“I spent a weekend at a HDB Estate”, the first thing that comes to your mind perhaps is “You must be crazy, what is there to see?” or perhaps you may picture myself in the midst of many over towering gigantic, cold hearted concrete blocks.

But what if I tell you, I had a good time in the HDB Estate that weekend. Would you find it hard to believe? You are probably wondering where is this Shangri-la.

That secret hideout is none other than Tiong Bahru Estate.

Built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in the 1930s, the Tiong Bahru flats were modelled after British towns like Harlow, Stevenage and Crawley. The tallest flat there is only 5 stories tall and consist of shophosues, as well as flats.

As per typica HDB Flats, they look the same from the outside, but the buildings actually contain apartments of various sizes allowing families of different sizes and social classes to coexist within the same neighbourhood.

This neighbourhood is really a good example of how community coexist together.

Due to the close proximity of each flat, as well as the many shops and eateries within walking distance within this small town, every resident bump into each other in their daily life without fail.

Residents care and look out for each other, and this is something I have never experienced in modern high rise HDB Communities.

And you may think it is only the elderly in the estate that is doing it. But it is not the case. The people who mingle are not just auntie or elderly, but also the young working class.

The best impression I had was an auntie who was planting just below her block. She saw me, and asked in cantonese where I was from, stating that she had never seen me around in the estate before.

I was surprised and asked how she knew. She replied with a smile and said “The neighbourhood is so small, we know each other here.”

And then there comes a man in his early 30s, who came over and asked the auntie “auntie, your plant die again ah?”  I stared for a minute, and asked if they knew each other. He replied saying he stays in the block opposite the old lady. At this moment, i couldn’t help but told him I was impressed by the close knitness of the community. The gentlemen smiled and said “This is why I love my home. We love this place. We always know we have each other to count on”

Tiong Bahru Auntie planting her plants,

Right after, a cat came along, and started playing on the floor. The auntie and gentlemen smiled and said “See? even our cats here are happy. Its different from the other cats here. We adopted this cat in our neighbourhood. She stays in auntie’s block and guards this garden.”

The cute TiongBahru Cat

At the moment, I can’t help but was overwhelmed by this humanity which I last felt when I was in a village in Phillipines.

I start to question myself: Why and how is that possible? What is the magic behind this unique town? This town does not have the modern day facilities, but how can these people be so happy with their home, and have so deep love for their community whereelse for the modern day HDB, we do not seem to have.

Is it the scale? The spatial arragements? This is no doubt a good case study to study how and why this community has such strong community spirit, and how we can apply these planning in our modern HDB Estates.

And so, with this, I start my journey of exploration on Tiong Bahru Estate.


[To be Continued…]