Growing up in Singapore feels like running a race sometimes—life goes by so rapidly, and we often find ourselves having little time to take in and appreciate our surroundings before they either get destroyed or replaced. Remember the old Merlion and the mosaic waterfalls at the old Sentosa? Remember the roar of Kallang Stadium or the din of the old wet markets of Geylang Serai?
Those places were iconic to me as a child, but they were demolished and replaced with newer, state-of-the-art structures before the ink could even dry on the contract. It seems like wherever there’s an empty plot of land, there is sure to be a fancy, modern condominium development in that very site within the next couple of years.
That’s the nature of living in such a thriving metropolis like Singapore—our landscape changes so swiftly. Present an old photograph of Singapore to a person in the current generation and it won’t be surprising if they cannot recognise where the place is today.
HDB flats are no exception to the rule. In 1995, the Singapore government introduced the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) as a way to utilise land to its maximum potential. Old, low-lying HDB estates are demolished, and its residents offered new 99-year-leases at recently-constructed residential estates nearby.
Over the years, many flats have fallen under the SERS axe, but a few remain today. These few are the latest ones to be earmarked for wrecking, having only received their SERS notices in the past 2-6 years, with Dakota Crescent being the exception.
That being said, I felt it necessary to pay these estates a visit, for they represent an older Singapore that we would all be too quick to forget. Amidst all the futuristic buildings, these storied flats sit patiently waiting for their time to perish, like an old dame. Armed with the new Google Pixel 4A and its impressive camera, I set out on my journey.
West Coast Road, Blocks 513 to 520 (Built in 1979)
The first estate on my list was Blocks 513 to 520, located at West Coast Road. The block of flats looked regular to me, and it was hard to believe that this was a SERS estate as its exterior did not show any signs of age or decay.
After walking around, I slowly started to notice the telling evidence—there were empty units and no multi-storey car parks in sight. Though there were areas that looked newer, I concluded that this must have been a result of upgrading projects over the years.
I did a quick research and became aware that shop owners in the shophouse blocks nearby were offered a 30-year-lease at a new replacement location as part of the SERS agreement. It was not received well as their current leases had more than 60 years left on them. As there were empty store units in this block, I assume they must have simply decided to pack up for another location.
Completed in 1979, these flats flooded me with nostalgia. From the vintage font used in the block’s numbers, the pastel colours of the walls to the layout of the public barbecue pits, it took me back to a simpler time and made me reminisce my own childhood—though I was completely new to this neighbourhood and this was my first visit.
The estate found its fate with SERS in 2016, and come the third quarter of 2022, it will be reduced to rubble and dust, perishing with all the memories that live in it.
Tanglin Halt Road, Blocks 40 to 45 (Built in 1962)
When I first arrived at this estate, I was surprised by how busy the neighbourhood was. There seems to be much life here, though it is fairly obvious that the buildings were old and rustic. I came to this conclusion from its layout.
The estate, built in 1962, consists of straight, long blocks with units being either two or three-bedroom apartments. I found the ground-floor units particularly interesting—it is something you don’t see often in newer blocks today. There are also public clotheslines available for the ground floor residents.
These blocks, along with many others in its vicinity, were selected for SERS in 2014.
Tanglin Halt Road, Blocks 24 to 32 (Built in 1962)
Across the road from Block 40 to 45, lay a similar set of flats, dressed in different colours of paint. The units here are two-bedroom apartments with a sleepier feel compared to its neighbouring estate. Like it’s neighbour, its fate has also been sealed at the long, searching hands of SERS.
The layout here is rather similar, with each block being long and straight. There is a quaint little grassy area between the flats, where the back kitchen window of ground floor units faces the front doors of its adjacent block.
It is through these windows that my partner reminisced about a memory from her childhood in this estate—elderly residents used to sell flavoured ice to children from these windows for as cheap as 20 cents back in the day, an occurrence we rarely see happening in today’s strict, health-conscious environment.
Commonwealth Drive, Block 55 to 56
Just a short drive nearby are blocks 55 and 56—two flats that have also been slated for SERS. The estate here is much smaller, but feels a little cosier, perhaps due to its warm, coloured walls. Like the other flats in this neighbourhood, the apartments here are mostly one-bedroom apartments.
Walking past all the front doors, a longing feeling crept upon me, especially when I chanced upon flats with old, vintage-styled gates that came from a different time. It was a refreshing sight, and a tinge of sadness flushed through me knowing that it was only a matter of time before such long-standing fixtures would be gone forever.
MacPherson Lane, Blocks 81 to 83 (Built in 1968)
As I was nearing this estate, I couldn’t help but notice the modern-looking condominium that stood in front of the main road. I gawked at the contrast—here lies a brand new building rubbing shoulders with three blocks slated for demolition.
Though it was night time, the estate was bright and lively, with many people out and about on their daily business. People sat idling within the neighbourhood, and it seemed like everyone knew each other—a young man yelled out his greetings to an elderly while he rode past in his e-bike.
I stood at the parapet on the fifth floor and observed a family feeding a stray dog while having their dinner at the coffee shop downstairs. Beside me, an elderly lady was seated on a stool outside her house, relaxed and enjoying the breeze of the cool night.
For some reason, this neighbourhood feels warm and welcoming—a stark contrast to the cold, posh steel of the neighbouring condominium.
Built in 1968, this estate is the latest of all the others featured in this list to receive news of its grim fate in 2018.
Dakota Crescent (Built in 1958)
Dakota Crescent was the most awe-inspiring for me, for they represented one of the first residential areas built in the 1950s by the then-British government under the now-defunct Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT)—HDB’s predecessor. In 1999, some of its flats were earmarked for SERS, but they have all since been demolished in 2005.
I didn’t let that get in the way from me visiting, though, for I knew that there were still some buildings that stood the test of time. I knew I simply had to visit this place one last time before all of it is truly lost for good.
A few years ago, I had visited this site to explore with a group of friends. There were no fences or barriers to entry at the time, so when I saw that the whole area had already been cordoned off, my heart sank.
Many construction workers were getting to work demolishing the place, and I felt glad that I had decided to come here before it all disappears.
The estate here has a tropical, rustic charm, with the palm trees adding a nice seasoning to the feel of the antique, 1950s-style buildings. I looked in awe and melancholia at the unique balconies which featured brightly-painted louvered doors, and snapped away with the Google Pixel 4a, which had been my reliable, best friend throughout this entire project.
Google Pixel 4a — a Photographer’s Dream
Don’t be fooled by the light and compact exterior of this phone—it packs a surprisingly powerful camera. The whole experience left me feeling like I don’t need a sophisticated camera to satisfy my desire for creative photography.
Before every shot, double-tapping the screen will automatically trigger the in-phone camera app to focus on a specific point of your choice, which won’t move regardless of how much you adjust and swing your phone around. Highlight and shadow options also appear before every shot, making it possible for you to edit your pictures before you actually take them.
In addition to that, the software also has a function that ensures your photos are straight by having a horizontal line indicating if you’re completely 90 degrees perpendicular to the horizon in the picture. Being an Apple user, I was also sweetly surprised to find out about the cool Google Lens function—clicking on any object in any picture would instantly launch a Google search on that very object.
The camera on this phone really shines when taking shots at night time. The Night Sight function does wonders in brightening up dark areas, and by adjusting the highlight and shadow controls, one could get a cool, electric-type of effect on LED lights, making them stand out in contrast to darker surroundings.
It also comes with an astrophotography function so you can take nice shots of the stars in the sky, but I was, unfortunately, unable to test that as that function will only appear in completely dark and remote areas with little to zero light pollution.
The Google Pixel 4a is priced at S$499 and is available for pre-order online on the Google Store, Challenger, and Courts. It will be available for purchase online and in retail stores after 10 September.
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