Landmarks Of Singapore- A Heritage Trail Of Ang Mo Kio
Ang Mo Kio is a planning area and residential town situated at the North-East of Singapore, with a population of roughly 162,280 (as of 30th June 2020) and 12 subzones. This family-friendly town offers a variety of facilities and activities, creating a “live, work, play and learn” environment for its residents. The name, Ang Mo Kio, written in Hokkien, literally translates to “red-haired man’s bridge”.
Ang Mo Kio was the seventh satellite town (see Queenstown blog) to be built in the 1970s and was initially a pilot project for the town council concept in 1986. Ang Mo Kio was awarded 2 different architectural awards: the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Outstanding Buildings Award in 1983 and the 1986 SIA Architectural Award for the town’s design and the swimming complex at Avenue 1’s unique “tetrahedral skylight” design, respectively.
Did you know, before Ang Mo Kio became a town, it was mostly uninhabited throughout the 19th century as it was predominantly being used for agriculture. Only during the start of the 20th century’s rubber boom, did many Chinese immigrants (mostly Hokkiens) flocked to this area as they were involved in rubber-planting and tapping. Ang Mo Kio was also formally known as Cheng San Village, a massive rubber plantation.
Having said that, read on to discover more about how Ang Mo Kio’s history and how it transformed from a rural land to the 3rd most populated planning area in the North-East region!
1. Block 259 at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 2
Completed in 1981, Block 259 at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 2 is the first and only circular block that was built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
Built to mark the start of Ang Mo Kio town, it was one of the seven new housing typologies introduced by HDB in August 1979 to have an iconic building at the entrance of each town and to stand out from the typical housings that were previously constructed.
Made of four 25-storey circular columns, the block consists of 96 five-room flats, with 4 units on each floor. It showcases a unique clover-like design and has been renamed to The Clover @ Kebun Baru.
When the block was completed, there were initially mixed feelings from the public. The building was constructed in such an unfamiliar way, such that all bedrooms face the north or south while the living rooms and kitchens faced the east or west, keeping the flats cool during the day. However, with a circular interior, many tenants/homeowners had to purchase customized furniture instead, making it awfully expensive and impractical.
2. “VIP” Block 710 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8
When foreign dignitaries visited Singapore for a tour of our housing estates back in the late 1980s, they would be brought to the VIP blocks to view the estate from, with 3 locations namely Queenstown’s Block 81, Toa Payoh’s Block 53 and Ang Mo Kio’s Block 710.
In 1989, the late Queen Elizabeth II visited Block 710 and admired a panoramic view of the town from the viewing gallery on the 26th floor. Currently, the 26th floor is locked off and cannot be accessed.
The photograph shows Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Minister for National Development S Dhanabalan, being shown landmarks from the viewing gallery at VIP Block 710, Ang Mo Kio Town Centre.
3. Dragon Playground
A heritage playground from the late 1970s, it is one of the last 4 surviving vintage dragon playgrounds in Singapore.
Designed by Mr Khor Ean Ghee, an in-house designed from HDB, these playgrounds were inspired by oriental dragons from the local Chinese community and were a part of the animal-themed sand-pit playgrounds. A compilation of the past dragon playgrounds can be read here: https://remembersingapore.org/2015/08/30/former-dragon-playgrounds-in-singapore/.
Located at Block 570 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3, this dragon has a duller colour of brown instead of the more iconic orange variant that can be found at Toa Payoh. Like the other dragon playgrounds, the brown dragon was also built using mosaic, steel and decorated with terrazzo tiles. The brown dragon playground is also the only one that has a mosaic slide.
However, its original sandpit was replaced by the typical rubber mats that the modern playgrounds have, to make it safer for children.
4. Pair of Merlions
The Merlion is an iconic local mascot that everyone including foreigners know. Now then, you might be wondering, exactly how many Merlion statues are there in Singapore?
Built in 1988, the Merlion pair at Ang Mo Kio are one of the seven official Merlions (Sentosa Merlion was demolished in 2019) in Singapore, owned by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). The pair of Merlions stands guard at the car park entrance of Blocks 216 to 222 at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, opposite Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.
Built by the Ang Mo Kio Residential Committee, these 2 Merlions costs them about $30,000 and were almost forced to be removed in the past as the committee did not seek prior permission from STB, who owns the copyright and all intellectual properties of the Merlion.
STB then later revoked their initial order to remove the Merlion pair and officially authorised them as part of the official Merlions of Singapore, allowing these 2 statues to remain and watch over the town in present time.
5. Lower Pierce Reservoir Park
Known for being a beautiful place to watch the sunset and its nature trails, Lower Pierce Reservoir is Singapore’s second oldest reservoir, and the reservoir park is one of Singapore’s last remaining mature secondary forests.
Completed in 1910, it was constructed after MacRitchie Reservoir was no longer able to keep up with the increasing water demand and was supposed to serve as an extension of it.
Originally named Kallang River Reservoir, it served as the upstream source for the Kallang River and was built across it. However, it was renamed as Pierce Reservoir in 1922 in recognition of Robert Peirce’s services as Singapore’s municipal engineer (1901 – 1916) and its current name was given when Upper Peirce Reservoir was constructed in 1975.
6. Ang Mo Kio Town Garden
Ang Mo Kio Garden, a famous tourist attraction, consists of 2 parks, the East and West Park.
ANG MO KIO GARDEN EAST
A popular place for recreational activities such as jogging, foot reflexology and tai chi, Ang Mo Kio Town Garden East is a small non-crowded community park.
This was Ang Mo Kio’s first town garden and is one of the few remaining public spaces with red brick walkways. The park was also formerly a part of Kampong Cheng San (later known as Cheng Sua Lai), an agricultural kampung village consisting of mostly Hokkiens, Teochews, some Malays and Indians.
Built on the site of a former rubber estate in the late 1970s, the park is home to rubber, nutmeg, and cinnamon trees. In addition to the groves of trees, sculptures of rubber seeds and nutmegs were installed around the park in the early 1990s, giving it a crop plantation theme.
ANG MO KIO TOWN GARDEN WEST
With tons of lush greenery, Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West is frequently visited by nature lovers, fitness enthusiasts and families.
Built in 1983, this was Ang Mo Kio’s second developed park, and it initially featured an observatory terrace, an outdoor stage and 3 children play areas. Costing a whopping $2.7 million, the park was designed and developed by a Japanese construction firm, Obayashi Gumi. This was also the first time that HDB assigned a landscaping contract to a foreign company on a package-deal basis.
The park also contains the original vegetation and terrains of the secondary forest, with an abundance of plants such as the Vitex and Dillenia. If you would like to get a bird’s eye view of the park, you could climb a 120-step staircase to the plaza area to enjoy the view of Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West.
7. Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club
Every morning, as early as 6am, the members of Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club would gather, hoist up their birds’ cage and socialise. According to Mr Robin Chua, the co-founder of the club, some members go down to Kebun Baru nearly every day except on Chinese New Year.
Beginning as a gathering of 3 friends that were zebra dove enthusiasts back in the 1970s, the club has since grown exponentially and is now one of the largest integrated bird singing community in Southeast Asia.
As early as the 1950s, many people used to enjoy this hobby and it also used to be one of Singapore’s major tourist attractions. However, following the demolition of Block 53 where the former Tiong Bahru Bird Arena was located, this tradition is now only kept alive by hobbyists.
With the capacity to accommodate more than 1000 cages, merbok or zebra doves are hoisted up 20ft high poles for training. As birds are social animals, they would usually motivate and encourage each other to sing, thus making Kebun Baru a popular place for training these songbirds.
Once or twice a month, bird singing competitions would be organised and typically more than a hundred participants would join. These competitions are usually to see who has the champion bird instead of aiming for the prizes since it would mean that they have a more valuable pet.
8. Murals at Ang Mo Kio
REMINISCING OLD ANG MO KIO
Are you a fan of street art? Yip Yew Chong murals, iconic artworks that depict Singapore’s culture, can be seen on the walls in certain parts of Singapore, can be found in Ang Mo Kio.
A 3-part series by the Public Art Trust (of the National Arts Council) aimed to reminisce memories of Ang Mo Kio in the past, commissioning the well-known local artist, Yip Yew Chong. Painted in 2018, these murals highlight the essence of kampung life.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
Painted by a local artist, Biddy Low, two wall murals on the 3Rs can be found on Block 528. These two murals depict the habits of the 3Rs in both the past and present, showing us the difference of our concepts of the 3Rs and how we abide by this in our times.
WAYFINDING PROJECT MURALS
Love your old-school local snacks and objects? Murals of these retro items such as ang ku kueh, the white rabbit candy and rose vintage thermos flasks can be found on the walls of blocks 102 to 116 along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4.
Started by the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA), these murals were used for practical purposes, aiming to transform the Kebun Baru neighbourhood into a dementia-friendly one as most would find it hard to navigate around, especially since HDB buildings in the same estate can be hard to tell apart.
By painting distinct bright-coloured objects on the walls, along with the block numbers, these murals would assist those with dementia, allowing them to find their way around more easily. By using nostalgic items for the mural paintings, they would be more recognisable to the elders.
9. Ang Mo Kio Joint Temple
Ang Mo Kio Joint Temple is a Chinese temple made up of 3 different old temples: Kim Eang Tong, Leng San Giam and Kong Lim Kong Temple that are located in old villages.
The 3 temples merged in 1978 and occupied the premises in 1983. The original building was demolished and rebuilt again at the same location before reopening in 2011.
Located at the former site of a Chinese village known as Know Tiow Kio (meaning Nine Bridges), the villagers were mostly Hokkiens, with some Hainanese and Teochew families. The majority of the villagers’ occupation were farmers.
ABOUT THE 3 TEMPLES
Kim Eang Tong (金英堂) was established in 1961 along Thomson Road, in a village named Jio Sua (meaning Stone Hill). As the only temple that was specifically dedicated to the Kim Eang (金英) Sect, traditionally for the Hakka community, the temple conducted and hosted multiple religious festivals while serving the community by offering medical help (Chinese traditional medicine). Today, Kim Eang Tong still contributes to the society by distributing red packets to the senior citizens and welfare participants during the annual lunar new year dinners.
Leng San Giam (龙山岩) was built in the 1950s along Chen San Road, in an old village named Cheng Sua Lai (also known as Green Hills Interior). With origins from Yongchun county (永春), Fujian province, the temple was specifically dedicated to the deity, Fa Zhu Gong (法主公) and their 2 sworn brothers. Known for their healing miracles, the deities attracted many followers and worshippers.
Kong Lim Kong (檺林宮) was established in 1888. Migrants from Yu Hu village settled down in Know Tiow Kio. With origins from China’s Nan’an county (南安), Fujian Province, it was named after its ancestral temple in China, Hao Lin Gong, which was otherwise known as Tua Lang Kong (meaning the Temple of the Lords). Many of the devotees sought healing divinations, farming, and life advice in the past.
Today, the temple continues to be a prominent place of worship for the local devotees while serving as an important cultural landmark in Ang Mo Kio. It also serves as a gathering place for former Jio Sua villagers and former temple staff while being active in fulfilling its religious functions and community work.
10. Thomson Road Grand Prix Circuit
Enjoy spectating the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix? Did you know, the first grand prix was actually held in 1961, at the Thomson Road circuit in Ang Mo Kio.
The race was first organised in 1961 as the Orient Year Grand Prix and was later renamed to the Malaysian Grand Prix from 1962 - 1965, and finally named as the Singapore Grand Prix after regaining our independence.
However, the Singapore racers actually started their activities way earlier when a group of Singaporean motor sports enthusiasts founded the Singapore Motor Club (SMC) in 1948. The early local racers would then go on to participate in the Johore Grand Prix in the early 1950s, which was one of the oldest races in Malaya.
The Singapore Grand Prix was hosted at Thomson Road circuit for 13 years, up until 1973. As part of the promotional efforts to get foreigners to visit Singapore and boost the local tourism sector in the 1960s, this sports event was organised by the SMC and sponsored by the Ministry of Culture (MOC),
The circuit is 4.865km long and runs in a clockwise direction. Initially, the race lasted 60 laps but was later switched to 2 separate races, a preliminary round consisting of 20 laps and followed by the main event with 40 laps.
Due to multiple deaths that occurred over the years due to the challenging features such as the “Devil’s Band” and the “Circus Hairpin,” Singapore officially ended the Singapore Grand Prix in 1973.
35 years later, in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix was finally revived as the Formula One first ever night race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
In present day, the circuit is now a quiet winding road, used mainly for jogging and cycling.
Constantly evolving to meet the needs of the people, Ang Mo Kio is a town that has been through a huge change from an uninhabited piece of agricultural land to being one of the most populated areas in Singapore, with so much history from as far as the 1970s behind it!
If you would love to bring your team or classes out for a fun day out to explore Singapore, feel free to check out our Customisable Learning Journey Tour! Do check out our previous article on the Heritage Trail of Toa Payoh for its own route experience as you discover the prominence of Toa Payoh!