Landmarks Of Singapore- A Heritage Trail of Queenstown
Updated: May 19
Regarded as the “Pioneer Town,” Queenstown is the oldest estate in Singapore that had paved the way in the 90s, having many “first-of-a-kind,” institutes, and buildings, all right in the heart of Queenstown.
Much like its name, this residential estate is certainly fit for a “Queen”, from the former tallest residential building to the Princess’s house, come and explore the many wonders that Singapore’s first-ever satellite town has to offer!
1. Former Forfar House
Named after a small Scottish town where Queen Elizabeth’s mother once lived, the Forfar House was once the pride and joy of Queenstown.
After opening on 24 October 1956, the 14-storey block of Singapore Improved Trust (SIT) flats made local history by becoming the tallest residential building in Singapore.
This building comprised 106 apartments and 4 shops, which had 2 lifts stopping at intermediate floors.
LIFE BEFORE HDB
The Singapore Improved Trust (SIT) was an organization tasked with improving the infrastructure of Singapore.
Established in 1927, the SIT was directly involved in the construction of low-cost public housing, a project that eventually escalated during the post-war years.
SIT consisted of a board of trustees who were vested with the power of carrying out the provisions of the ordinance.
CONSTRUCTION OF PUBLIC HOUSING
When it was first established, the SIT initially carried out back lane improvement schemes and simply marked out buildings for demolition.
Eventually, in 1935, it was given reign to construct public housing as well.
In that same year, the SIT started work on public housing in Tiong Bahru. The first flats were completed and occupied by December 1936, with additional buildings constructed through 1937.
The SIT had completed around 2,000 flats by the time of the Japanese invasion.
In the postwar years, the need for public housing became an urgent issue.
The Housing Committee of 1947 recommended an immediate building programme to alleviate the housing shortage, and SIT was in charge of carrying out the said programme.
Therefore, in 1953 the SIT announced plans to build its first satellite town, Queenstown.
The town would house up to 70,000 people and serve as a community, with its own amenities such as schools, clinics, markets, shopping centres, and cinemas.
Finally, in 1956, they built the Forfar House.
THE TRAGIC NICKNAME
Despite its pretty appearance, the forfar house had a rather sinister nickname, “Tiao Lau,” (literally means to jump from a building in Hokkien.) as there had been many cases of suicides, though many were just speculations and stories passed around among the residents.
The forfar house was eventually demolished on 30 April 1996, with residents being offered new replacement flats at Block 181 to 184 Sterling road. This was later replaced by Forfar Heights, a 40-floor cluster of HDB flats that still stands tall today.
2. The Princess House
Despite its rather grand and majestic name, the Princess House was not a residential building but instead served as the new office for the SIT, and later as the first headquarters for the House Development Board (HDB).
Opened in 1957, this 7 storey building housed the Social Welfare and Licensing departments in the western wing and offices in the eastern wing were rented out.
Built largely in reinforced concrete with its internal framework boldly expressed, the overall form of Princess House follows the aesthetics of 1950s Modern architecture.
It is simple in design, economical in the use of materials and decoration, and adheres to the “form follows function” dictum in the articulation of the building elements.
The building is topped by an innovative shallow ‘U’-shaped flat roof which was also used as a viewing deck.
HDB’S FIRST HEADQUARTERS
After Singapore gained internal self-independence in 1959, the SIT was dissolved and HDB was then established.
In 1960, the HDB took over the Princess House building and used it as their first HQ.
As the first HDB headquarters, Princess House is historically and socially significant, having played an important role in shaping the post-war development of Singapore.
It was here where renewal plans were drawn up and displayed, awards given to community groups and, notably, the place where Singaporeans applied for their first HDB flats.
Various foreign dignitaries such as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; Edward Heath, then Prime Minister of Australia; as well as ministerial delegations from Denmark, West Germany, New Zealand, Austria and India visited Princess House to learn about Singapore’s housing programme which was internationally recognized as a success.
Today, the princess house remains as one of the few SIT buildings still around on our land, and this building which was gazetted for conservation in 2007, can be found in Queenstown, as a remnant of Queenstown history.
3. Queenstown Secondary School
Queenstown Secondary School (Former Queenstown Secondary Technical School), is Singapore’s first technical school.
Opened in 1956, this all-boys school was opened in order to hear the calling of our need of “skilled workers” as Singapore started to diversify itself into the different industries.
In 1959, all 92 of the first batch of pupils sat for the 1959 General Certificate of Education Examinations.
By 1960, the school began to take the shape of a technical school but facilities were still lacking as there were insufficient lathes and workshop benches.
Improvements to the school building were completed in 1963 with the addition of four new classrooms which allowed for a proper library and reading rooms.
As Singapore’s first technical school, the former Queenstown Technical Secondary School certainly paved the way for its many predecessors, allowing other schools such as the former Tanglin Technical Secondary School to learn from their mistakes and improve from there.
Keeping up with the times, on 1st of January 1993, the school was renamed Queenstown Secondary school.
Today, the school continues to thrive with over 1000 students studying in their facilities, and in 2020, was selected as one of only 28 schools nationwide selected by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to start piloting aspects of Full Subject-Based-Banding (SBB), a initiative highly anticipated by many parents and students alike.
4. Queenstown Public Library
The Queenstown Public Library is one of the 26 libraries established in Singapore by the National Library Board (NLB).
It was also the first ever branch library that was built by NLB, pioneering several firsts among branch libraries, including the first library to be fully air-conditioned.
Officially opened as the Queenstown Branch Library on 30 April 1970, it covered an area of 3,349 square meters and served the residents of Alexandra, Bukit Timah, Buona Vista, Clementi, Commonwealth, Dover, Ghim Moh, Holland, Pasir Panjang, Queenstown, Tanglin Halt and Ulu Pandan.
Designed in the Modern style, the Queenstown Public Library is a two-storey building with an austere front façade relieved by a refined “bow-tie” motif along the parapets and a pre-assembled sun-shading block on its concrete frame. The building also uses glass panels generously which allow the reading rooms to be naturally lit.
This library served as a form of sanctuary for many residents around the area, as students all around would use the library for research and leisure.
In 1978, the library installed air-conditioning all around the facility, making it the first ever branch to do so, and becoming an absolute hit in the community, as many residents did not have the luxury of having an air-condition in their own homes.
On the 25th of July 2014, NLB announced that the Queenstown public library was to be preserved and gazetted for conservation under the Urban Redevelopment Authority Master Plan 2014.
As the town to have many first-of-a-kind under their belt, Queenstown definitely has their fair share of rich heritage and history.
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 Sembawang Heritage Trail for its own route experience as you discover the prominence of Sembawang!