The Class VIII Government quarters at Haig Road

26 10 2019

Built as government housing by the Public Works Department (PWD) in 1951, the cluster of 42 simple two-storey houses off Haig Road in the news this week, are representative of the period of austerity they were built in. Originally 48 units, arranged in 8 rows of 6 (1 of which has since made way for a road project), their design was a departure from the housing that the government had provided its officers with prior to that. Given a “Class VIII” designation, the two-bedroom units housed junior officers of various departments, including Broadcasting, Civil Aviation, Education, Postal and Telecoms. The quarters line streets named after common trees, Tembusu, Gajus (cashew), Binjai (a type of mango), and Beringin (weeping fig).  

A 1951 PWD Photograph.

The construction of the quarters was part of a PWD effort that also saw the erection of three schools over a 12 ha. site. The unique quality of the development was reported by the Singapore Free Press, who in a June 1951 article, made the observation that “there would be nothing like this when it is completed”. The schools that came up with the housing were two primary schools Haig Boys’ School, Haig Girls’ School, and a secondary school, Tanjong Katong Girls ‘s School.

The houses today

The houses have been rented out by the State on short term (2-year) tenancy agreements through managing agent Knight Frank, with 34 units currently tenanted. Despite the short term nature of the arrangements and the age of the properties, the very attractive rents (I have been advised that the median rate is $2700/- per month for the 100 square metre built-up area units) make the houses an appealing proposition. A walk around the neighbourhood will reveal the varied tenant mix this has attracted, as well as the condition that some of the houses are in. Feedback has been given by some tenants on leaking roofs and choked toilets, pipes and drains.

The southern section of Jalan Tembusu.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), who maintains the property on behalf of the State, will be carrying out extensive repair and upgrading works from January 2021. This will address the issues raised and ensure that the properties are in good condition for the longer term and will include electrical, plumbing and roof works. SLA has been engaging tenants individually since April 2019 on this, and has permitted an extension to existing tenancy arrangements to the end of 2020. The works are expected to be completed at the end of 2021 and existing tenants who are interested in returning once the works are completed will be able to register their interest to rent the property, which will be let out at prevailing market rates.

Part of the demolished row at the northern section of Jalan Tembusu.


One of the units that is in a relatively better condition.


The southern section of Jalan Tembusu – its proximity to East Coast Road and its shops and eating places also makes the houses an attractive choice for short term rental.


The meeting of Haig Road and the southern section of Jalan Tembusu.


The house have both front yards …

… and back yards that allow tenants to grow fruit tree and daily use items.


One of the since demolished units – seen in 2018.


Another unit from the northern section of Jalan Tembusu. The units feature living and dining spaces at ground level and two bedrooms on the upper level. Access is provided by a well-lit staircase arranged in the extended part of the house.


A vacant unit in relatively good condition.

There are signs of water seepage in quite a few of the units.

Ventilation openings – an essential part of the tropical architecture of old – is very much in evidence.

A look around the unit that is probably in the worst condition among the 42

The inside of a unit that will require a quite a lot of work to be done on it.

There seems a fair bit of water seepage from the roof of this unit – as is evident in the condition of the ceiling boards.








A secret hideaway

27 09 2012

Lying in a quiet corner of Katong, is an old bungalow, a secret hideaway it may seem, that even with a very modern looking extension that it has recently gained, still exudes a charm it must have had when it was first built. Built at the turn of the last century, the house raised on piers, tells of a time and place we have long forgotten, a time when the song of the sea would be heard from the nearby shore which since been moved. It is today ventilated not by the breeze of a nearby sea that its generous windows were meant to welcome, but choked by a surroundings in it is now out of place in.

A house that feels like a secret hideaway in Katong.

The house which is located at 25 Chapel Road, is one on which much has been done to keep its charm – a recent conservation effort undertaken by the owners won a Urban Redevelopment Auitority (URA) award for conservation – the URA Architectural Heritage Award in 2010. Part of the conservation efforts involved work on refurbishing some of the exterior features such as floral mouldings and ‘Peranakan’ tiles found on the steps that lead up to the house, the excellent condition of which is clearly seen today.

Floral mouldings on the balustrade of a stairway to a forgotten world.

Peranakan tiles on the steps leading up to the house.

Restored floral mouldings on the exterior of the house.

I had a recent opportunity to see the house for myself, the green and white bamboo chicks of a type which once adorned many verandahs and baclonies, colouring what would be the openings on the house’s open verandah, was the first thing to catch my attention. It is up one of the two flights of steps that flank that the verandah, step that are gaily decorated by ‘Peranakan’ tiles and lined by concrete balustrades on which the floral mouldings are evident, that the charm of the very simply furnished and very airy verandah becomes apparent. It would have been a wonderful place to spend quiet evenings relaxing in, fanned by the cool breeze of the sea.

The front of the house with its polygonal verandah and a new extension which now accommodates bedrooms and bathrooms.

Part of the well ventilated open polygonal verandah.

More of the airy verandah.

Another one of the verandah.

Stepping on the restored floorboards of timber, I am taken back to a place of my childhood, a place that is no longer there. The wooden wall panels, and details on them certainly spoke of that time forgotten. I step into the main hall beyond the wood of the wall, greeted by a spacious but cosy room which might in its pre-conserved state, have been sub-divided to accommodate a bedroom, as is the room beyond a transverse partition that separates the hall from what is now the dining room. The back of the dining room was where the back wall of the house would have been, a wall again fitted generously with windows, now serves as a partition between the dining room and an extension added at the rear which accommodates today’s modern kitchen.

A memory of my childhood: seen under the floorboards, the piers that support the house, bringing me back to places of my childhood I can no longer go back to.

The very spacious yet cosy main hall.

Another view of the hall.

The transverse passageway created in the space between the old and the new, leads at one end to a flight of stairs. This serves as the access to the other new additions: a lap pool and another extension, built on the site of the former garage. This extension is where a gym, bathrooms and bedrooms are to be found, new that is seemingly in harmony with the old.

The passage between the rear extension and the original house – the former rear wall of the house is seen on the right.

The new extension where the garage was, seen on the left with the lap pool.

One of the bedrooms in the new extension.

Another bedroom.

A peek at the bathroom in the Master Bedroom.

Another look at the bathroom.

Based on information at the URA’s website, there had been quite a lot of thought that had been put in during the conservation efforts not just to retain the building’s features, but also in preserving the memory of the occupants. More information on the house and the conservation effort can be found at the Conservation of Built Heritage site on the URA’s website.

Another look at the verandah and one of two flights of steps leading up from the front yard..

Old world reflected off a representative of the new world.

A 1993 photograph of the house showing a garage where the extension has been added (from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).

Close-ups of some of the details seen at the house can be found at a previous post: Patterns of an old world.