Forfar House – belonging to a category of its own and described as “symbolic of things to come”, this 14-storey building was the highest public residence when opened in 1956. Photography by Koh Kim Chay.

Home, or at least the idea of home, are not just points on maps. For some, they represent investments for the future while for others, universal sanctuaries and places of communion and safety. As a country synonymous with change and progress, Singapore’s landscape has been terraformed. From kampungs and cemeteries, dense jungles and tropical maladies, the country has transformed from one of the worst housing crises in the world to a place where 90% of its citizens own their own home. And although our physical homes have changed irrevocably through the decades, our own emotions and attitudes have adapted to these upheavals as well.

Winstedt Court flats – The estate was named after Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt, a colonial administrator and advisor to the Sultan of Johor in 1931. Photography by Koh Kim Chay.
Photographer Koh Kim Chay, 61, has been documenting changes in Singapore since the mid-80s. An avid street-walker and lover of old Singapore, he remembers that “[i]n Pickering and George Street, the rows of Chinese coffin shops fascinated me, and in the street market of Chinatown, I watched exotic animals being slaughtered for sale. All of these are gone. The rapid economic progress that started in the 1970s saw the demise of much of our architectural heritage”. Working with Kim Chay is photographer Eugene Ong, 39, who has edited copious amounts of negatives and researched on these vanished scenes.
A lush view of Princess Elizabeth Park Estate – this estate was formed in 1951, partially because of donations made to the Princess Elizabeth wedding celebratory funds. Photography by Koh Kim Chay.
Part of this two-decade long effort to remember Singapore’s past has been formalized into a photographic body of work- Singapore’s Vanished Public Housing Estates. Shot on analog film and mostly developed in the traditional darkroom, the publication features photographs of 27 early public housing estates and precincts with an introduction to the photographer’s work and vision.
From the lush expanse of colonial-era Princess Elizabeth Park estate to the brick-clad heights of Pickering Street, these photographs are not turn-of-the-century archaic but neither are they contemporary enough to be familiarly recognized – especially to a younger generation of Singaporeans. Some of the photographs feature Singapore’s dwellings constructed by the SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) in their last standing days. Others showcase the newer generation flats in ‘refurbished’ or newly emerging estates then, with their concomitant architectural features and recognizable amenities, though all these have been expunged already.
Blks 7 and 8 were some unique examples of H-styled blocks along Yung Kwang Road at Taman Jurong. They were built by Jurong Town Corporation instead of HDB. Photography by Koh Kim Chay.
Accompanying these photographs are postcards, vintage maps, HDB (Housing Development Board) eviction notices and other memorabilia related to the estates. Each works associatively and non-verbally to activate the past as something that was lived in; pockets of domestic drama that although enacted years ago are not difficult to reimagine. As pictorial records of our first homes in historically significant and newly emerging estates then, they are an invaluable window into Singapore’s changing housing landscape in the 50s and beyond.
The book caters to a broad range of interests and sensibilities —advocates of heritage, photographers, artists, amateur historians and perhaps professional architects. Singaporeans, local and abroad, might find in these pages something worthwhile to reminisce. Foreigners and tourists, coming from regions with vastly different identities and dialects, may be curiously attracted to this formative period in Singapore’s housing program.
Singapore’s Vanished Public Housing Estates is designed by Do Not Design, a creative agency specializing in work for art, culture and commerce. Setting out to design to surprise and innovate; to create values and to build relationship with audiences. They have also published Architecture and the Architect: Image-making in Singapore and Dear Vol 1: Lost & Found. The latter, which is a celebratory funded project by SG50, has been awarded two wood pencils at the prestigious British D&AD (Design & Art Direction Awards) for the independent magazine category as well as Tokyo Type Director’s Club Award 2016.
For more information, please get in touch with Eugene Ong, [email protected]; The crowd funding campaign is available at this link
[iframe id=”″]
About the photographers

Koh Kim Chay
Koh Kim Chay (Born 1956) devoted 38 years of his working life in Singapore’s cutting and welding industries, including the last 15 years tinkering with welding robots in a government-linked company.
He is an active contributor to Singapore’s heritage and is a recipient of the supporter award at the Patron of the Heritage Award 2006 by the National Heritage Board.
Eugene Ong
Eugene Ong (Born 1977) studied Political Science and English Literature in the National University of Singapore and the University of York. An experienced educator of 13 years, he is also interested in city planning, architectural heritage and photography.
His photographs on housing estates have appeared in LianHe ZaoBao. He taught the International Baccalaureate in the School of the Arts, Singapore from 2008 to 2016.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

盼政府插手保留夕阳行业 杂货店店主叹生存困境

杂货店为临近社区民众提供便利,但是对于千禧一代来说,杂货店就好似“老人店”、夕阳行业。而从事这类行业的人们经历生意起落,面对超市带来的商业冲击,他们感到担忧,也希望政府能够伸出援手,让杂货业者也能生存,维持一份能养活家人的收入。 53岁的莫哈玛·慕斯达发(Mohamad Mustafa),经营杂货店已超过20年主,他从事这个行业并非巧合。 当他还是小男孩时,放学后总到商店去打工,因为他想学习做生意,希望长大后能成为一个杂货店店主。 “在我上学时期,我并没有把精力集中在学习,我的主要目标是赚钱。” 生于贫困家庭的他,很年轻就开始工作了,首个职业是当兵。在那之后,他开始从事拖车服务长达10年,然后尝试转行到杂货店工作。事实上,在担任拖车司机时,对杂货店营业的热情从没熄灭过,他会趁着空闲时段,到杂货店去帮忙,只因为他想学习做生意。 幸运的是,在90年代,他成功在马西岭开了一家杂货店,而多年来,他也曾将杂货店搬到兀兰北市(Woodland North Bazaar)等其他地方。 在接受《网络公民》专访时,莫哈玛正在海军部一个私人湿巴刹经营两个摊位。 大型企业带来强烈商业冲击 虽然这门生意在90年代让他赚取丰厚利润,每月盈利超过万元,但是在2000年开始,利润开始慢慢减低。这主要是因为大型连锁超市,如职工总会平台合作社(NTUC)、昇菘超级市场和巨人霸级市场(Giant)入驻。今天,他每月利润差不多只有4000元到5000元之间。…

预防国外诈骗电话 下月起本地电话号码不显示‘+’号

下月中开始,本地电话号码前不会再出现‘+’号。 通讯及新闻部高级政务部长普杰立在国会上,进行部门预算辩论时指出,删除本地电话号码前的‘+’号,只有海外来电才会出现该符号,主要是方便国人进行辨识,同时预防外国的诈骗电话。 他指出,资讯通信媒体发展局和电信公司合作,一起展开遏止诈骗电话行动,甚至封锁类似999和995的国际电话。 当局也会和利益相关者合作,就此目标拟定长远措施。 他表示,该部门也会加紧和负责打击诈骗案件的跨部门委员会相关机构的合作及联系,确保遏止行动的应对能力得以加强。 另一方面,政府希望能够在今年内展开《个人资料保护法令》的修订工作。 他表示,该部门计划修订的部分,包括了个人资料保护委员会将被赋予更多执法权,对付未经允许就泄露信息和隐私的机构及个人。

LTA awards $210m contract for 2 MRT stations to Chinese firm debarred by World Bank

It was reported in the media today (10 Dec) that LTA has…

Protection for workers needed: HOME on COI report

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) said that adequate protection for migrant workers is…