospital that served families with all arms of the military (not just the RAF) who were stationed in Singapore and counted more than 1000 new arrivals during its time as the RAF Hospital. An expansion exercise in 1962 gave the hospital a third block.

RAF Hospital Changi became the ANZUK Military Hospital following the 1971 pullout of British forces, then the UK Military Hospital, the SAF Hospital, and finally Changi Hospital. It closed in 1997 and the buildings have been left empty since. I will be sharing more on the hospital, its buildings and the history of the Changi garrison during the visit.






Kinloss at Lady Hill Road

16 08 2017

Occupying an area of some 2,400 square metres – the size of ten HDB 4-room flats – the gem of a house at 3 Lady Hill Road is huge by any standards. Set in 1.9 hectares of land that was once part of Scottish merchant Gilbert Angus’ Lady Hill estate, the house is laid out is an untypical fashion and has over the years been put to a variety of uses.

The former Kinloss House today.

Known for much a greater part of its life as Kinloss or Kinloss House, a name that it acquired in the early 1900s, it has in more recent times been referred to as the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus. The French insurer, AXA, having occupied the premises since beautifully refurbishing and renovating it in 2009, vacated it about a month back. The house now empty, wears much of what has gone into it in the last eight years less its furnishings. What will become of it in the future is not yet known.

A meeting room put in by AXA  located in what would have been part of the boarding house’s huge refectory.

Alexander Murray

The origins of Kinloss lies with another Scotsman, the Colonial Engineer Alexander Murray, who is best known perhaps for his work on the design of Victoria Memorial Hall. Murray, a British army engineer who moved from Calcutta, had it built as his private residence in 1903. It is not known what motivated him to name the house Kinloss, but the proximity of the Scottish village to Lady Hill Castle in Elgin could perhaps be a possible explanation. Little is known of the house that Murray built in its early years except for the fact that it became the residence of the Consul of Japan to Singapore in 1909, after Murray’s retirement and return home in 1907, until sometime in the mid-1920s.

What would have been the boarding house’s library.

Much more is certain about the use of Kinloss in the 1930s, following Joseph Brook David’s purchase of the property along with neighbouring plots of land and the neighbouring house, Culemba. He had the two houses combined, with the Kinloss portion of the house being used as a servants and service area — which accounts for the property’s current scale.  A bachelor,  David was well-known as a stock broker and a race-horse owner and was associated with several other choice addresses across Singapore including 7 Oxley Rise (which became Cockpit Hotel). Dance parties and lavish balls were thrown at the expanded Kinloss, attracting many prominent members of society. David, who suffered much hardship under internment during the Japanese Occupation, passed on in Calcutta just after the war ended.

Post World War Two use of Kinloss

In 1946, the British Military set David’s mansion up as an Officers’ Mess, before turning it into a boarding house in 1957. As a boarding house, Kinloss House took in the children of military personnel who were posted to Malaya and also other parts of the region. Singapore had then been where the British Military Education Service had set schools up. The need for a large boarding house, with a capacity of 150 children, was very much due to the increase in postings of personnel “up-country” to deal with the Malayan Emergency. Barrack-like dormitories and sporting facilities – of which evidence still exists – were added to the sprawling grounds for this purpose. This arrangement lasted until 1970 when the property was handed over to the Singapore government for its use as the University of Singapore’s newly established Faculty of Architecture.

 

Kinloss House during its days as a boarding house (source: http://www.geocities.ws/jkr8m/KINLOSS_house.jpg)).

During its use as the University of Singapore’s Faculty of Architecture, Kinloss was a witness to disturbances led by the self-exiled political dissident and student union leader Tan Wah Piow, then an architecture student. Following the faculty’s move to the university’s new Kent Ridge Campus in 1976, Kinloss was transferred into the hands of the Police force to house the Police force’s Junior Officers’ Mess and Police Welfare Unit displaced by the closure in 1979 of Hill Street Police Station. Kinloss also housed several Police units such as the Arms and Explosives Branch. A Police co-operative retail store was also located on the premises. The Police moved from the premises in 2002 when a clubhouse was built at Ah Hood Road.

Participants of one of two tours I recently conducted as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property visits supported by the Singapore Land Authority.


Memories of Kinloss House (by Stephanie Keenan)

I was a boarder at Kinloss House 3 Ladyhill Road Singapore from September 1963 to May 1965.

My family lived ‘up country’ in Kuala Lumpur and the only British Forces run Grammar school was in Singapore, so those who passed their 11+ exam attended there. I remember and enjoyed the train journey from KL to Singapore and back, each end of term, and also (during & after Konfrontasi) the flights on the old Fokker Friendships.

Kinloss House was a well run boarding house with about 150 boarders and a live-in staff of about a dozen adults who were either Army Education Corps teachers or army nurses or local catering staff. The teachers and prefects exerted some strict discipline, but my lasting impression is that it was a happy place.

The former Kinloss House seen from the Nassim Road end.

Those living in Singapore attended the school as day pupils. After the new St Johns School opened in Dover Road, Sept 1964, new boarding houses were built there, and the older boarders went to board there. My fellow boarders were British, Australian, New Zealanders, Gurkhas. Also some Dutch children from Indonesia. We attended school near the Gillman Barracks in the mornings and had the long afternoons to play or take part in various sporting actitvities and then a set ‘prep’ time in the evening to do our homework.

A spiral staircase.

The other boarders lived all over Malaya – some up as far as the East coast somewhere, but mainly from Terendak near Malacca and Penang as well as Taiping and KL, although I think I was the only one from there when I started school. We all have not so fond memories of climbing a steep slope there in the morning and dashing down it in the rain at lunchtimes to catch the buses back to Kinloss. And we often sang on the bus journey back and forth! We got up to all the usual high jinks too like midnight feasts (although we were told NOT to keep food in our rooms due to ants and fruit bats), dorm raids with water and flour bombs, apple pie beds and jumping off the wardrobes onto a pile of mattresses.

The old Alexandra Grammar School became a comprehensive school and was renamed Bourne school in September 1964 when St. John’s opened. The old Alexander Grammar School at Preston Road is still there and is now the International School (ISS). St Johns is also still there and is now the UWCSEA.

Kinloss House

In the main house there were female dormitories and in the grounds, which sloped down in a series of terraces towards a stream, were a series of long barrack type huts which were also dormitories for the boys and older girls, the staff quarters, ‘sick bay’ and store rooms. These huts were demolished in about the 1990s. The remains of the tennis and basketball courts can still be found, now the territory of a monitor lizard and kingfishers.

The main staircase.

The interior of the house has been re-modelled in at least one of its tenancies. When I visited last year even the staircase was in a slightly different configuration. I remember as you entered the main house there was the Junior common room on your left, the refectory hall on your right, a smaller hall ahead of you (where I learned to ballroom dance) with adjoining housemaster’s and matron’s offices. The kitchens and local staff quarters were behind the refectory area and out of bounds to us students.

What would have been the Junior Common Room.

Upstairs, at the top of the stairs was a large open area bounded by a small ‘library’ which was where we did ‘prep’, watched the occasional film, and had weekly dances. Off this were two dormitories further staff quarters, and a small store room where memorably one of the biology teachers once enlightened us with the ‘facts of life’.

The staircase seen from what would have been the library.

Beyond the ‘prep’ area and above the refectory and kitchens were more dormitories clustered around an internal courtyard, which was used for parking. The whole perimeter area was encircled by a high barbed wire fence.

The internal courtyard.

The Kinloss House song (adapted from and sung to the tune ‘Oh Island in the Sun’ ) begins “Oh Kinloss in the sun, given to me by McLevie’s hand. All my days I will sing of hate of that big big house with the barbed wire gate”. Most ex Kinlossites, however, seem to look back on their time there as very happy. We worked hard, played hard, and benefitted from firm and mostly fair discipline.

Another view of the staircase and what would have been the library.

My understanding (via Mr David Anthony, housemaster during my time there) was that the house had been owned by a Mr Tan pre World War II, who had a number of cinemas in Singapore. It was taken over by the Japanese, and then again by the RAF after WWII.

The British High Commission was next door to Kinloss House when I was there. The Commissioner had a daughter Jill Moore who was the same age as me who was apparently lonely and so girls of my age, including me, were invited there for tea from time to time. I went the day after the Rolling Stones had visited and signed my name under theirs in the visitor’s book! When I went for tea Jill’s parents were absent and she was waited on by a tall Sikh servant in imposing turban.


The visit to 3 Lady Hill Road, the second in the ‘Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets’ series of State Property Visits, was made possible with the support by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). A total of about 60 participants were able to visit the property over two 45-minute tours. Another tour in the series that has been completed was to the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station. Future tours include ones to Old Kallang Airport on 26 Aug 2017 (for which no more spaces are available),  a yet to be disclosed location on 9 Sep 2017, and Old Admiralty House on 23 Sep 2017. Links will be posted for registration on a Friday two weeks prior to the respective event – do look out for announcements as to when the links will be posted on this site as well as on Facebook.






Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit Old Kallang Airport

11 08 2017

Update
11 August 2017 9.15 am

Registration for the event has closed as of 0906 hours, 11 August 2017, as all slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to a surprise location being scheduled for 9 September 2017 at 10 am to 12 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


Old Kallang Airport needs no introduction. Decommissioned since 1955, what remains of Singapore’s very first civil airport has for what seems the longest of time looked out of place right next to Singapore’s very first highway. There is little in what’s left of it that tells us of the part it played in several historical moments including the arrival of a suitably impressed Amelia Earhart in the weeks after it was opened – just weeks before her mysterious disappearance, and also the dawn of the jet age in the few years before it closed. There is a chance to find out a little more of the part the airport – touted as the most modern aerodrome at its opening in June 1937, the part it played in Singapore’s aviation history, and discover some of the lovely spaces that lie within its buildings on 26 August 2017 as part of the third in the series of “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets” State Property Visits supported by the Singapore Land Authority.

The details of the visit are as follows:

Date : 26 August 2017
Time : 4 pm to 6 pm
Address: 9 Stadium Link Singapore 397750 (Access via Kallang Airport Way)

(Participants should be of age 18 and above)

Registration will close on 19 August at 11:59 pm, or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.


Further information / previous visits in the series:


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit Kinloss House

28 07 2017

Update
28 July 2017 6.10 pm

Registration for the event has closed as of 1810 hours, 28 July 2017, as all slots for the two tours have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to Old Kallang Airport scheduled for 26 August 2017 at 4 to 6 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


The former Kinloss House, more recently repurposed as the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus, sits in an exclusive and sprawling 1.9 hectare site at the Lady Hill Road. Thought to have originally been built as a private residence of the then Colonial Engineer Alexander Murray in the early 1900s, the property has undergone several transformations. Over the years, it has seen use as a residence for the Japanese Consul, a British Army officers’ mess, a boarding house for children of Far East based British military personnel, the University of Singapore’s Faculty of Architecture and a Police junior officers’ mess. Beautifully restored when it was turned into the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus, a training centre for the AXA Group, in 2009, the property now sits vacant.

As part of Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets, two 45-minute tours will be run in the afternoon of 12 August 2017. The first tour will be conducted at 4 pm and the second at 5 pm. There is a maximum capacity of 30 participants per tour and registration will be required at:

Registration for Tour 1 (4pm): https://goo.gl/forms/WrKxjB9isGtXKiV22

Registration for Tour 2 (5pm): https://goo.gl/forms/TTEKlGDzFl8Jl9hb2

Registration will close on 5 August at 11:59 pm, or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.

The beautifully restored property was repurposed as the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus in 2009 (source: online at HYLA Architects).

Further information:





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit a former power station

14 07 2017

Registration for the event has closed as of 1800 hours, 14 July 2017, as all slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to a gem of a former boarding house scheduled for 12 August 2017 at 4 to 6 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


There are some gems of spaces and structures that belong to the State. Locked away behind locked gates and with “No Trespassing” signs prominently displayed, they are hidden away from most of us. That is of course for a very good reason, but what it also means is that many will never get to appreciate the beauty found in these spaces and structures. Thanks to the support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the agency under the Ministry of Law that manages State Property, an arrangement has been made to have some of these otherwise secretive sites opened up for a supervised group visit.

The first property that will feature in this series of State Property visits, will be the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station on 29 July 2017. The former station building, which is still in excellent condition, features a red-bricked face typical of utilitarian architecture of the era it was built in. It has two spacious halls, supported by frames of steel, are well lit by natural light coming in through the building’s generous openings. Now cleared of its boilers and turbines, it is a joy for a photographer. More about the building and the former station’s history can be found at: Beautiful in its abandonment: the red-brick power station at Pasir Panjang.

Pre-registration will be required for the visit, which is scheduled for 10 am to 12 noon, as there are limited spaces. The visit will also be limited to those of ages 18 and above due to safety considerations.

To register, please visit https://goo.gl/forms/fVfkDckml3CKznBi2.

Registration will close on 22 July 11:59 pm or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.





Beautiful in its abandonment: the red-brick power station at Pasir Panjang

20 06 2017

Photos taken during visit as part of the Singapore Heritage Festival 2018 on 22 April:


There is a certain charm about the utilitarian, red-brick faced ‘A’ power station at Pasir Panjang. Comparable in appearance to the much-loved and now lost National Library at Stamford Road, the former station stands in relative obscurity in a neglected corner of Singapore.

Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station. Commissioned in 1953, it was Singapore’s second power station. Decommisisoned in the early 1980s, it lost its two iconic 235 foot high chimneys in the 1990s.

‘A’ station, completed in 1952-53, acquired the designation ‘A’ when a second or ‘B’ station was added just adjacent to it in 1965. Built at a time when such red-brick faced constructions seemed the fashion, it is evocative of an age at which the foundations for Singapore’s huge transformation were being laid. The elegance that ‘A’ station wears, one that seems to be missing in the form of its nearby and more modern counterpart, belies the fact that the station had been built in desperate circumstances. At the point of its opening, Singapore’s second station, constructed almost three decades after the first, was badly needed due to an acute shortage in electricity supply. St. James, Singapore’s first power station, which had been built with an initial capacity of 2 MW in 1926., was producing a maximum of 37 MW by 1948 (see also Electricity in Singapore). However, by 1950, maximum demand stood at 43.5 MW, and with the supply clearly insufficient, load shedding was introduced. This affected one-third of the electrical consumers in the municipality turned city each night.

The red brick power station and its two 235 feet high chimneys in the early days of the station (online at https://roots.sg/).

‘A’ power station was opened by Governor Sir John Nicoll on 3 July 1953 to great promise. Two of the intended six 25 MW turbo-alternators had been commissioned by then. More were to be added and by 1958, it had reached it intended output of 150 MW – a number that was thought at the planning stage to be sufficient to meet power supply requirements for 20 years. In that time, 260 substations were also built, some 230 kilometres of 22kV distribution cables laid (there also was an upgrade from a 6.6 kV transmission system to a 22 kV one) and 34,700 consumers added. Bulk supply could also provided to Johor Bahru. Power supplied by the station also helped launch Singapore’s big industrial push in the 1960s. With demand already reaching 105.7 MW in at the point of the commissioning of the sixth alternator, an additional 25 kW was added to Pasir Panjang ‘A’ station’s capacity in 1962. With demand increasing,  the construction of a new station, the ‘B’ station, commenced soon after  in 1963.

The former Pasir Panjang ‘B’ Power Station, which was opened in October 1965.

‘B’ station opened with an initial capacity of 120 MW in October 1965, half of its planned capacity of 240 MW. Even this would not be enough to fuel the rapid growth in demand and a new 240 MW power station in Jurong Industrial Estate had to be planned for as the ‘B’ station was taking shape. The commissioning of ‘B’ Station also allowed electrical power supplied to the island of Pulau Bukom from November 1965. Power on the island, where Shell commissioned Singapore’s first refinery in the early 1960s, had to be drawn from the island’s own generating plant prior to this. The opening of the ‘B’ station also saw the transmission system upgraded to 66kV with the existing 22 kV system relegated to a sub-transmission system (the current high voltage transmission network, introduced in 1976, distributes electricity at 230 kV).

Inside the Turbine Hall of the ‘A’ power station (online at National Archives of Singapore Online).

The death knell for the stations was sounded in the late 1970s with more advanced, higher capacity, and cleaner (one common complaint was of soot falling from the sky in the area) power stations such as Senoko and Pulau Seraya being built. ‘A’ station was decommissioned in mid-1980 and ‘B’ in the late 1990s. The stations’ buildings were re-purposed following their decommissioning and are still standing today sans their iconic chimneys. While ‘A’ station is now left vacant, ‘B’ station’s main building is currently in use as the Pasir Panjang District Office of SP PowerGrid Ltd. It is not known what the future holds for the two sets of buildings as the only thing that the URA Master Plan tells us, is that the stations sit on a “reserve site”.

Related:


Note: My visit to the former Pasir Panjang Power Station was made with the kind permission of the Singapore Land Authority.


The abandoned Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station

The cleared out Turbine Hall.

Tall steel columns of the Turbine Hall – part of the metal skeleton of the building.

Reflections on the Turbine Hall.

The building has a generous amount of windows to allow natural light in.

Space under the platform of the Turbine Hall.

Reflections of the skylight in the Turbine Hall.

A steel beam, marked with its origin.

Electricity was distributed at 6. 6 kV before Pasir Panjang was built, when high-voltage transmission was done at 22 kV. The Pasir Panjang generators produced electricity at distribution voltage, and this be fed directly into the transmission network.

Transmission was switched to a higher voltage of 66 kV when the ‘B’ station was completed in 1965 and the 22 kV transmission network was used as a sub-distribution system.

Colour coded fire hydrant.

Stairway to the platform level.

The Boiler Hall.

Steel columns on the platform level.

Another view of the platform level.

Bracing on the steel framework.

Storage tanks for the power station’s oil fired boilers.

A weighbridge.

A last look at the Turbine Hall.


Some ‘B’ station facilities

‘B’ station’s pump house – the cooling plant, originally supplied by Mather and Platt Ltd, could supply 50,000 gallons of water a minute.

Inside the pump house.

Inside the pump house.

The added capacity of the ‘B’ power station permitted the supply of power to Pulau Bukom in Nov 1965. The commissioning to the ‘B’ power station also saw a shift to a 66 kV high voltage distribution network with the 22 kV network relegated to a sub-transmission system.

A room inside the chlorine handling facility.

Inside the chlorine handling facility.


Electricity in Singapore

The use of electricity for the purposes of lighting in Singapore goes back to 1897 when the Tanjong Pagar Dock company introduced electric lighting to its machine shops. It would be some years before the Municipality would adopt electric street lighting, which was introduced to Raffles Place, North Bridge Road and Boat Quay in 1906. This move coincided with the installation of a generator by the Singapore Tramways Company (later Singapore Traction Company) at MacKenzie Road for the purposes of powering its electric trams. Excess electricity distributed via a 460 V D.C. three-wire network, was sold in bulk to the Municipality, who in turn also sold electricity to some 42 consumers. This grew to 110 consumers in the first year and expanded rapidly thereafter.

The generating station at Singapore Tramways Company’s MacKenzie Road depot.

This arrangement went on for some 20 years, with supply also provided by the Singapore Harbour Board from 1924, until the coal fired St. James Power Station was built in 1926. The construction of the station were on the recommendations of a commission appointed by the Municipal Commission. The site at the promontory at St. James was selected due to its location by the coast as well as its proximity to the railway line, which ran to Pasir Panjang. This allowed the coal required to fire the station’s boilers to be delivered either by sea or by rail.





Light at the end of a tunnel

26 09 2016

The tunnel under the circus at Jalan Bahru (now where Jurong Town Hall Road passes under the Ayer Rajah Expressway) was one of three railway tunnels built for the industrial Jurong Railway Line. The line, built as part of the development of Jurong Indistrial Estate in the mid 1960s, was one of the more profitable sections of the Malaysian run railway and fell into disuse in the early 1990s.

Large parts of the abandoned line have since been built over, although several sections of it, including a series of steel and concrete bridges and sections of tracks can still be found. The tunnels, all of which were constructed by Hong Guan Construction Engineering Co. Ltd. and lined with corrugated steel, are also still around. The westernmost tunnel, now under Jurong Pier Circus (previously the junction of Jalan Buroh and Jalan Pabrik) is difficult to reach. A third tunnel,  under Clementi Road, is being extended for the road widening project taking place above it.

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The sports complex at Turnhouse Road

24 06 2015

Permission was obtained from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) for this visit. 


Lying silently and somewhat forgotten is a set of structures that is seemingly out of place in an area dominated by buildings of the former Royal Air Force Changi station (RAF Changi). An award winning sports complex that was completed in October 1982, the set of structures was the Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group Sports Club and had been built on the site of a previous sports facility, the former RAF Changi’s Airmen’s Swimming Pool. The S$11 million modern looking complex at 24 Turnhouse Road, one of the early post RAF Changi era interventions in the previously restricted section of Changi Point, was built to replace to the club’s facilities at the former international airport at Paya Lebar.

The former SIA Groups Sports and Recreation Club complex at 24 Turnhouse Road.

The former SIA Groups Sports Club complex at 24 Turnhouse Road.

The approach to the former club.

The approach to the former club along Turnhouse Road.

Windows into a more recent past.

Windows into a more recent past.

Erected at a time when several larger organisations were also investing in similar leisure facilities, the 2.68 ha. complex was thought of as second only to Shell’s impressive facilities at Pulau Bukom and Paya Lebar and catered for a variety of popular sports. It boasted of a seven lane Olympic size swimming pool, a children’s pool, basketball and netball courts, playing fields, three tennis courts, four squash courts, and a multi-purpose hall with three badminton courts.

The entrance to the club.

The entrance to the club.

The main staircase.

The main staircase.

The multi-purpose hall.

The multi-purpose hall.

And the seven-lane Olympic size swimming pool.

And the seven-lane Olympic size swimming pool.

The row of squash courts.

The row of squash courts.

The club’s architectural design, for which it won an award, has been described in an article on page 6 of the 18 June 1981 edition of the Straits Times:

The architecture of the complex is imaginative in concept and bold in design, featuring a four level chalet style building with sloping roofs, wide eaves and cantilevered balconies … An important aspect of the design is the viewing terrace, which links all sports and recreational areas. A roof deck on the topmost level of one wing offers superb views of the general surroundings, while a viewing balcony overlooks the multi-purpose hall and four squash courts.

A view from the sea towards the area where the former club is. The structures of its buildings stand out in the distance.

A view from the sea towards the area where the former club is. The structures of its buildings stand out in the distance.

The viewing balcony.

The viewing balcony.

The upper floor corridor overlooking the swimming pool.

The upper floor corridor overlooking the swimming pool.

What would have been a snack kiosk next to the swimming pool.

What would have been a snack kiosk next to the swimming pool.

A view out to the swimming pool.

A view out to the swimming pool.

Pipework in the club's boiler room.

Pipework in the club’s boiler room.

Besides catering for sports, the club also provided for indoor activities, other hobbies and dining. Housed within its buildings were food and beverage outlets, a gym, a reading room, a conference room, a lounge, a jackpot machine room, an electronic games arcade, as well as rooms for billiards, darts and television. An innovation of the day that the club put to use was a solar powered water heating system.

What must have been a function or conference room.

What must have been a function or conference room.

A restaurant space.

A restaurant space.

A view across the pool to the viewing balconies.

A view across the pool to the viewing balconies.

Despite the club’s enviable facilities, membership fell in its first years of operations at its new premises from a high of 5253 members in 1981 to a low of 1200, based on a 1983 report by in Suara Satu, the newsletter of Singapore Air Transport-Workers’s Union (SATU). Increased membership fees, distance and a lack of transportation to the club had been cited as a contributing factor. This saw the club open its doors to Division 1 civil servants, as well as staff of client airlines of its subsidiary Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS). There was also talk then of the club finding new premises or being opened to the public coming to the surface.

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The club did eventually move out – to its current facilities off Upper Changi Road East in 2006, leaving the clubhouse at Turnhouse Road abandoned. Today it remains unused – except for the occasional event being held there. The future of the club’s former buildings is uncertain, although an adaptive reuse may be found for the site in the interim during which time the structures will stand perhaps as a lesser known and temporary reminder of a period of Changi Point’s development that was influenced by the arrival of the new airport at Changi.

A terrace with a view to the sea.

A terrace with a view to the sea.

A view across to 23B Turnhouse Road, now a seafood restaurant.

A view across to 23 Turnhouse Road, now a seafood restaurant.

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The end of the Middle

3 04 2014

Long abandoned, a reminder of a time we have well forgotten, the former Bras Basah Community Centre, lies crumbling as it awaits a fate that does seem almost inevitable. For the moment, it serves as a reminder of the once gentle world that the new world seems to have little place for, one in which humble urban spaces for the community such as these were ones we could celebrate.

Patterns of a discarded world - ventilation openings from simpler and less energy dependent times.

Patterns of a discarded world – ventilation openings from simpler and less energy dependent times.

More patterns from forgotten times.

More patterns from forgotten times.

The former community centre, with group of single-storey buildings is set in a very generously provided space – unlike the compact, cluttered and overly crowded ones we have gotten used to seeing today. Opened in November 1960 as the Middle Road Community Centre, it was built to provide the community, at a time when the area played host to a large resident population, with a point of focus. It also provided a safe place where the young  could expand their energy in with the provision of facilities such as two basketball courts which could also be used for badminton and sepak-takraw, as well as those for games such as chess and table-tennis.

An aerial view of the former Middle Road / Bras Basah Community Centre - the Empress Hotel, where the National Library now stands, can be seen at the top of the left hand side of the photograph.

An aerial view of the former Middle Road / Bras Basah Community Centre – the Empress Hotel, where the National Library now stands, can be seen at the top of the left hand side of the photograph.

A view of the grounds of the former community centre from high above where the Empress once reigned.

A view of the grounds of the former community centre from high above where the Empress once reigned.

The former centre provides a contrast against the new and modern world that has come up around it.

The former centre provides a contrast against the new and modern world that has come up around it.

One of the basketball courts was indeed where some of the young did, in early 1963, expand some energy in. An article I did come across in the National Library’s newspaper archives from 20 April 1963’s edition of The Straits Times, tells us of children discovering a hoard of banknotes and coins – believed to have been buried by residents of the area prior to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese , in digging a hole for a game of marbles on one of the centre’s two basketball courts.

A stash of buried money was found under one of the centre's two basketball courts in 1963.

A stash of buried money was found under one of the centre’s two basketball courts in 1963.

One of the basketball courts today.

One of the basketball courts today.

The centre was closed in 1987, after the area was cleared of its residents in the decade of what I term as the Great Wipeout. It found use for a while as a kindergarten called the Kinder World Educare Centre, but has in more recent times, remained vacant and has suffered from neglect. With the state of the grounds of the community centre and its buildings are in, it perhaps may not be long before holes are dug to remove the former community centre, and with that what’s left to remind us of the various communities it did once serve.

A view of the centre from a service road..

A view of the centre from a service road.

Reminders of the use of the former community centre as a kindergarten.

Reminders of the use of the former community centre as a kindergarten.

 More views around the former Community Centre

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